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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, first, I wish to thank our chairman of the Judiciary Committee and ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee for his leadership, his caring, his concern, and his expertise. The people of New York are very grateful to the Senator from Vermont for his concern and caring. We thank him for that very much.

Today we begin debate on one of the most momentous proposals to effect New York's future that we have ever debated, a proposal equal in magnitude and importance to the debate about aid to New York after the horrible attacks on our city on 9/11. I must say the debate is off to a good start. Our colleagues on both sides of the aisle have shown tremendous concern. Leader Reid has agreed to allow amendments so that those in this Chamber, particularly those on the other side, can make modifications. Leader McConnell and the Republican minority have not insisted on a motion to proceed. So we are beginning this bill in very auspicious way, in a way that people think the Senate should work, not one side blocking amendments and not the other side blocking the bill. I hope it can lead to an equally auspicious result.

I rise today to discuss the greatest natural disaster in the history of my State and the importance of passing the President's request--the President's full request for supplemental disaster aid.

As you know, Mr. President, Superstorm Sandy was a catastrophic shock to the coastline of the Northeastern United States. In the blink of an eye, the Atlantic Ocean turned from our greatest natural resource into a nightmarish monster, swallowing whole communities in its path. The beating heart for many parts of the Nation's economy, New York City, was paralyzed for days, and parts are paralyzed to this moment. Whole neighborhoods, from Long Bench, NY, to Long Beach Island, NJ, were ripped from their foundations and washed away. I saw whole communities where almost every house suffered severe damage, where the water came in, because of the geography, from the north and south and sometimes from the north, the south, and the west. I saw the devastation. It was incredible. You know that when God's hand strikes, those who are affected are usually severely hurt--a tornado, a forest fire, a flood, a hurricane.

What was incredible about this disaster was not the depth of it--we have always seen the depth of tragedies from natural disasters with our constituents--but it was the combination of the depth and the breadth. It was not just one small area in which a tornado, say, lighted down and then left; it was a huge swath of territory, all flooded by a perfect storm, a huge nor'easter that combined with a tropical storm, a full Moon, and a high tide.

Experts had said the East River, the Hudson River, Great South Bay would never rise--never--more than 11 feet above its previous record, and in place after place that record was exceeded, unfortunately, with terrible, tragic consequences to that occurrence.

The tragic storm was an unfortunate wake-up call for New York and the rest of the country that we need to do much more at the Federal level, the State level, and the local level to prepare, protect, and fortify our vulnerable infrastructure from future storm surge activity. Our region suffered, according to mainstream estimates, nearly $100 billion worth of damage. That is just the damage that has been measured up to now. We are going to see future damage that has not yet been uncovered, estimated, or even found.

Governors Cuomo and Christie requested about $80 billion of recovery and mitigation funds. President Obama called for approximately $60 billion. He scrubbed the proposals of our Governors. OMB was very careful. They spent about a week looking over the proposals and tried to narrow it down to the most essential and most immediate needs. Our delegation--Democrats and Republicans from the New York-New Jersey area--believes that $60 billion is a fair starting point.

The damage numbers are mind-blowing. Here are a few examples. This is from New York alone. New Jersey received almost as much damage as New York. Transportation: $7.3 billion. Our subway system, which is an amazing system--it brings 3 1/2 million people on and off Manhattan every day--the subway and railroad system was devastated. Much of it was built over 100 years ago. There was no thought of such floods, and the system was unprotected. Housing: $9.6 billion. Mr. President, 305,000 homes, according to the Governor's estimate, have already applied for insurance in New York alone.

My good colleague from Louisiana is here. She has been invaluable in guiding us, helping us, and being at our side. She has been through this. She knows better than any other Member of this Chamber, I daresay, what this kind of disaster can do, but more importantly for us, she knows how to deal with these problems because she has been through it. She is recommending to us to keep the places where the Federal response worked and modify the responses in places where the Federal response did not. That has been invaluable. I take off my hat. I speak on behalf of all of us in the northeast area to the Senator, the chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Anyway, in Katrina about 270,000 homes received that type of damage, so we have many more homes damaged, gone, flooded.

This is a picture, by the way, of the 86th Street subway, way up in Manhattan, far away from the points of New York Harbor. But there was so much flooding--look at it. Remember, this water is saltwater. It corrodes every signal, every light. If it were freshwater, the damage from this storm would have been a lot less. There it is, 86th Street.

