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Improving America's Security Act of 2007--Continued

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Location: Washington, DC


IMPROVING AMERICA'S SECURITY ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - March 06, 2007)

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, it was a typical fall day in New York City. People were headed to work, cars were stuck in traffic, the subways were packed, and the construction crews were busy rebuilding at Ground Zero. Nearby, Con Ed personnel were at work in a manhole, and they made a tragic discovery: ID tags and human remains not seen since that other fall day 5 years earlier. The city paused again. It launched another effort to recover and identify those taken from us on that dark September day.

The recovery is continuing after all this time. The recovery continues 5 1/2 years later, and just last week more victims were unearthed. After all this time, we are still recovering from September 11. Our prayers remain with the family members and friends who still mourn and miss the fathers and mothers and children who made their lives complete. During the Homeland Security Committee meeting to discuss the underlying bill, I met with some of those loved ones.

That is why we are here today. We are here to do the work that ensures no other family members have to lose a loved one to a terrorist who turns a plane into a missile, a terrorist who straps a bomb around her waist and climbs aboard a bus, a terrorist who figures out how to set off a dirty bomb in one of our cities. This is why we are here: to make our country safer and make sure the nearly 3,000 who were taken from us did not die in vain; that their legacy will be a more safe and secure Nation. That is what lies at the heart of this 9/11 bill. It is not just about how we send the money from Washington to States and local governments; it is about saving lives and doing everything in our power to prevent another attack, to prevent another tragedy, to ensure no one climbs down a manhole expecting to do their work only to find the deceased left in darkness 5 years earlier. That is why we are here--to protect our people.

Most of us had hoped these steps would have already been taken, would have been taken many years ago, that we would have capitalized on the unity and national spirit we shared after the towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and the Pennsylvania field smoldered. It is never too late to do, however, what is right for our country.

It has been more than 2 1/2 years since the 9/11 Commission issued its report. Not only did the panel of dedicated American researchers find out what happened that day, but they also gave a list of serious recommendations about how to make our country safer in the future. The 9/11 Commission showed us how to move beyond the politics of division in order to achieve the solemn task of better protecting our country.

In its report, the Commission said the following:

Homeland security assistance should be based strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities [and] federal homeland security assistance should not remain a program for general revenue sharing.

This is one of the goals of the 9/11 Commission. My amendment that I just introduced moves us closer to a true system of risk-based allocation of State homeland security grants and ensures that funding goes to areas most at risk of terrorist attacks.

This is not an issue of big States versus little States or urban States versus rural States. It is about good policy and about maximizing our use of the people's money.

Today, the system is set up so that all States receive at least .75 percent of the State Homeland Security Grant Program dollars. After each State receives that minimum level of funding, the dollars are then allocated according to risk. As a result, the current amount of State minimum funding eats up approximately 40 percent of that funding.

While the new bill does attempt to address this problem--and I applaud Chairman Lieberman and Senator Collins for trying to bring the .75 percent down to .45 percent--the bill does not go far enough. It is a good first step, but we are already 50 yards behind, sending too much money to areas where there are not real risks, threats, and vulnerabilities. That is why we must use the most dollars in those areas which are at the greatest risk of attack. We cannot afford to waste a single cent on places that do not need immediate help when first responders in major cities still lack the basic communications equipment they need to talk to one another if, Heaven forbid, tragedy strikes again.

That is why the families of 9/11 recently issued a statement saying:

Reports of air conditioned garbage trucks being purchased with homeland security funds are indicative of the frivolity that results from non risk-based methods. When the threat against our Nation is so real, we cannot afford not to take it seriously.

That is why the 9/11 Commission said Congress should not use this money as porkbarrel. That is why in 2005 the Commission issued a report giving the Nation an ``F' for risk-based funding. That is why 9/11 Commission Chairman Lee Hamilton recently sent me a letter. He wrote:

Since 9/11 and since the issuance of our report, the United States has not allocated homeland security resources wisely. Resources for homeland security are not unlimited, so it is thus essential that they be distributed based on a careful analysis of the risk, vulnerability and potential consequences of a terrorist attack. Adopting such a risk-based approach would make the best use of our homeland security resources, and would make the American people safer.

That is why 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer wrote in support of this amendment, saying:

We cannot afford to waste any more money, time or effort.

That is why the amendment I offer today, a bipartisan amendment with the support of Senators Warner, Coburn, Landrieu, Kennedy, Menendez, Clinton, and Schumer, reduces the guaranteed State minimum to .25 percent and allows those States on our northern and southern borders to see an increased minimum of .45 percent. This basic framework was adopted by a wide bipartisan margin in the House in January.

It is time for all of us to approach homeland security funding not as something we can bring home to the States we represent but funding we can use to better protect the United States of America. As we lower the guaranteed amount, we increase the funding available to protect those places most at risk, and 40 States will receive either the same amount or an increase in the funding they need to better protect our borders, our ports, our railways, our subways, our chemical plants, our nuclear powerplants, our food supply, and our firefighters, police officers, and EMTs.

