WASHINGTON -- If it had been up to Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, disaster response agencies would likely face lower funding to handle the huge costs of dealing with storms such as Hurricane Sandy, a review of his much-touted budget shows.
The budget plan put forward by Ryan as chairman of the House Budget Committee requires massive cuts to discretionary spending, which includes everything but entitlements. Those cuts would almost certainly extend to the Department of Homeland Security and its disaster relief programs under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The ounce of doubt remains because Ryan's budget proposal doesn't include any specifics on FEMA itself. But it also doesn't exempt FEMA or Homeland Security from the standard cuts that it broadly applies to government services. The budget does exempt the military from many cuts. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote in August that Ryan's budget would likely dump the cost of dealing with disasters on state and local governments.
That's in line with a policy prescription advocated by Mitt Romney at a GOP candidates' debate last year, in which he said it was "immoral" for the federal government to play a significant role in disaster relief at a time of high budget deficits. Pressed by CNN moderator John King on whether he'd really send disaster relief to the states, he replied, "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."
While the opacity of Ryan's budget makes a definitive statement impossible, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that cuts to FEMA would be in line with his general budgetary approach. "This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget," the center wrote. "If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times."
Third Way, a moderate think tank, wrote in March that the Ryan budget would cut funding by 62 percent for community and regional development, including disaster aid and insurance.
"This would mean less accurate predictions and planning for disasters, less preparation that can reduce the severity of their impact, and less timely responses," according to the Third Way memo. "It would set the clock back on disaster preparation to the days before Hurricane Katrina."
Although Ryan's plan never became law, it provides some insight into the still fuzzy budget priorities of his running mate, who has said he would adopt a separate but similar plan to the one introduced by Ryan. Romney has directly advocated cuts to FEMA and, like Ryan, supports broader funding cuts that would likely apply to the agency.
Romney's budget plan would lead to across-the-board cuts that would likely reduce FEMA's budget between 34 percent and 53 percent, FireDogLake wrote.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, pointed out that the Ryan budget does not mention FEMA cuts and said that whether the agency would be exempt from cuts would be up to the appropriations committee.
"A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period," Buck said.
Disaster relief funding had traditionally been relatively noncontroversial, but more recently has become politicized as lawmakers seek to drastically reduce federal spending. FEMA nearly ran out of money last year when Republicans refused to pass an increase in the agency's funding unless it was offset by cuts elsewhere -- despite pleas from storm victims at the time.
In June, the House approved an appropriations bill to reduce FEMA's 2013 budget by $183 million from 2012 spending levels, but Ryan voted in opposition. He voted for the continuing resolution for fiscal year 2013, which maintained funding levels for FEMA.
The agency could face major cuts under the looming sequester, which Ryan voted for and President Barack Obama signed into law, although both have been critical of the deal and said they did not want it to go into effect. The sequester would reduce funding for FEMA by nearly $900 million, The Washington Post reported Monday.