Americans have not yet recovered from Congress’s brinksmanship over the debt ceiling. We thought we might escape a repeat until November 23rd when the super-committee must present its recommendations for budget cuts to be voted up or down. However, the harrowing Congressional votes of August 2nd only raised the debt ceiling. Now Congress must vote prior to October 1st for a continuing resolution to keep funding our government that has not passed a budget since April of 2009. This round of votes is guaranteed to include fights for additional agency funding reductions.
This deadline crisis budget reduction battle is the external discipline that has been chosen to force a divided Congress through small, painful steps toward achieving a balanced budget. America will need to grow thick skin as we endure the coming months while Congress whittles slivers from a bulging budget that must shrink an unbelievable 43 percent. Last week, Congress attempted to whittle a tiny sliver, $1.6 billion or 0.04 percent, from the $3.6 trillion dollar federal budget. The choice offered for vote was to supply an additional $1 billion in disaster recovery funds to FEMA only if the funds are offset by removing a portion of an auto industry loan program from the federal budget, a curiously political tradeoff.
Because FEMA’s funding will run out today without a compromise, funding for emergencies has once again become a battlefield of political partisanship. FEMA’s deadline will be used to elicit crisis compromises from a divided Congress. Even if we don’t question why Congress needs external triggers to reduce their budget, should we at least question the appropriateness of placing our nation’s emergency preparedness squarely in the middle of brinksmanship negotiations?
Congress’s trawling for deadlines caught this year’s FEMA recovery efforts in its nets and may continue to do so for years because our nation’s economy is in crisis, our federal budgets will be reduced, and our budget battles are now locked in forced deadline negotiations. Until a balanced budget is reached, funding for FEMA, HHS, DOD, the VA and other departments tasked with disaster response, will continually face budget cuts. America’s monetary collapse and lack of political unity on how to correct it suggests that budget uncertainty will get much worse before it improves.
Yet our nation cannot afford such budget uncertainty for emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Even as federal funding for emergencies is being threatened, our country is experiencing a surging escalation of emergencies and an increasing financial impact from such emergencies. We know that to leap frog our current federal capability we will need a more certain source of funding. Japan’s insufficient tsunami response from what many perceive as the world’s most prepared nation is a beacon for what will be required here in America.
Congress’s FEMA funding debate should serve notice to our nation’s leaders of emergency agencies that America’s disaster preparedness, response, and recovery must now find funding outside the political arena. Now is the time to press for secure funding outside of Congressional mandates directly from potential users of mass disaster emergency services. Funding should come from current users of EMS services, hospital beds, nursing and other facilities through mandated per bed use fees or other means to support ongoing preparation, response and recovery efforts.
America should have disaster response and recovery insurance that is also capable of funding the steady preparation efforts of our industry, and it should not be subject to the ups and downs of politics. Our national emergency insurance, perhaps through CMS, should instead fund the steady hand of a disciplined multiyear, forward looking process that can be counted on by the American People when disaster strikes, no matter the political processes of our time.