Mitt Romney in 2011: 'We Cannot Afford' Federal Disaster Relief

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As Hurricane Sandy looms and flooding begins, the Republican presidential candidate's primary remarks are getting a second look.

Mitt Romney said America shouldn't be in the business of providing federal disaster relief and that it would be better for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's functions to be handled by individual states or even the private sector.

Queried directly on the topic by CNN's John King during the June 13, 2011 Republican presidential primary debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, Romney said the federal government "cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids."

Here's the exact Q & A:

KING: You've been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I've been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it's the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we're learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?

ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that's even better.

Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut -- we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we're doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we're doing that we don't have to do? And those things we've got to stop doing, because we're borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we're taking in. We cannot...

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all. (emphasis added)

The Huffington Post reported that a Romney spokesperson Sunday night sought to clarify his present position: "Gov. Romney wants to ensure states, who are the first responders and are in the best position to aid impacted individuals and communities, have the resources and assistance they need to cope with natural disasters." That doesn't sound like a walk-back.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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