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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. MENENDEZ. First, I wish to thank the distinguished chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee for the work she and her staff have put together. It is remarkable considering the timeframe they were in. Of course, the late Senator Inouye, with his staff as well that the chairwoman has inherited, did an exceptional amount of work along with Senator Landrieu. Certainly the people of the Northeast thank you very much.

I think Senator Schumer has done a good job overall of talking about our concerns about these amendments, but I want to give a little greater depth and certainly a New Jersey perspective to them.

I do not question the motives of our distinguished colleague from Oklahoma. He has been consistent in that. I don't question his consistency. Even though I haven't checked the record, I will take his word that even on tax cuts and war spending he has been consistent. But I do question the consequences of some of his amendments--consequences to the people of the Northeast, consequences to the people of New Jersey, consequences in the future as it relates to other disasters.

At one point, he talked about courage in a fiscal sense. Let me tell you, courage is what people in New Jersey are looking at each and every day when they find their businesses closed and are trying to sum up the courage to open again. Courage is those who have lost their homes and are trying to reopen their homes, which they could not even do for the holidays. They were certainly not home for Christmas. Courage is looking at that every day and trying to figure how you move forward. Courage is many of the small municipalities, many that lost their police and fire departments and are working with others to create public safety as they rebuild the very essence of their departments. That is courage, real courage in the face of incredible challenge.

Two of the amendments dealing with the Army Corps go straight to that courage. I came to the floor over the last 2 weeks several times and showed a host of visuals to our colleagues to understand that we are at the lowest level of protection. It is akin to an individual whose immune system is virtually gone. I said then, all we need is a nor'easter to come through and we will see the consequences of having no defenses.

Unfortunately, yesterday we suffered a nor'easter. It wasn't the worst of what we could have received, but for several parts of New Jersey it was certainly bad news because those communities that are defenseless as a result of not having Army Corps-engineered beaches caught the worst of it again. In Sea Bright and Mantoloking and a host of other communities along the Jersey shore, they caught the worst of it again and all the fears and all the nightmares of what they went through under Sandy were relived once again.

When you talk about changing the rules on the Army Corps' participation in terms of what he wants as a 90-10 split, No. 1, that changes the rules. Just to make sure I was right about this, I asked Senator Landrieu of Louisiana: Wait a minute. In Katrina, wasn't there a 90-10 split? She said, Yes; and in some cases up to 100.

The people of the Northeast, the people of New Jersey and New York, deserve no less in their disaster. There are a whole host of communities even with a 90-10 split that are going to find it incredibly difficult--when 20 or 25 percent of their ratable base is gone--to fund the 10 percent that we are asking them. We believe they should have skin in the game. But even at that 10 percent, they are going to have enormous difficulties funding that 10 percent to get the lifesaving, property-saving, fiscally responsible solution in having Army Corps-engineered beaches.

So 90-10 is still a challenge to a whole host of communities. Go to the proposition that our colleague from Oklahoma has, and we basically nullify their ability to protect their citizens. I always thought the No. 1 priority of any government--Federal, State or local--was to protect their citizens. Certainly, the Senate should be protecting its citizens, whether it is abroad or at home. In this respect, we cannot protect our citizens along the New Jersey coastline if, in fact, we cannot have these engineered beaches and if, in fact, we cannot afford to have those engineered beaches.

So talk about being fiscally responsible. Instead, we will pay billions in repetitive-loss damages, and we will lose lives as we lost in New Jersey. I want to save lives and I want to save property and I want to save the Federal Government from paying repetitive losses. That is why that amendment is certainly not one we can accept by any stretch of the imagination. It is unfair to the people of the Northeast because it changes the rules of the game, and it is unfair in terms of our obligation to the public safety. I, for one, do not want to be casting a vote that ultimately leaves my fellow New Jerseyans or fellow Americans at risk when I could have saved their lives. I am certainly not going to do that, and I hope this Chamber is not going to do that.

Secondly, with reference to the other Army Corps of Engineers amendment, which would suggest that those projects that are already well underway to being determined and that, in fact, are cost-effective and can save lives and save property and save ratables and save repetitive losses cannot be approved, would be, in essence, to guarantee that at the lowest rate of our defenses we will just suffer an entire winter of incredible misery, no, we cannot have that amendment pass.

