As Mitt Romney arrived in Louisiana today to survey storm damage from Hurricane Isaac, Democrats were quick to use the opportunity to criticize past Republican efforts to trim disaster aid.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a biting statement calling on the GOP nominee to specify whether he supported the funding mechanism for disaster aid that had been proposed by the House-adopted budget resolution authored by Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan (D-Wis.).
“Mitt Romney needs to say whether or not he supports his running mate’s plan to keep emergency disaster aid out of the federal budget. If House Republicans like Paul Ryan had had their way, the Gulf Coast might not have federal funds available to respond to Hurricane Isaac right away,” Schumer said. “It is an affront for Mitt Romney to go to Louisiana given what the Ryan budget would have meant for our emergency preparedness.”
The debt limit deal provided for an elevated amount of aid in response to natural disasters.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu were also quick to point out that the budget resolution would have required additional spending reductions to pay for extra disaster assistance.
“Had the plan advocated by his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, and Congressman Eric Cantor [R-Va.] prevailed, there would be no money readily available to provide assistance for this, or any other disaster,” Landrieu said. “Congress would have to debate and agree upon cuts to other priorities. My hope is that Gov. Romney will leave Louisiana realizing that such an approach is overly bureaucratic, unworkable and terribly unfair.”
Cantor, the House Majority Leader, had been a critic of the disaster funding arrangement. He was widely criticized for saying that offsets should be used to pay for assistance to his Virginia district in the aftermath of an earthquake last August.
“There is an appropriate federal role in incidents like this,” he said at the time. “Obviously, the problem is that people in Virginia don’t have earthquake insurance.”
Cantor aides later said the comments were being misconstrued and that, of course, he backed the federal aid. He also signed on to a letter to that effect.
Reid went further than Landrieu, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations subpanel that funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“If Paul Ryan and his fellow House Republicans had succeeded in blocking disaster relief last fall, there would have been no aid for the victims of Isaac today,” Reid said.
Under an agreement worked out with House Republicans, as much as $11.5 billion is available in disaster assistance for FEMA and several other agencies this year without the need to find other spending offsets.
Before Hurricane Isaac came through, the disaster fund was expected to have about $739 million in funds left when the fiscal year ends at the end of September. Isaac has brought significant wind and water damage to parts of the Gulf Coast, with levees needing to be intentionally breached to relieve pressure. Another hurricane might require additional federal disaster funding this year.
Romney — who was joined by Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) — is meeting with disaster response personnel and victims of Isaac in Lafitte, La., a community south of New Orleans that was ravaged by Isaac earlier this week.
Lafitte is in Jefferson Parish, outside the system of levees and other protective devices designed to guard New Orleans itself from flooding.