EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT FOR DEFENSE, THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR, AND HURRICANE RECOVERY, 2006--CONFERENCE REPORT -- (Senate - June 14, 2006)
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Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, I come to the floor to speak about the supplemental.
As I begin, I would like to underscore some of the points the Senator from Illinois just made about the disturbing deficiencies in this particular supplemental relative to the underfunding of many ongoing critical issues that he so eloquently outlined. But I would like to say that there are some extraordinarily helpful items in this supplemental, which is why I am going to support it, why I was pleased to be a part of crafting the supplemental through the appropriations process as a member of that committee, and why I would like to say a particular thank you to the senior Senator from West Virginia, ROBERT BYRD, and--I see the chairman of the Appropriations Committee on the floor--to thank the Senator from Mississippi, Mr. Cochran, for his work in fashioning through this Senate a bill that will bring so much help and urgently needed support to the gulf coast.
It is not too soon for us to do this, considering hurricane season started last week and there is a tropical storm out in the gulf as we speak here on the floor. Throughout all the gulf coast, from Pascagoula all the way to Beaumont and in parts of Florida as well, of course, people are sitting on pins and needles, hoping and praying that this season that we are entering is not as catastrophic as the one we just left and looking to this Congress, looking to this Senate, looking to the House, looking to our Governors of our States, to give them support and encouragement. That is what this supplemental bill will do.
Within this supplemental bill, despite the real shortcomings that Senator Durbin has outlined and the real dilemma for those who want to support the troops in Iraq and support real disaster funds, there is an unfortunate choice of having to cut some overall funding that is critical to the country. But, from our perspective, representing the State of Louisiana--and trying to speak as well as I can for the whole gulf coast--we have to get this supplemental passed today.
The leadership of the Appropriations Committee has tried, on the Senate side, to push a robust, strong supplemental bill through to help the people of the gulf coast.
I would like to spend just a moment talking about some of the things that we were successful with in this bill, starting with $3.7 billion to repair and armor hurricane-protected levees throughout Louisiana, in the southeastern part of our State as well as other parts of our State.
The reason this is so critical is, as I have said many times, it wasn't the hurricanes which necessarily did us in in Louisiana, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but what really put us at risk and what really caused substantial damage and loss of life--1,300 people died in the last hurricane season in the United States, a record we could not even believe we would hit or a number we would hit, not in the year 2006, not with the warning we have, not with all the sophisticated technology we have today, but 1,300 people lost their lives in large measure because the Federal levee system collapsed. It broke in multiple places because of underfunding over the years and because of lack of integrity in the design. That report was released only 12 weeks ago. Repairing those levees, armoring them, and building them better, we are not able to do on a wish and a prayer. We need to do that with real money, and the real money is in this bill.
I thank Senator Cochran and the administration for stepping up and realizing that their original request was billions of dollars short. Without this extra money, the people of south Louisiana and in large measure the gulf coast of Mississippi--which, by the way, is protected by the levee systems and the coastal system of Louisiana--would be very vulnerable. We have added almost $2 billion through the process from the original $1.9 billion. Without the strong support of Senator Byrd and Democratic Members as well as the leadership of Senator Cochran, this would not have been possible.
I also wish to say that a very strong part of this bill we will find in the $5.2 billion for community development block grants. The original request by the administration was only about $4 billion. While we were extremely happy for that because it was directed to Louisiana, we were able to put an additional $1 billion for community development block grants to make sure that Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, to some degree Florida, and, of course, Louisiana get the help they need, not through FEMA, which even on its best day is not working very well, not through other agencies that have not been designed or are not functioning well, but directly to our Governors and to our legislators and local officials who can put this community development block grant to good use--rebuilding 200,000 homes in Louisiana that were destroyed, 10 times more than Hurricane Andrew, which was the most expensive storm to hit Florida or the United States prior to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We are very grateful and very hopeful that this community development block grant funding can go to rebuilding, to setting up a new approach to rebuilding houses.
The saddest thing was that many people didn't have insurance because they weren't in the flood plain. They didn't have insurance because they had already paid for their homes. Their homes were paid in full, on high ground, not in a flood plain. Then the levees broke, and middle-income families, wealthy families, and poor families lost their largest asset--their security for their retirement, their emotional security, having worked a whole lifetime to build assets of a home, washed away. For some parents and for some grandparents, this was the way they were going to send their children or grandchildren to college. Gone. Without this community development block grant, they have no hope of restoring their asset or rebuilding their equity--no hope.
