FEMA, Sandy, and rainy day funds

What do FEMA, Sandy and rainy day funds have in common? Their nexus creates yet another political battleground in which Cassandras on both sides of the aisle crank up their propaganda machines and lob straw men and red herrings at each other in an attempt to keep their core supporters motivated and cajole undecided voters.

A good friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article entitled Mitt Romney’s Terrifying Plans for FEMA and Disaster Relief.

It’s a cautionary tale that uses Hurricane Sandy to question  statements about FEMA previously made by Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and VP candidate Paul Ryan regarding how the federal government should manage and pay for disaster relief.

The article quotes Mother Jones, to make it’s point that Ryan’s budget, if enacted into law, would affect FEMA’s ability to respond to natural disasters because of the requirement that the budget be balanced and binding

That’s true as far as it goes. A well enforced balanced budget requires choices in the face of unexpected expenses. This does not necessarily mean an eviscerated FEMA or a decimated military budget.

As part of a balanced budget act, Congress could establish a set of agreed upon budget priorities and create a triage plan. That way, if an unexpected expense arises, they’ve already agreed in advance which things will be cut.

Ryan makes copious use of the “household budget” trope in his 2004 speech “Innovative Budgeting Procedures for Congress,” “Look at how we do it with our family budgets. We do not have the ability to just assume more income into our families when we set a budget for our family budget for the year. However, Congress does that.” Congressional Record Volume 150, Number 37 (Tuesday, March 23, 2004)] [House] [Pages H1357-H1363]

Failure to make that list guarantees shortfalls will result in political factions seizing upon the moment to kill the other guys programs while preserving theirs. Who gets screwed? You and me.

Obviously we have no way of knowing from year to year whether a natural disaster will befall one or more regions of the country. So if we fail to set aside enough money, borrowing won’t be an option. Instead the money must come from some other place in the budget, rather like what most households must do.

I completely agree that the Federal Government should not spend more money than it takes in. The problem I see is in the construct of the rules. Without specifying the priorities before hand, this sets up a protracted battle over which programs will be cut.

Ryan has a point. Money from disaster relief comes from somewhere. Either the Federal government has it on hand or it borrows the money. He thinks we shouldn’t borrow the money

Ryan has a point to the extent that money from disaster relief has to come from somewhere. I do not have federal flood insurance. If my home were to get flooded from Sandy, and incurred damage, I’d have to find the money someplace, either from my savings or by borrowing. Creating a system where balancing the budget in an emergency gives Congress the power to hold up the citizenry by cutting money from their pet peeve programs is the real problem. Inevitably, somebody gets screwed.

I have a better idea. Well actually I didn’t make it up. How about we create a rainy day fund? Set aside money for disasters every year in inviolable trusts so when Sandy or Irene or Gloria or Katrina come to town, we’ll have enough money to pay the bill.


Romney vs. Obama Debates

The Romney vs. Obama debates have brought out the worst in all of us. Instead of watching the debates to understand each candidate’s positions, we view them to see how our guy does against the other candidate. Romney and Obama bludgeoned each other with their talking points instead of constructing well reasoned arguments.

The candidates did not respect the process and they buffaloed the moderators. Throughout the campaign, the press has abdicated its responsibilities as the fourth estate. They’ve joined the partisan bloggers by voluntarily writing propaganda for their candidates.

What amazes me is how we can all all look at the same facts and arrive at such different conclusions. I was talking with a friend this afternoon and he scored  Romney as the winner while I said Obama won. The weird thing is how we were both citing the same data to support our conclusions.

Most people on both sides of the aisle see what they want to see and work backward from their conclusions. They  cherry pick their facts and reach conclusions based on their emotions. This means we’re in big trouble because the problems we face require objective decision making. They can only be cured by truly understanding the data, agreeing on the problems and proceeding with logic and determination.

Essentially it’s not possible to fix the problems because we cannot agree on what they are.

Apropos of cherry picking data, Pundits from the Romney camp complained that the town hall debate held at Hofstra was biased toward Obama because Long Islanders are liberal. Now, I don’t which Long Islanders they were talking about. I grew up there, visit frequently, and still have family and friends there. Nearly everyone I know from home is very conservative and plans to vote for Romney.

In fact, the Republican Party has run LI as long as I can remember, which is getting to be a long time now. Even I was a registered Republican. I was a Republican Block Captain while I was in college and voted by party until I stopped life guarding for the town.

Parenthetically, I’d still be a Republican if the religious right hadn’t hijacked the party and used it as a tool to impose their draconian social agenda on the rest of the country. Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller and Bill Weld or Teddy Roosevelt are more my cup of tea. They had position and money and social consciences but stood for fiscal conservatism, business, law and order, and defense.