10/31/2012 07:26 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Shows the Stark Choice in This Election

After watching the images of devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, all of our thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this terrible disaster and the brave first responders working day and night to help them.

As the storm passes, we must come together as Americans to support these families. We must also ensure that these hard-hit communities have what they need to get through a long period of clean-up and rebuilding.

Hurricane Sandy reminds us of a basic truth: Disaster relief and preparedness matter. In times of great crisis, it is critical that we have a strong national response to help provide a lifeline to affected states.

As a Senator from a state that has experienced more than its share of disasters -- 149 declared disasters since 1993 -- I have witnessed firsthand the importance of the federal response and what it means for our people.

I'll never forget the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the terrible damage it caused, but also the difficulty we faced in getting the federal assistance Californians needed. But after the 1994 Northridge quake, I traveled with then-FEMA Director James Lee Witt across Southern California and saw how he cut through the red tape. This speedy response helped lift people's spirits and helped the entire region to rebuild and quickly get back on its feet.

I've seen the same type of leadership from President Obama this week. He has been staying in close contact with federal officials and governors of both parties to ensure they get what they need. More importantly, he began declaring emergencies even before the storm began so that states would have the security of knowing they would have the resources to save lives, prevent further damage and help communities respond and rebuild.

Would a President Romney respond to national disasters differently? Unfortunately, the answer is "absolutely."

During a Republican primary debate last year, Governor Romney was asked whether the federal role in emergency management should be handed over to the states. "Absolutely," he responded. "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."

Everyone knows that in a national disaster, we all need to pull together. The president working with the states to ensure that every need is met is how America responds to the challenges of a disaster. Delegating or privatizing this essential federal responsibility to protect our citizens would be dangerous and misguided.

Romney's record as governor in dealing with disasters has also raised doubts. In Massachusetts, local officials have questioned Romney's responsiveness when communities in the state were faced with serious local disasters.

Moreover, Romney and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, have embraced cuts that would devastate our nation's ability to respond to disasters. Ryan's budget would slash $1.3 billion from FEMA's budget, including cutting $425 million from grants to states and local communities to help them prepare for and respond to disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.

As a nation, there are some priorities that are simply too important to leave to chance -- they can't be short-changed and they can't be outsourced. Protecting our people and responding to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes and other disasters is clearly one of them.

Just ask the people along the East Coast whether America needs a strong federal commitment to disaster relief and preparedness. The communities that have been devastated by these tragedies deserve nothing less.