Thirdly, with reference to the question of acquisition, the Governor of New Jersey made that decision. I can't speak for him, but my understanding is he made that decision from FEMA-approved contracts. If FEMA needs a better process to go ahead and negotiate and/or bid in advance of a generic contract, so be it. But a delayed recovery is a failed recovery. I want my colleagues to remember that 10 days after Hurricane Katrina, this Chamber passed two separate bills amounting to $60 billion. It has been nearly 2 months since we had Superstorm Sandy and nothing has passed. Who among us would be content with the counsels of patience and delay if, in fact, we were shivering in the cold; if, in fact, our families had no home; if, in fact, they had been displaced from their schools; if, in fact, their businesses that they worked a lifetime and took out debt and now are closed may never open, who among us would be happy with the counsels of patience and delay? So we cannot have a set of circumstances that creates a series of delays.

I am all for the good governing amendments of saying to those who are in debt to the Nation that they, in fact, cannot receive any benefits or those who are deceased. Of course, they should not receive any benefits. But the rest of this is about creating delay after delay that is in the midst of a biting winter. We just had the first nor'easter yesterday. We cannot ultimately accept those types of changes that put us in a process in which, in fact, we will not be able to successfully move the elements of being able to recover.

This constant reference that a great part of the money--the overwhelming part of the money will not be spent, I think I heard 2015, is simply not the case. Whether it be Army Corps of Engineers projects that have already been approved and authorized but not funded that are critical to our defenses, those are ready to go. They just need money. The flexibility we have sought in this bill, working with an incredible insight from what happened in Hurricane Katrina and what worked and did not work, that flexibility will allow money to flow to business people are at the crucial point of trying to decide: Can I open? Because I need to know what the government is going to do for me, as part of my equation as to whether I open this business. Because low-interest loans from the SBA, even a long-term proposition, is still more debt. Many of these businesspeople that I have met up and down New Jersey have told me: Senator, I took out money to start this business. I took a debt to start this business. I took out further debt through the great recession. More debt doesn't necessarily mean I will succeed, but a grant, as we authorize through CDBG block grants, can very well make the difference between me reopening and not and hiring back people and being able to have and be part of that ratable base and paying toward the greater good of the State and the Nation. That is what is at stake as well. That money is going to flow if we do this the right way as this bill envisions. So this suggestion that it is going to take years down the road is simply not true.

Secondly, I think we lose sight that while, yes, this is about New Jersey and New York and Connecticut, it is about a region--a region that employs 10 percent of the Nation's workforce and accounts for 11 percent of the entire Nation's GDP. That is 12.7 million workers and $1.4 trillion in productivity. If we want to see that region continue to contribute to the gross domestic product growth of this country, to continue to contribute to the employment, to continue to contribute to the Federal coffers, we need to help it to be able to help themselves, not to turn our back on them. That is what is at stake.

Finally, I would just say there is a whole host of other disasters, and the committee has been very focused on saying nothing goes into this bill that isn't disaster related, one disaster or another. Because there has been no other disaster funding that there has been a vehicle for, whether it be wildfires or crop disasters--I personally welcome that, because as I have said many times, this is the United States of America. There is a reason we call it the United States of America. It is so we are all in this together. So I welcome the fact that we can help other fellow Americans through this vehicle, whether it be about wildfires or crop disasters or estuaries and fisheries that were hurt in other parts of the country at different times. So be it. Because that is what being the United States of America is all about.

But we need to pass this bill tomorrow. We need to reject these amendments--particularly the ones that I and Senator Schumer have talked about--because they will fail us in our recovery. It will undermine our ability to protect our people.

Finally, I would just simply say we need to pass it so the House can consider this bill as its vehicle when they come back on Sunday. This bill has been out there for weeks. The President's proposal has been out there for over 1 month. Everybody knows what has been asked. Everybody knows what is involved. Everybody has seen that the Senate already voted for cloture; therefore, there is going to be a bill here at the end of the day. There is no reason why the House cannot seek to pass this and respond to our fellow citizens in the Northeast. That is what being the United States of America is all about.

I yield the floor.

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