Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has never hid his disfavor for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and Hurricane Irene has not changed his mind. In an interview on Fox News Sunday (seen to the left) Paul argues against the very existence of FEMA. To support his position, Paul points to some of the failures of FEMA in the past, and claims that the aid from FEMA encourages people to seek “bailouts” from the government.
FEMA certainly has made its share of mistakes in the past thirty years, but the same can be said of nearly every organization, private or public, including the very Congress Paul is a part of. Paul certainly would not argue that Congress needs to be abolished because of its checkered past. Like many government agency, FEMA gets the blame for their mistakes but rarely credit for their successes. When FEMA does what they are supposed to do the media largely ignores the story. When FEMA fails it is a scandal worthy of publication. As an example, FEMA was praised by local officials following their response to the devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri, but few would know about that story compared to the millions who know about FEMA’s failures before and after Katrina.
Before FEMA existed the federal government would still respond to emergencies, but in a much less organized and concerted fashion. Without FEMA each federal agency (i.e. Department of Transportation, Department of Housing, etc.) would give their own response without any coordination, leading duplication and/or waste. Congress might approve some aid for the local communities affected by disaster depending on the political importance of the area and the financial state of the federal government, or the local population might simply be left to fend for themselves. The history of government’s response to natural disasters before FEMA is not a good one. Often the local governments would not respond at all, or respond in such a delayed fashion as to make their efforts moot.
Finally, some have also questioned Paul’s rationale for wanting to abolish FEMA. According to Paul, FEMA simply encourages people to seek “bailouts.” However, the bailouts from the 2008 financial crisis came as a result of bad behavior on the part of banks, who put their money in risky subprime loan packages. The victims of natural disasters are not guilty of any kind of “bad behavior” or unwise investments. These victims simply happen to be in the path of a natural disaster, and often could not insure themselves against this disaster even if they had the financial means to do so. In addition, the victim of a natural disaster will not be encouraged to seek more natural disasters by a “bailout” the way an investment banker would.
While many may disagree with Paul’s argument, they cannot contend with his consistency. As Think Progress notes, in 2005 Paul actually voted against hurricane aid for his own state based on his ideology. Paul comes from one of the most conservative congressional districts in the county, which enable him to vote in a way that few other United States Representatives could while still keeping his job.