Taking shelter from the storm

Patty Culhane is Al Jazeera’s White House Correspondent.

I’m sitting in my dining room right now, staring out the window thinking about the somewhat terrifying ‘super storm that is just beginning its long march through my neighbourhood.

To be honest, I’m spending most of my time wondering if any of the enormous trees that surround my house are going to stop defying what seems to be basic physics and break.

I always forget until we’re in another hurricane just how plain freaky it looks when trees appear to be doing calisthenics.

Now I want to stop thinking about that because really what can you do about it anyway, big trees little house, not a fun calculation. To take my mind off silly Sandy, I’m going to think about the election.

Truly, what else do I think about these days? There are a lot of people trying to decipher exactly what this storm will mean for the outcome.

They’ll talk about voter turnout, campaign schedules and appearances.

I think those discussions miss the point. This is a perfect example of what is at the heart of the race for president.

What role should the federal government play in the lives of ordinary Americans?

There has been a lot of talk on the campaign about making the “tough decision to bring down the debt, to balance the budget, reduce the size of government”.

Those are all nice slogans, but no one is talking about what that could actually mean.

The Republicans probably won’t want to stress this right now, but Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan’s budget called for eliminating funds that have been budgeted for disaster relief.

It would require future emergency spending on storms to be dramatically limited according to the Bipartisan Policy Centre.

A sentiment that seems to be shared by the top of the ticket as well.

According to the Washington Post, when asked in a debate about the possibility that federal disaster response could be curtailed to save federal dollars, Governor Mitt Romney replied: “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.”

The Romney campaign is now pushing back on this, saying the governor wouldn’t get rid of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but would let states have more say in how the money is spent.

So basically, he’s agreeing with the system that is already in place.

When it comes to the details of exactly what he would cut to make a dent in a $16 trillion dollar debt, he won’t give specifics, beyond public television and children’s programming.

I can’t help but think that if he really is going to balance the budget, while “growing the military” programs like FEMA would have to be cut.

That might actually be the hard reality of it, regardless of who wins the presidency. I can’t tell you what President Barack Obama would do because he hasn’t even come close to balancing the budget.

He also hasn’t laid out specifics as to how you go from more than a trillion dollar deficit yearly to something more sustainable.

He’s talked about $4 trillion in cuts, but he’s using the famed “fuzzy math” to get there.

I really doubt many Americans are thinking about this right now, as the rain comes down in sheets and the trees do their version of a hula dance.

I am thinking in the coming days it might be discussed, or at the very least it should be.

This is about to be a real life, terrifying and desperate display of the role the federal government now plays in our lives.

I’m sure I have more to say on this, but as I write, I just saw a 40 foot (12 metre) tree touch the ground with the tip of its highest leaves, so I’m going in the basement.

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