WASHINGTON -- There's nothing like a natural disaster to test the depth of politicians' preference for small government.

And so it turns out that after Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast, Mitt Romney is far more supportive of the government agency in charge of coordinating disaster relief. Only last year, as Romney hewed to the right while battling for the GOP nomination, he seemed to downplay the federal government's role in disaster response.

"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," Romney said at a debate last June. "And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better."

Asked by moderator John King of CNN whether that would include disaster relief, Romney said: "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."

Now, a week before Election Day, after of a massive disaster, Romney's campaign is reassuring voters that his administration wouldn't leave disaster victims in the lurch. The public's attention is locked on the devastation caused by Sandy at a time when Romney and President Barack Obama are locked in a close presidential campaign. With Obama heavily involved in getting federal funds to those in trouble, the Romney campaign moved quickly to reassure the public it supports a strong program of storm relief.

"I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters," Romney said in a statement supplied by his campaign Wednesday. "As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters."

Wednesday's statement came after the candidate ducked a spate of opportunities Tuesday to personally clarify his position and the statement essentially endorsed the current disaster aid system.

But what the campaign wouldn't do is say whether a President Romney would insist that help for disaster victims be funded by cutting other programs in the federal budget, as many conservative Republicans insist.

Running mate Paul Ryan is squarely on the side of cutting other spending to pay for disasters. Earlier this year, he tried but failed to scrap a new system, established in the 2011 debt ceiling-deficit cuts deal, that boosts disaster spending and budgets help for victims of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods before they occur. House leaders rebuffed him, siding with Appropriations Committee members of both parties who like the new system.

What Ryan proposed is that when disaster strikes, lawmakers first scour the rest of the budget for savings to pay for rebuilding homes, roads and schools and helping small businesses.

That's easier said than done, especially since it can mean delays in getting aid out the door. Disasters like Hurricane Katrina – and perhaps Sandy – can prove so costly that it's difficult to find cuts in other programs big enough to pay for the aid.

As has been shown time after time – especially as tornadoes and hurricanes rip through politically conservative states – even the sturdiest tea party supporters become fans of government when it's doling out money to storm victims for motel rooms and other temporary housing or helping with house repairs.

That role fell Tuesday to New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, who was effusive in his praise for Obama and the federal government's initial response.

"The president has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA," Christie said on NBC's "Today."

It'll take several weeks to come up with damage cost estimates to determine whether FEMA's main disaster account will need more money.

FEMA has enough cash available to deal with immediate disaster relief, almost $8 billion, thanks to a six-month government funding bill passed in September and the new disaster financing system.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • President Barack Obama

    In a hastily organized press briefing at the White House, Obama said Monday that his race with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is the furthest thing from his mind as the East Coast braces for what could be its worst storm in history. "I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I am worried about the impact on families. I am worried about the impact on our first responders," he said. "The election will take care of itself next week." ... He also sent out a campaign email on Monday urging supporters to heed advice from local authorities and extending an early thank you to first responders. “Michelle and I are keeping everyone in the affected areas in our thoughts and prayers. Be safe,” reads the email, signed by Obama. -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/hurricane-sandy-obama_n_2042403.html?1351610452">HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery and Lynne Peeples </a></em>

  • Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took a moment in an overflow room ahead of a campaign rally Monday to express his concern for those in the path of Hurricane Sandy and encourage the people of Ohio to do what they could to help those out east. “I want to mention that our hearts and prayers are with all the people in the storm's path," he said in Avon Lake, Ohio. "Sandy is another devastating hurricane by all accounts, and a lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy's fury." He went on to encourage those who can afford it to make a donation to the Red Cross. "If there are other ways that you can help, please take advantage of them because there will be a lot of people that are going to be looking for help and the people in Ohio have big hearts, so we're expecting you to follow through and help out," he said. Romney concluded the rally by echoing his comments from the overflow room. "This looks like another time we all need to come together," he said. -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/mitt-romney-hurricane-sandy_n_2039620.html?1351610466">HuffPost's Elise Foley</a></em>

  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) continued his praise of President Barack Obama's work responding to Hurricane Sandy, using a press briefing Monday evening to note that he appreciated the "leadership" Obama was showing in the emergency. Christie, a prominent surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said that he and Obama had a private phone conversation on Monday to discuss how the federal government could help New Jersey. He said that Obama told Christie that he could call him directly over the next 48 hours if the state government had issues with federal response to the hurricane in New Jersey. “I appreciate that type of leadership," Christie said of Obama. The Republican governor said most of the call centered on Obama's concern for New Jersey and then he continued to heap praise on the president, saying Obama's work has been "proactive." Christie shortened a campaign trip for Romney to return to New Jersey to handle the storm response. Christie started his praise of Obama during press briefings on Sunday, when he said "appreciated" Obama's outreach to him and the governors of other states being impacted by Hurricane Sandy. During a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Christie described another call he had with Obama and said that the president and his aides have been working to benefit New Jersey. “We appreciate the president’s efforts in that regard," Christie said earlier Monday. "He and his staff worked tremendously hard.” -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/chris-christie-sandy-obama_n_2041673.html">HuffPost's John Celock</a></em>

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker

  • Former Vice President Al Gore

    This week, our nation has anxiously watched as Hurricane Sandy lashed the East Coast and caused widespread damage--affecting millions. Now more than ever, our neighbors need our help. Please consider donating or volunteering for your local aid organizations. The images of Sandy’s flooding brought back memories of a similar--albeit smaller scale-- event in Nashville just two years ago. There, unprecedented rainfall caused widespread flooding, wreaking havoc and submerging sections of my hometown. For me, the Nashville flood was a milestone. For many, Hurricane Sandy may prove to be a similar event: a time when the climate crisis—which is often sequestered to the far reaches of our everyday awareness became a reality. While the storm that drenched Nashville was not a tropical cyclone like Hurricane Sandy, both storms were strengthened by the climate crisis. Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. Hurricane Sandy, and the Nashville flood, were reminders of just that. Other climate-related catastrophes around the world have carried the same message to hundreds of millions. Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy's storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse. Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

    "Our thoughts and prayers rest with the families, friends, and loved ones of all those who have lost their lives in the course of Hurricane Sandy, and our hearts go out to the millions of Americans waking up to destruction and devastation in their homes and communities today. "We are all grateful to the rescue workers and first responders working around-the-clock to save lives, restore power, and deal with the immediate aftermath of the storm. Federal, state, and local authorities have worked hand-in-hand to prepare for and respond to this natural disaster, and we will continue to do so as Americans begin to take stock of the damage, recover, and rebuild. "All Members of Congress stand ready to offer our aid and assistance to communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. As we have done in the past, the American people will stand united to confront the impact of this storm and start the work of recovery."

  • Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

  • Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)

  • Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

  • Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

  • Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.)

  • Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

  • Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.)

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)

  • Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio)

  • Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.)

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)

    “Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the Northeast hard last night and will complicate life in our region for the coming days. I am astounded at what I have seen in my own congressional district: flooding throughout Coney Island, Battery Park City, and other areas; widespread power outages; felled trees everywhere you look; and some very tragic fatalities. I am grateful to our local responders and laborers, who are doing a tremendous job on emergency response. And, through the President’s declaration of New York as a major disaster area, we will be able to immediately allocate FEMA funds to begin to repair the billions of dollars in damage locally and bring relief to New Yorkers whose lives have been turned upside down.”