I mentioned that homes were destroyed. Here are two examples. This is a house on Staten Island. Whole communities like Midland Beach were totally upended. Water was 6, 7, 8, 10 feet high. It did not just go in 1 street but 10 streets, the powers of the ocean were such. Home after home looked like this. It is incredible. I have held these homeowners in my arms--children, women, grown men who were distraught about the future. Who can blame them?

Here is another. In some places, because the saltwater created fire in the electrical systems of the houses, whole communities were knocked out. In Breezy Point, 101 homes burned to the ground amidst the rain and the wind because the water systems--when the electricity failed, the firefighters could not pump, and the fires spread from house to house to house.

There is a shrine here. It is a statue of the Virgin Mary. It is the only thing left in this whole area. Now people come and place flowers and pray and meditate by that statue.

Incidentally, one of the homes that was destroyed was that of our Congress Member, Congressman Turner of Brooklyn and Queens, Republican of Brooklyn and Queens, whose home was destroyed out in Breezy Point.

Utilities were $1.5 billion. Many of our utilities were outdated, no question. They had no way to communicate. But even if they weren't, because their power lines are above ground, not below, they suffered huge damage, as did people.

Four major hospitals are still closed--thousands of beds. They range from Long Beach Hospital, a hospital that serves a local community that is right on the waterfront, to NYU, New York University Hospital, which is one of the great research and teaching facilities in America. It alone lost over $1 billion of equipment.

They were told by the companies that make their machinery--the radio coaxial tomography, the MRIs--to put them in the basement because these machines have to be carefully calibrated given the sea level and the slight slant of the floor. They were all washed away, $1 billion of machinery, not to mention decades of research.

I visited--I think they call it the vivarium. It is where the animals are that they have done genetic experiments on. The white mice that they test for generation after generation were wiped out.

Government and schools were $2 billion. Government buildings were destroyed. I think we have over 40 schools in New York City that were destroyed, mostly by the water. Roads, bridges, you name it--the devastation is everywhere. It is wide, and it is deep.

So with this kind of devastation, even a large area such as New York cannot handle it on its own. Fortunately, we have had a wisdom here in this government for close to a century; that is, when nature strikes, when the hand of God comes down on Earth and creates the kind of damage that man can't comprehend, no locality can handle it on its own, then the Federal Government steps in, which means the country as a whole steps in. When there were hurricanes in Louisiana and Mississippi, the whole country stepped in. We said: We know this is too much for you to handle alone. When there were forest fires out west, the whole country stepped in, saying: We know you can't handle this kind of devastation on your own. When there was flooding in the Missouri and Mississippi valleys, the Federal Government came in.

We in New York--hundreds of millions--over the decades, probably billions of our tax dollars went to help these regions, and I never heard any complaints about it. We are one Nation. When one part of our Nation suffers, we all suffer, particularly in these days of an interrelated economy. New York buys billions of dollars of products from New Jersey and the rest of the country, and so people did it.

Now, of course, the devastation has hit us, and we know our colleagues will stand by us as we have stood by them. We know they will give a careful look to our proposal, but they will not deliberately put barriers in the way because they don't want to treat New York differently. They don't want to treat New Jersey differently than they treated the others.

We have heard three questions about this package, and the questions are these:

First, should we have offsets to the monies that are proposed here?

Now, we have not done that in the long history of disasters, for a good reason. You will never get the disaster money if you have to pit an existing Federal program against disaster money. We have always said that disaster is treated separately, and we would hope that would continue. It would not be fair or right to do this now. I would say to my colleagues, if we begin a pattern of offsetting now--there was some attempt to do it with Irene, but in a bipartisan way we rejected that in this body. If your whole area is hit next and you have to sit there and wait while Congress fights over offsets, what are you going to do? It would be an awful precedent to start that.

Second, we have heard: Why--what is this mitigation?

Some people have used the word ``stimulus'' to be equal to ``mitigation.'' The two words are totally different. As I understand stimulus, in the stimulus bill there was a percentage of programs that were put in that had nothing do with the stimulus, and that was probably a mistake. I don't think it was a large percentage of the stimulus, but it sure stuck in people's minds.

Any proposal that has nothing to do with a storm, a natural disaster, shouldn't be in this proposal. We agree to that. We believe OMB has scrubbed it, so there is no stimulus-type money here. There is mitigation money. What does mitigation mean? Mitigation means, quite frankly, that you rebuild but you rebuild in such a way that if, God forbid, there is another storm, you don't suffer the same damage. You don't put all those machines in the basement of NYU again; you move them up to the third floor even if it costs a little more. You don't simply rebuild the South Street subway station the exact same way; you put in either steel doors or those air bag-type things so that if, God forbid, another flood comes, the station won't be flooded and we won't have to spend the money all over again. Mitigation means that if the dunes are wiped out across the Rockaways and Long Beach, you build them up. You probably build them up a little higher so the damage--God forbid another storm comes--won't be as great and the expense won't be as great. We have always done mitigation. It has always been part of our bill.