We have waited more than 5 years to better develop our approach to funding our security in a post-9/11 world. Sometimes division and politics have prevented us from doing what we need to do. But I believe those days are finally behind us. We have a real chance to not only learn from our mistakes but to get the job done and better protect our people. That is why we are here--to make our country as safe and secure as we can. That is the common cause we all share. The American people need to see that in us today. The 9/11 Commission experts that from us. The families and friends of the 9/11 victims are owed that from us--that we will never forget those who died. We will never forget those who are suffering and sick because of their heroism that day. We will never forget that 60 percent of the victims were never identified. We will never forget that we are still recovering from 9/11--and that is why our work goes on.

Mr. President, let me add one last point.

I recognize it is difficult for some to see any shift of funding because it is difficult if that State potentially sees their funding reduced. But even within Illinois, I confront some of these same issues.

The fact of the matter is I have fought at the State level and have said publicly we should make sure risk assessments entirely determine how money within Illinois is allocated. That is the same approach we need to take for the Nation as a whole. Keep in mind my home city of Chicago is actually doing quite well under the current formula. So this is not something that is based solely on any parochial concerns.

I ask unanimous consent that the statements of the 9/11 families, the 9/11 Commission chairman, Lee Hamilton, and 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer be printed in the Record, as well as a chart showing how each State would fare under my amendment.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD

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Mr. OBAMA. If the Senator from Maine will yield, I want to ask a couple of questions based on my understanding. Maybe I am confused.

We based our assessment of which States see an increase, which States do not see an increase, and which States see a decrease under our bill on the CRS analysis, assuming $913 million appropriated. They tell us 34 States will see an increase in funding, 6 States will see the same amount of funding under my amendment to S. 4, and 10 States will see a loss. We have not had the benefit of the analysis that was just presented on that chart indicating 32 States would see a decrease, so I am curious if either the chairman or the Senator from Maine would tell me where they got that statistic. Because I understand the statement was made: Well, the formulas may change, and this was based on the previous formula.

I have no problem with changing the formula so it is more risk-based assessed. But I don't understand how it is that simply because we are going to eliminate some of the flaws of the previous formula that somehow--or the risk assessments, that somehow that is going to change the basic assessment that was made by the Congressional Research Service.

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Mr. OBAMA. Thank you very much. I want to make clear now, it sounds to me as if we are comparing apples and oranges. Assuming we--which is what CRS did--apply the same formula on my amendment, my amendment would have 34 States see an increase in funding, and 6 States would remain the same. Now, if the funding formula changes, it might change 1 or 2 States, depending on what the risk assessments were, but it is not going to result in 32 States suddenly

seeing a decrease in funding. This is a decrease in funding based on the bare minimums without applying any of the additional funding which we know is going to be coming. So it strikes me that chart does not describe at all the reality of what would happen under my amendment. I want to make sure I am clear in terms of what we are preparing here, because the best estimate of how this funding will be impacted is based on the CRS's own assessment of what would have happened this year.

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Mr. OBAMA. Madam President, I want to be exactly clear on what we are talking about here so there is no confusion among my colleagues. No one disputes that under my amendment, the minimum funding changes. That is the whole point of the amendment, is to change the minimum funding levels and shift more of the money into the risk-based assessment. So to state that 32 States lose on the minimum funding levels is to state the obvious. That is the point of the amendment.

The point is more money then goes into the risk-based funding, and when you factor that in, unless there is going to be no risk-based funding--I mean I suppose that is a possibility, but I don't think so--all that money, when you factor it in, will result in, under last year's formula, 34 States gaining and 6 States staying the same.

Now, I also agree with the distinguished Senator from Maine that there were problems with last year's formula, and I am fine with changes to that formula. I have actively supported changes to that formula, including any possible shortchanging of high-risk areas such as Washington, DC or New York.

The point of my amendment is very simple, and that is more money is allocated on the basis of risk. I am not concerned about predetermining where those risks are. That is the job of the Department of Homeland Security, and that is the purpose of our amendment.

I want to be clear. Under your chart, Illinois loses money that is guaranteed under the minimum funding, as does New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. But I would note that Senators MENENDEZ, COBURN, and LANDRIEU were all cosponsors because they understand when the money is allocated based on risk, then wherever we live throughout the United States, we are going to be potentially better off.

I am going to make one last point and then I am happy to listen to a response. Both Senators LIEBERMAN and COLLINS talked about an all-hazards funding approach. I have no objection to that either. But keep in mind, we are talking here about the State Homeland Security Grant Program, which is not supposed to be targeted at all hazards. We have a separate program--the Emergency Management Grant Program--that is supposed to be addressing all hazards and that is why this amendment does not touch that portion of homeland security funding that is directed at all hazards. That is not the purpose of the State Homeland Security Grant Program. The purpose of that is supposed to be to deal with potential terrorist threats. That is why the 9/11 Commission and Chairman Lee Hamilton of the 9/11 Commission and the 9/11 families, all of whom I think have great concern about the safety of all Americans, indicate it makes sense for us to allocate this as much on the basis of risk as possible.

