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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, on behalf of the distinguished chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Inouye, I have introduced an emergency supplemental and disaster aid bill. This is to respond to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

The eyes, ears, and hopes of tens of millions of our fellow Americans who were in this storm's path are now trained upon the U.S. Senate. And with us in this effort, as well, is the good will of the entire Nation.

I say that because in my almost 38 years here, I have been on this floor time and time again--different Presidents, sometimes in the majority, sometimes in the minority--where there has been devastation in different parts of this country, and in every single instance--every single instance--the Senate has come together to provide relief to those hit by hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, or anything else.

Superstorm Sandy was remarkable, and I use that in the broadest sense of the word. It hit the east coast 7 weeks ago. What it did is it swelled to become the largest Atlantic hurricane in history. It was hundreds of miles wide, much wider than my own State of Vermont. Its reach was greater than even that of Hurricane Katrina along the gulf coast.

Sandy claimed the lives of more than 120 of our fellow Americans. It destroyed more than 340,000 homes and 200,000 businesses. More than 8.5 million families were without power in 15 States and the District of Columbia.

The scale of the damage is almost hard to fathom. I remember seeing the damage caused by Irene last year, including the devastation from which my home State of Vermont is still recovering. Because of my involvement in that, I am acutely aware of the need for a rapid and unified response from Federal, State, and local authorities to meet the needs of so many of our fellow American citizens.

As of last week, the Homeland Security Subcommittee reports that the Federal Government has already provided over $2.7 billion in relief through FEMA, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies. As of today, 12 States have active major disaster or emergency declarations as a result of Sandy, and there is no question it is going to cost billions to rebuild these devastated communities.

Anybody who has seen them knows they are devastated. It is a word that we sometimes use too easily but appropriate when you have a whole downtown, block after block, homes that people have lived in sometimes for generations--it was their parents' home or their grandparents' home--and now it is kindling wood.

The Obama administration has requested money for recovery and repairs--just as every administration in the past has, Republican and Democratic alike--they have requested $60.4 billion for recovery and repairs, and the amendment we consider today meets that request. But we have not simply rubberstamped the request. The Appropriations Committee, working with the Senators from all the States that have been hit so hard, has made numerous changes to ensure that the dollars put into this response are used as effectively and efficiently as can be.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I know the budget constraints we are facing, and the Appropriations Committee has done its best to allocate the funds in such a way that States will have the flexibility required to respond to the individual needs of their citizens, while at the same time reducing the possibility for waste, fraud, or abuse.

Senator Landrieu, who is on the floor, is the chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. Well, this is a Senator who is no stranger to tackling the incredible challenges of responding to and recovering from natural disasters of this scale. I know she is going to speak in a short while. We all know Louisiana is still rebuilding from the catastrophes of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and Senator Landrieu--both as an individual Senator and from her position as chair--has worked tirelessly ever since to help her State and others recovering from storms and other calamities. I know how hard she works because she stepped in to help Vermont when we were in a similar situation last year. It ia an example, I might say, of how even States that are not hurt help those that are. It has always been our tradition in the Senate. In this supplemental, she has worked to incorporate that experience into vital emergency funding for FEMA and other disaster relief programs.

Since the supplemental we reconsider today contains funding that will help millions of Americans recover from this terrible storm, I want to highlight a few specifics.

We include $10.8 billion in emergency relief for public transportation systems. This is not a rural area. It is not like rural Vermont. We understand that public transportation, especially in this area, is necessary for millions of Americans--millions--to function day by day. It is especially vital around New York City. The subway and bus systems in New York and New Jersey allow people to get to work and students to go to school. The resources in this supplemental will help pay for the repair and restoration of some of the most heavily used public transportation systems in the country. Just as importantly, it is going to help fund projects to help public transportation prepare for and resist future storms. Because as much as we like to think there will be no future storms, every one of us knows there will be future storms.

The supplemental recommends $812 million for the Small Business Administration. Every one of us knows small businesses are essential to the American economy. They are responsible for employing about half of all workers in America. So this amount will help fund the SBA's disaster loan program, helping small local businesses in recovering from physical damage to their storefront operations, as well as in recovering from economic losses suffered when they had to close their doors during Hurricane Sandy.

We have seen the devastation to iconic neighborhoods and places such as the Jersey shore or Staten Island or Long Island--neighborhoods that were destroyed by the storm or by the fires that followed. So many of the businesses destroyed in these communities are mom-and-pop operations--small businesses like the one my mother and father ran--and they simply cannot afford to reopen without Federal disaster assistance. They need the loans, but, more importantly, they need the loans now--not 6 months from now. I point out especially, a number of these are shops that make their living during the summer beach season. They want to be able to open by Memorial Day. I can tell you, as one who has seen how long it takes to reopen after a disaster like this, Memorial Day is tomorrow for these people. They need the loans today.

We have recommended $500 million for the Administration for Children and Families Social Services Block Grant to be used primarily for childcare services, for reopening damaged childcare facilities, but also--and we have to understand how important this is--for mental health services for both children and adults who have gone through this disaster and probably have seen members of their family lose their lives.

Another $100 million will pay for repairs to Head Start facilities affected by Hurricane Sandy. These provide essential education and health services to low-income, prekindergarten children. And we all know that interruptions in programs such as these are detrimental to the development of the children but also the families they serve. So we cannot wait to rebuild these centers, and we cannot wait to provide essential health care services to those who have lost so much. If you have a health need, we cannot say: Well, we will get back to you in a few months. Your health need is today.