Mississippi has developed a plan that is slightly different from Louisiana's plan. I am not sure either one of them is perfect, but it is the plan they came up with. Our job is to get them the money and urge them to do the very best they can with giving people a start.
This is just a picture of one house. I am sure Senator Cochran and Senator Lott have others. I will literally show you pictures of homes of all different shapes and sizes. Over 275,000 of them look like this. Again, it wasn't just a regular hurricane, which we are used to in the gulf. When the levees broke and a tsunami, a wave of 20 feet of water, poured into the city of New Orleans out of Lake Pontchartrain, this is what was left. That is what people came back to.
People ask: Senator, why isn't everybody scurrying around rebuilding? Well, if this were my house--and my brothers' and sisters' houses look like this; four of them lost their houses; this is what they look like. When they showed up, I, frankly, know how they felt. They do not know where to begin. Even if they can clean up their house, every house to the left and every house to the right and every house as far as the eye can see looks like this, and they are not sure they want to be the only one back in the neighborhood, with no water, no lights, et cetera.
This is a problem of huge magnitude for the gulf coast. As I said, this is not a place which is inconsequential to the Nation; this place is the heart of America's energy coast. One of the reasons the price of oil is so high is because these hurricanes shut down the oil and gas industry for the most part in the gulf when they hit. Anytime a hurricane comes to the gulf, we have to relocate within 24 hours about 6,000 to 7,000 oil workers who make their living on these platforms out in the gulf. These are cities out in the gulf. Every time those waves kick up, to great credit to the industry, I am not sure we had one loss of life. I could be wrong, but I am not sure. I am almost sure there was no loss of life to the workers here because we got them off of those rigs, tied those rigs down, and buckled down for those storms. When the storms pass, we all go back out and we set this up again.
Not only were these storms category 4 and 5 and we are still only 75 percent up, but the communities that serve them--like the community of St. Bernard where a lot of people live who work in these oilfields lost 59 percent of their houses, and 90 percent of all their businesses were destroyed because the levees broke. We are asking these people who live in those houses which you just saw to go out to these rigs every day to work to turn the lights on in this Chamber. They do a real good job of that. I am proud of the work they do. But this supplemental will help them rebuild their homes, rebuild their schools, and rebuild their businesses. The least we can do is pass it without any more time lapse to give them a chance to get back.
I hope members of the Appropriations Committee and the authorizing committees will really grab this opportunity; that is, we fought to get some additional money in this bill, and we ended up with $400 million for some alternative housing.
Let me say as a Senator from Louisiana that I have been through these storms. Can we please move past the plan to put people in trailers? It is costing the Federal Government $70,000 to put people in a trailer. We could practically build a house for $70,000 and let people live there temporarily until they can get back into their real houses. It is an extraordinary waste of money. We are wasting it at rates that stagger people. We have to think about a new way of not putting everybody in trailers.
Another problem with putting people in trailers is when the next hurricane season comes along, their trailers could literally blow away if they are not tacked down the way they should be, or secured. And FEMA has just let all the people living in trailers know that they are not to take the trailers with them. Even though they are travel trailers, they cannot take them with them if they have to evacuate because they might steal them.
Here we are going to have thousands of people who are living in trailers which cost $70,000 each to hook up--and contractors made a lot of money off of this system--and the people who have to live in them only get a little bit of space to live. Some are living in them with three or four children, which makes for an exciting opportunity for families. These trailers cannot be moved when the hurricane comes. I hope the winds don't get up to 150 miles an hour because we will have a lot of trailers flying around. I don't know what is going to happen there.
I am so happy that we could fight for this $400 million. That sounds like a lot of money, but considering we are spending billions of dollars on trailers, to think maybe we could do this a better way next time--that is in this bill.
Another part in this bill which we fought hard to keep--and we got knocked down quite a bit, but we managed to save a piece of it--was for the colleges and universities. Mississippi has two colleges that were very severely damaged. I believe that is correct. I could be wrong. If I am, I will correct the record. But Louisiana has 12 major universities--Tulane, Loyola, the University of New Orleans, Xavier, Dillard, McNeese on the western side--and 45,000 people are employed by these universities, and there are 40,000 students at these universities. Dillard University, one of the historic Black colleges in our country, a private college with an excellent reputation, small--the kids are still at the Hilton Hotel taking classes and eating their meals in the dining room of the Hilton Hotel because their whole campus was destroyed. Their insurance is slow. They are having a hard time getting back. But it is a beautiful, historic campus.