It is for that reason that the House allocated funding on the basis of the formula we are discussing. I wish to make sure that anybody who is listening understands, yes, the guaranteed minimum funding might be less for 32 States, but that is because more of the money goes into the pot based on risk. When you add the funding that will be allocated on the basis of risk, then we can assume that at least 34 States would see an increase under my amendment, and 6 States would see about the same amount of funding. If the formula changes, it is conceivable that instead of 34 States, it may be 32 States or 36 States that see an increase in funding; instead of 6 States with the same amount under both amendments, it might be 4 States or 8 States. But the basic principle is that the funding is going to be allocated on risk. The Emergency Management Planning Grant Program deals with all-hazards funding.

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Mr. OBAMA. Madam President, I have a very quick comment, and then I will yield to the Senator from New Jersey, who wants to speak on this amendment. I wish to make perfectly clear that the statement made by the Senator from Delaware is absolutely right. Every State has some risks. I have no doubt that Delaware has chemical plants and there are ports and various facilities that constitute real risk. Under the formula I am advocating, the funding is allocated on the basis of risk that will take into account such infrastructure. The notion somehow that the Department of Homeland Security will not take chemical plants into account is simply incorrect.

Rural States, small States, large States--for all states, all of the allocations that are made, other than the .25 percent guaranteed level of funding, would be made on the basis of risk. The Department of Homeland Security will presumably make an educated, expert assessment on the risk that exists in Delaware, Maine or Connecticut. So it is not as if those States would not be getting money under this amendment. It is simply that the judgment of those experts, who are paid to determine what the threats are and what the risks are, would be the guiding basis upon which we make these decisions.

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Mr. OBAMA. Madam President, I thank my distinguished colleague from New Jersey for an eloquent summation of what this amendment is about. What I would like to do is reiterate my response to some of the issues that were raised by the distinguished Senators from Connecticut and Maine.

No. 1, we are talking about real money. We don't have exact figures, but let's assume we are talking about around $80 million that would be shifted from guaranteed funding to the States and instead would be allocated on the basis of risk. That $80 million will mean firefighters are getting the equipment they need in States that have higher risks. It will mean more money will be available for interoperability systems. It means this money will be allocated to States that have chemical plants and nuclear plants in higher proportion than those States that do not. In each case, this money, under my amendment, will be allocated on the basis of the risk assessments made by experts, as recommended under the 9/11 Commission Report, and will not be allocated simply on the basis that every State gets a piece of the pie regardless of risk, threats and vulnerabilities.

To go back to the issue of how many States benefit or lose, my main point is that we all win when the money is allocated on the basis of risk. We all win. Every State wins. But in terms of the estimates of which States gain and which States lose, I reiterate, the chart that was put up by the Senator from Maine is only talking about the amount of money that is allocated on the basis of guaranteed funding, not based on risk. The additional funding, the lion's share of the funding, as the Senator from Delaware stated, will be allocated on the basis of risk, and once you factor that in, then you can be assured that the overwhelming majority of States will get more money under my amendment than they will

under the underlying bill. That is the central point. Don't get confused when it is stated that 32 States stand to lose money under this amendment. They stand to lose the guaranteed money because more money goes back into risk assessment, and once it is put back into the States, then you will see a majority of States gaining under my amendment.

Madam President, there is one last point I wish to reiterate. One of the seemingly plausible arguments made by the Senator from Connecticut and the Senator from Maine was that we want an all-hazards funding approach--hurricanes, natural disasters. We want to make sure that money is fairly allocated. I reiterate, that is not the point of this program. We have another program that allocates on the basis of all hazards. That is the Emergency Management Planning Grant Program.

So if they want to make an argument that money should be allocated to all States at a certain percentage to guarantee minimum funding for all hazards funding, that is entirely sensible, but that is not what this funding stream is all about. This funding stream is supposed to address the specific risks and threats of terrorism. So if we want to follow the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report, then we must protect against those particular risks for which the program is designed.

I appreciate the healthy debate. This does not always happen on the floor of the Senate. I thank my colleague from Connecticut, the chairman of the committee, for entertaining as many questions as he did, and I thank him for his patience.

I reiterate that the underlying bill is an improvement over the status quo, but the same principles that drove the Senator from Connecticut and the Senator from Maine to change and reduce the amount of minimum funding each State obtains is the same principle of my amendment. I just take it a step further.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised that if you applied the manner of calculating funding that was up on the chart behind the Senator from Maine, it is not clear to me you wouldn't see a whole bunch of States losing under the change the Chairman has proposed as well. But what he realizes and the reason he thinks the underlying bill makes sense is because that money is going to be distributed based on risk, and in the end a lot of States will do better. This amendment is no different. It simply takes it a step further in line with what the House has done and in line with what the 9/11 Commission Report recommends.

I urge all my colleagues to join on this amendment. I believe it will be an improvement not just for some States but for the entire country.

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