I have heard two arguments against moving to the emergency supplemental as quickly as possible. I have found them surprising. The first is that the cost of this bill should be offset with cuts to other programs. This is the same argument we heard last year when we needed emergency funding to respond to Hurricane Irene. Well, it made no sense a year ago. It makes no sense today. It will make no sense tomorrow. The suggestion that we should cut funding from base budgets of departments and agencies that are carrying out the essential functions of our government in order to pay for an unanticipated natural disaster--that is absurd. Mandating offsets means cutting funding from law enforcement to pay for replacing a vital roadway destroyed by Sandy. It means cutting funding for education through Head Start in order to provide clean drinking water to those who have been left with nothing in the wake of Sandy. The point is obvious: These are emergencies. That is why they are called emergencies. We do not do offsets to pay for emergencies.

I think of what Chairman Inouye has said. He has said it so many times, whether with Republican or Democratic administrations: ``It has long been the tradition of the Congress to approve disaster assistance without need for offset.''

And then he continued:

Others will likely come to the Senate floor to challenge that remark ..... However, in the case of disaster assistance, I challenge my colleagues to review all Appropriations bills for the past decade and find a single instance where the Committee paid for disasters by rescinding funds from other programs.

Then Chairman Inouye concluded with the obvious:

No one would find an example, because quite simply there aren't any.

Well, he is right. The President requested and the committee is recommending $60.4 billion to respond to this storm. The total budget authority for nondefense spending is about $500 billion a year. Using the logic that all emergency spending should be offset would cut the discretionary spending needs--if we see seven more disasters, well then I guess we eliminate every single agency, department, and program except the Pentagon. Come on. Is that what this country is about? Some may think that is a good idea--eliminate all government. We would not have any road to drive on to go state our beliefs. The rest of America disagrees.

I have also heard discussion of taking a downpayment approach to the supplemental--do a little and come back next year. Well, that sounds familiar. I remember hearing a lot of it last year. Talk to the person whose house has been destroyed. It is a week before the Christmas season. It is getting cold. Tell them that we Senators--it is true, we all live in comfortable homes. We work in a place that has not been touched--think you should wait and come back later next year.

I would defy any Member of this body to say that directly to one of the firefighters who saw their home destroyed or the senior citizen who saw their home destroyed or the person who has worked all their life to build up their business and saw it destroyed. No. They want to recover now, not when a Congress that has not been known to move very rapidly of late gets around to doing something for them.

After all, we are asking homeowners to rebuild, saying go back and provide their own place to live. We are asking businesses to reinvest so they can hire people who are out of work. They need the assurance that we are going to do our part. You cannot just say: Put your money up now, and maybe, just maybe when we start talking about all of these things that have no bearing on what you are facing, we might come through 6 months from now and we might not.

Come on. That is not how we want to encourage rebuilding. Homeowners and businesses in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and elsewhere need to know that the funding will be there to complete the rebuilding of public infrastructure. Only the Federal Government has the resources to make this happen.

The President's request is comprehensive. And we know the needs to recover from Superstorm Sandy. Now, we stood up, Democrats and Republicans together, to respond to disasters in the past. We have to do the same now.

When Irene--then a tropical storm--hit Vermont last year, no one could have anticipated the devastation we saw: roads washed away, bridges collapsed, communities cut off because all entrances and exits for the community were destroyed, bridges that had been there from the time I was born--I remember them as a child, had always been there, were there when my parents were living there, were there when my grandparents were living there--gone in a matter of minutes. Vermonters know that when one of us is hurting, all of us are hurting. Vermont appreciated the assistance from other States near and far and from the Federal Government.

New Jersey, New York, and other States hit by this superstorm are now depending on us. So let's do what is right. There is no need for delay. Christmas is coming. Thousands of families have lost everything. Their hope, their future is in our hands. They need our help. They deserve our help. We are Americans. We come together to help. So let's do it.

I will speak further, but I see the distinguished senior Senator from New York. He and I have discussed this. He has seen more. As bad as Irene was in Vermont, the number of businesses and homes destroyed pales in comparison to what he has seen in his State and the neighboring States.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, before the Senator from Illinois leaves the floor, I commend him for his statements, first on his nominee for the Illinois judgeship that has been delayed for far too long, through no fault of the Senator from Illinois.

This weekend was a very difficult and trying weekend for our families and so many other families, although nothing compared to the families in Newtown, of course. I pretty much stayed off the phone and spent time with children and grandchildren. I made an exception for a couple of phone calls with the distinguished senior Senator from Illinois. I told him that when we come back in in a couple of weeks for the new Congress, I will work with him to make sure the Senate Judiciary Committee has full and thorough hearings on the subjects he has just spoken about, as he stated here so eloquently and as he did in his television interviews this weekend.

The President was absolutely right when he said there is a number of issues. Obviously the issue of guns is one of them. Mental health is another. There are several issues. Several committees will look at these issues, and should. But I think the Senate Judiciary Committee has a very particular role to play, and I pledge to the Senator from Illinois he will have my complete cooperation in that regard. He was one of the rare phone calls I made this weekend, as well as to a couple national law enforcement officials.

I thought I had seen some of the most horrific crime scenes in my career, but they don't even begin to compare to what the first responders and others, including school officials and parents, saw in that elementary school. The memory is fresh for us, but can we imagine the memories for the families of both the adults and the children who died? It is a memory that will never, ever fade. I think we ought to show our responsibility and step forward to find out what can be done not as Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, but as Americans. I believe it can be done.

I see the time of 5 o'clock has nearly arrived, but I also see the distinguished Senator from Maryland on the floor. He wishes to speak on the supplemental. I ask unanimous consent Senator Cardin be permitted to speak on the supplemental and that if he goes past the time of 5 o'clock he be allowed to continue using my time on the judicial nominations.

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