As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the east coast, Breitbart.com is reporting that President Obama's “proposal for the upcoming budget sequester would cut nearly $900 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including disaster relief, food and shelter, and flood management at both the federal and state levels.” This is absolutely false: the report they characterize as the White House's “sequester proposal” is actually a legally required estimate of how scheduled automatic budget cuts will impact discretionary spending, and inveighs strongly against allowing those cuts to take effect.
The debt-limit deal passed in 2011 (with the support of over two-thirds of House Republicans, including GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan) required both parties to find a way to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion, or face steep, automatic cuts across the board starting in January 2013 -- the sequester. On August 7, President Obama signed into law the Sequester Transparency Act, which required the White House to “submit to Congress a detailed report on the sequestration” that provides “an estimate for each category of the sequestration percentages and amounts necessary to achieve the required reduction.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget released that report in September. Contrary to Breitbart.com's misreading, the report does not propose cuts to FEMA or any other agency but rather enumerates the cuts that are required by the statute. The introduction to the report makes this clear (emphasis added):
The percentage cuts in this report, and the identification of exempt and non-exempt accounts, reflect the requirements of the laws that the Administration is applying. With the single exception of military personnel accounts, the Administration cannot choose which programs to exempt, or what percentage cuts to apply. These matters are dictated by a detailed statutory scheme. The Administration does not support these cuts, but unless Congress acts responsibly, there will be no choice but to implement them.
So no, the White House is not “propos[ing]” FEMA cuts through the sequester. And that should come as a relief to FEMA, given the many enthusiastic calls for cutting its budget it's seen coming from Republicans lately.
Slate.com's Matt Yglesias recalls that back during the Republican primaries, Mitt Romney supported shifting FEMA's duties to the states (or even private industry) and characterized the very idea of spending federal money on disaster relief as “immoral,” because we'll incur “larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids.” As Yglesias notes, the federal government is better situated to fund and implement disaster relief than individual states, which would find their budgets squeezed by the cost. Also, Romney's spending proposals call for sharp cuts across the board (along with increases in defense spending), which presumably includes FEMA's budget.
Speaking of FEMA's budget, in 2011 the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee proposed cutting FEMA's budget by $87 million. In 2012 they proposed an additional $182 million in cuts. Mother Jones reported in August that Paul Ryan's much-talked about budget proposal, while not making specific mention of FEMA, calls for cuts in discretionary spending that would necessarily scale back federal disaster relief budgets drastically.
And who can forget the government-shutdown fiasco of 2011 which centered, in part, on Republican demands (led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)) that spending on disaster relief be offset by spending cuts elsewhere?
Bottom line: If the right-wing media is looking for someone to lash out at over FEMA budget cuts, they might consider taking on Congressional Republicans and the GOP presidential ticket.