We have $50 million in this bill to try to give out grants. They have borrowed as much as they can. Their boards of directors are fighting to keep these universities up and running. Besides the great history of these universities, they are the economic engine that is going to pull the gulf coast up from its knees and pull it back. If not our universities, who is going to do the job?
Instead of having our universities lay off people, our universities should be hiring people. These are people getting good jobs that pay $50,000 and $100,000. We need our researchers, teachers, and our professors leading the way, and we need our students leading the way to rebuild this great part of America. We have some money in this bill for that. I am proud that we got bipartisan support for that effort on the Senate side.
Finally, I wish to mention two other things. In the city of New Orleans, where the water flooded 80 percent of the east bank of the city, one of the facilities we lost was the veterans hospital. We have over 400,000 veterans in Louisiana. I think we probably have about 300,000 in Mississippi. Between the gulf coast of Mississippi and New Orleans, we had a very good system of health care for our veterans, who really deserve our very best. All Americans deserve good health care, but for men and women who spent their early years, their teenage years, in their early twenties in foxholes, the least we can do for them for defending this country and holding up the flag--today is Flag Day--is make sure when their hospitals and clinics are destroyed that we not only build them back but we build them back better and stronger.
If they were too close to the coast, we will move it back.
This hospital was safely in downtown New Orleans, not anywhere near a coast, not anywhere near a lake, not anywhere near the ocean. Because the levees broke, that building was flooded, and now we have veterans without a hospital.
The money for that hospital is in this bill. My colleagues have committed to pass the prerequisite authorization we need to get that done. We will build up in the next couple of months a better health care system for veterans in the gulf coast, and do it smartly with taxpayer money because we are partnering with LSU and perhaps even with Tulane to do a very interesting build of this new hospital that serves veterans and the public alike as we rise up with a better health care system for the gulf coast.
Finally, small businesses. I don't know what makes me sadder. I can't even decide what is the saddest thing about this because it is all so sad. We lost 20,000 businesses. Just as people lost their home, their greatest asset, people struggle their whole life to build a business. It might not have been a huge business, but it was their business. It might not have been a $50 million business, but it employed three or four people. It made a living for the business owner, and it contributed to the society and to the strength of the community. Many of those businesses are gone.
We have been very slow to recognize the extraordinary magnitude of this disaster, saying to our businesses: Just go to the Small Business Administration and get a loan.
I will spend 1 minute on this. Senator Kerry and I sat through 3 hours of testimony, 7 hours on the ground at a small business tour in New Orleans. I want to tell you what people said: Senator, this makes no sense to me. I got my loan. I asked for a $400,000 loan. I applied for it. After 4 or 5 months, I finally got approved. But I don't really need $400,000. My husband and I decided we really only want to borrow about $200,000 because we do not want to take on that much debt. We are afraid we can't really pay it back. But the Small Business Administration told us we have to borrow the $400,000 because if we don't, we cannot get a loan.
That is what is going on whether people want to believe it or not. And it gets worse. Not only are they forced to borrow more money than they need and more money than they really want, the Small Business Administration only sends them, say, $20,000 of the $400,000. Guess what their monthly amortization payment is on. It is not on the $20,000 that they have in hand, they have to pay based on the total amount. Every month, they are paying principal and interest on the $400,000, not the $20,000 they have in hand. That is the system under which our small businesses are operating.
I am begging the Senate to send more money, not through the regular channels, but this money will go through a different channel to give different grants and loans to these businesses in hopes we can save many of them. Some of them have been lost and can never be rebuilt. The business owners have moved and gone to other places. But there are many extraordinarily brave business owners who not only want to build their businesses back but build their communities back. The least we can do is give them programs that actually meet them halfway, that really work, and stop burying them in paperwork and redtape, rules that make no sense. It is enough to make someone want to quit. I would not blame them. But people are not going to quit in the gulf coast.
As we pass the supplemental, it adds to some additional funding we already passed. We will keep working until we get it right, building a better school system, a better health care system, building levees and support to protect this area because the people of the gulf coast contribute much more than they take to the strength of this national economy.
Off of this coast, wealth is created not just for the people who live there but for this Nation. We are going to prepare ourselves for this next hurricane season, pass the supplemental, and look with confidence to the future as we continue to make progress.
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