I am glad to see my good friend from Mississippi here, who has been of such help and encouragement to us. All of us in New York and New Jersey so appreciate his wise, quiet, kind, and intelligent counsel.

I remember there was a proposal on the floor after Katrina. There was a railroad that was very close to the shore. Yes, it would have cost more money to rebuild the railroad a distance inland. I don't remember how much. I think it was about a mile inland, and it cost about $700 million more to do. Senator Cochran and Senator Lott made the argument on the floor, and it made sense to me, and I voted for it. I think all of us in the Northeast did. So mitigation makes sense.

The third argument we have heard, which is probably the one gaining the most weight now, is let's just spend a year of this money now, and we will see what happens later.

That would be nice, but there are three things wrong with that. First, sort of esoteric--it is the way we budget. We have outlays, and we have budget authority. While the outlays may not be great for this year because not all the money will be spent, we have always had budget authority that recognizes that things take more than a year to build. To cut back on the budget authority, not the outlays, would be against the way we budget around here and a new double standard, I would think, that would tie us up in knots in the future.

The second argument: How can you build a year at a time when many of these projects take more than a year to design, plan, and construct?

We have to redo the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel--the largest underwater tunnel in the world, certainly in the country. Are we going to say: We will give you enough money to build a quarter of it today, and then come back next year and see if we should build a second quarter. No business would work that way. No government should work that way. Most of these projects need to begin now but may take more than a year. To say we are only giving money for the year doesn't make much sense. That is the second argument against this 1-year policy.

Third is the way FEMA and many of these agencies work. They don't reimburse you ahead of time. You don't submit a proposal and say: My house has $80,000 worth of damage. Send me the money, FEMA, and then I will hire a contractor and pay for it.

No, no. What FEMA tells the government, individuals, small businesses--it says: You go contract it. We will approve that that is actually the money that was needed due to the storm, and then we will pay you.

So if we don't have the money there now, how can we expect businesses and homeowners and governments to outlay billions of dollars that are needed and hope that maybe next year, we might allocate some money? It will at best dramatically slow down the growth or the rebuilding we desperately need, and it could halt it in its tracks.

There has been a CBO study that says that only a small amount of the money will be paid for now. But the CBO study, like many things CBO does--we all know this--was based on very narrow assumptions that don't apply. Let me give an example. There is $17 billion of CDBG money requested. That is where most of the help is. Senator Cochran and Senator Landrieu learned this when they had their problems. It goes for the housing and some of the other things, and it gives a little flexibility to the governments that they need--not a wide berth but a little more flexibility.

CBO said that only $75 million of it would be spent this year. Well, that was based on an old program that existed during Katrina. It was based on the fact that many of those who were hurt in the area, particularly in New Orleans, fled, and it took them months and months to even come back, let alone begin building homes. It was based not on the new legislation that has been proposed--which allows building to occur quickly and more easily based on some of the recommendations of my colleague from Louisiana, Senator Landrieu--but on the old stuff.

CBO said we will only spend, I believe it is $1.8 billion on transportation this year. The MTA has already bonded for $4.6 billion in repairs they need to make over the next 2 years.

It makes no sense, and I think there is a chart here--it says ``point to chart,'' but there is none, so I would point to the atmosphere. It just didn't match up to what the MTA's needs were. When I told the MTA what the CBO said, they said, ``What planet are they on?'' The FTA is now going to be the spend-out program. That was a recommendation made by the folks from the Gulf States after Katrina.

The FTA said it is much better to have a transit agency deal with rebuilding transit than to have FEMA do it; payout would be much quicker. But CBO based its estimates on the old FEMA model because they don't work on new models. We have learned that in the health care and other debates.

So the CBO study is wrong. It is just wrong. Those are the three arguments made against it, and none of them really hold up.

I say to my colleagues, if you can find stuff that is not disaster related in here, that is a legitimate argument, and we will work with you and scour the package more. But on offsets, on mitigation, and on this idea, let's just give the money needed for 1 year and wait and see what happens in the second year. You just can't rebuild an area if you do those things, most of which are counterintuitive.

There are a few more points I wish to make. New York has to do several things at once. We have to simultaneously rebuild, but we also have to protect against future storms, and to rebuild now makes sense and to protect makes sense. We can either invest in protections now or we will pay later. That is vital to know.

