Why Mitt Romney Wanted to Shutter FEMA

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

Everyone is having fun today with a clip from an old Republican primary debate in which John King asks Mitt Romney about federal handling of disaster relief. Romney makes a general statement about how it’s always better for states to handle things, and King then follows up:

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.

WTF? Is Mitt Romney really opposed to federal funding of disaster relief? What was going on here?

It’s worth remembering the context. This debate was held in June 2011, just a few weeks after the disastrous tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri. At the time, FEMA was close to running out of money and Republicans were busy holding the country hostage over extension of the debt ceiling. This meant that, yes, FEMA funding really had become controversial. Democrats wanted to pass a supplemental spending bill to keep FEMA going, but on May 30, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor went on Face the Nation to say that he had conditions: there would be no money for Joplin unless something else was cut first.

“I know that America is just stunned by the scope of devastation and loss and the horrific tragedy that the people of Joplin and other places across the country really are experiencing this tornado season,” Cantor said. The federal government typically pays for disaster relief, but Cantor has said repeatedly that the government must maintain fiscal discipline. On Sunday, he compared the situation to that of a family putting off buying a new car when a family member became ill.

“When a family is struck with tragedy — like the family of Joplin … let’s say if they had $10,000 set aside to do something else with, to buy a new car … and then they were struck with a sick member of the family or something, and needed to take that money to apply it to that, that’s what they would do, because families don’t have unlimited money. And, really, neither does the federal government.”

So a week later, this was the background for King’s question. Republican orthodoxy that demanded spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling had infested everything, even emergency spending. Sure, Joplin might be suffering, but by God, America was out of money and there was nothing left for them. Romney, who was still in his severely conservative phase back then, went along because he didn’t dare cross Eric Cantor. This is the real problem here. There’s no telling if Romney really believed what he was saying or not, but as president he probably wouldn’t dare cross Cantor either.

For more, see Tim Murphy’s explanation of how Paul Ryan’s budget plan would affect disaster response and funding.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate