As Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast this week, the so-called "Frankenstorm" exposed the dark underbelly of Mitt Romney's plans to delegate core federal responsibilities to the states and to blindly impose a 5 percent, across-the-board budget cut to all discretionary programs "excluding military."
The true impact of a Romney presidency would be a federal government ill-equipped to coordinate a response to a regional natural disaster like this one, and agencies hobbled in their ability to provide storm forecasting, emergency housing – even Superfund cleanup in the toxic aftermath of a storm.
Here are the five most damaging cuts that a President Romney would seek "on Day One" from the agencies that are essential for federal storm response:
1) FEMA: Cut $500 million
Romney's budget cut would slash Federal Emergency Management Agency funding by nearly half a billion dollars. And the Republican nominee has gone even farther, suggesting a far more radical plan for FEMA: disband it and throw its duties back to the states. Asked about the agency during an early GOP primary debate, Romney said that disaster relief was a state responsibility, and might even be privatized. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states," Romney said, "that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better."
2) NOAA: Cut $255 million
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is responsible for daily weather forecasts and severe storm warnings. It runs the National Weather Service and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; those amazing pictures you've been seeing of Sandy from space are courtesy of NOAA. The agency also operates a "hurricane hunter" fleet of jets and turboprops that fly directly into hurricanes to measure their intensity. Most important: NOAA coordinates federal climate science investigating the links between global warming and severe weather events.
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3) SuperFund: Cut $60 million
Sandy has already caused flooding of Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, an EPA-designated "SuperFund" site contaminated with toxins ranging from PCBs to heavy metals to untreated sewage. Superfund cleanup is chronically underfunded, resulting in painfully slow remediation work. The agency is just getting around to funding cleanup of toxics stirred up by the monster tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011. And Mitt Romney wants to slash funding for this crucial work.
4) Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Cut $50 million
There were 16 nuclear power plants in the path of Hurricane Sandy. Enough said.
5) HUD: Cut $2.05 billion
The department of Housing and Urban Development rebuilds housing and restores neighborhoods in the aftermath of catastrophic storms. HUD spent more than $16 billion to help the Gulf Coast recover from Katrina in 2006. Under a Romney presidency, those efforts will be seriously hampered.
BONUS CHOPPING BLOCK
These cuts are just the beginning. On his website, Romney insists his aim is to wield a much heftier budget ax – "capping non-security discretionary spending below 2008 levels." Who knows what other critical federal services he'd eliminate or drastically reduce?