Second, I would make the point that within about 2 weeks after Katrina, Congress passed $61 billion in aid. This idea we are moving much too quickly is belied by what happened there.

Third, on the issue of mitigation, the Stafford Act says there is a need and an ability to do mitigation. And in fact, it has shown that $1 invested in mitigation saves $4 down the road. So we have lots of things here that are brought up legitimately but don't make sense.

In conclusion--and after this I want to say a brief word about what happened at Sandy Hook, so close to my area--I hope we can come together in a bipartisan way and pass this legislation. I appreciate so much that we are off to a good start--no blocking the motion to proceed and allowance of amendments--and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to solve this serious problem.


I will be very brief, Mr. President, but I wanted to say a few words about Sandy Hook.

I rise this afternoon to join our Nation in grieving for the 28 lives that were lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Friday. Words are not sufficient to describe the horror we feel as a Nation as the days go by and the events of last week gradually sink in. I see the pictures in the newspapers of these beautiful young children and, like others, I don't know what to do. There is a lump in the throat, and I wish I could make it go away. I wish this man who did the shooting didn't exist or didn't do what he did. It is horrible.

I read about the parents of the 300 or 400 children in the school who were brought to a firehouse, and as they found their child had survived, the names of the parents were called out so they could reunite with their kids. As the numbers grew less and less and less, imagine being in the group that remained. Horrible, just horrible.

Today the conversation turns to what do we do about this and what do we do about gun violence. I believe we need a new way forward on guns that breaks through the gridlock that has paralyzed us on this issue. We cannot have each side just yelling at each other and accomplishing nothing. We cannot be gridlocked on this issue as we are on others. Both sides need to recognize something. Those of us who are pro gun control have to realize there are large parts of the country where guns are a way of life.

I know a little bit. When I was a kid, I got instructions on how to shoot a .22 rifle from an NRA-trained supervisor at my camp--summer camp--and I wasn't a bad shot. I won a couple of those merit badges for marksmanship and sharpshooter. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit with our colleague Ben Nelson. He took me out pheasant hunting. I enjoyed the experience. So we have to acknowledge that guns are a way of life and that the second amendment has a rightful place in the Constitution. We cannot interpret the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments as broadly as possible and then say the second amendment should be seen through a pinhole of militias, that it only affects militias. That is only fair. But then our colleagues on the other side must acknowledge that, yes, there is a second amendment right--and by the way, the Heller decision now makes that the law of the land, so I hope our folks who are pro gun realize no one is going to take their guns away. Before the Heller decision there was a view every bit of gun control is a way to eventually confiscate the hunting rifle your Uncle Tommy gave you when you were 12 years old. But there is a Heller decision and that is a bulwark against it.

I think those of us on the gun control side should accept it, that it is only fair, only right the second amendment to the Constitution is there just as the others are and deserves respect and not an endless effort to chip away at it. But then our colleagues on the pro gun side should admit another thing, and that is that no amendment is absolute. As important as it is, as constitutional, as enshrined as it is, no amendment is absolute.

Take the first amendment. We can't falsely scream fire in a crowded theater. That creates such danger. That is an impingement on someone's first amendment rights. We have anti-child pornography laws. We should have them, but that too is a limitation on the first amendment. Even libel laws, in a pure first amendment world, you could say and defame anything about anybody you wanted. We say no. That is a limitation on the first amendment. Well, just as there can be limitations on the first amendment, and yet the essence of the first amendment is preserved, the same should be true of the second amendment.

I was the author of the Brady law. I don't think it has interfered with a legitimate owner's right to have a gun in all the years it has been around, while at the same time it has saved tens of thousands of lives. There are some on the extreme side of the right who say: Oh, no, get rid of the Brady law. They believe the second amendment should be absolute. But they are wrong.

I would argue that other changes--making it harder for mentally ill people to get guns or saying assault weapons are weapons of war and don't belong on our streets but belong on the battlefield--do not interfere with the enjoyment I experienced when I went hunting with Ben Nelson, nor with the right of a small shopowner in a bad neighborhood who feels he needs a gun or she needs a gun to protect themselves.

We can come together. There can be a way of moving forward in the middle, with the left admitting the second amendment is important and as much a part of the Constitution as the others, and with the right admitting that limitations on that amendment--as there are limitations on the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth--do not interfere with the fundamental right and, in fact, that no amendment can be absolute.

I believe you can be both pro gun and pro gun safety just as you can be in favor of free speech but also against child pornography.

We need to start this conversation now, without delay. We owe it to ourselves as a Nation but in particular to our children.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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