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Public Statements

30-Something Working Group

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP -- (House of Representatives - October 18, 2005)


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield, I want to thank the gentleman from Ohio for his comments, and he is absolutely right.

Number one, I am sorry I was not able to participate with my colleagues last night. I was in my district. And when you are in the district, you really get a true sense of how people are feeling. The gentleman is absolutely right, there is a crisis of confidence out there in America. People really have had their confidence in their government's ability to deal with their everyday problems badly, badly shaken by one scandal after another, by one more bit of evidence of corruption and cronyism.

What all of this points to is and is emblematic of is a system that cries out for reform. We absolutely have to have some reform here in Washington, and one of the first reforms that needs to occur is to change this partisan committee that is stacked with Republicans and is currently not being participated in by Democrats and shift it to an independent bipartisan commission that is going to be able to be objective and review what really happened.

Every day that has gone by since Katrina's aftermath, a little bit more trickles out, a little bit more dribbles out, and if we are going to be able to restore the American people's confidence in their government's ability to respond to disasters like this, be they natural disasters or man-made disasters in the form of terrorism, we have to start by restoring their confidence and utilize a process that is going to be objective and that they know they can have confidence in in terms of the outcome, like the 9/11 Commission.

There is a never-ending possibility of more disaster looming over us. Even now, we have Wilma, the 21st storm looming out there in the ocean, potentially about to bear down on Florida and then the gulf coast again, nearing this weekend. If we do not get the American people answers as to how the aftermath of Katrina occurred and make sure it does not happen again, it is not like we have the luxury of time being on our side. We have storm after storm. We have the fact that you never know when a

man-made disaster is going to occur. By their very nature, they are surprise attacks. It means it is ever more important we reform the system and make sure that our government is ready to respond, that we have a comprehensive ability to do that.

When we have people engaging in CYA, which is exactly what is occurring here, and when you look at the former Director of FEMA, who in today's paper it was revealed was more worried about his title in the aftermath of Katrina than getting the job done, that is deeply disturbing.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. That is a joke.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It speaks to the structure of their ability to respond to that disaster.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Does that not say a lot about what we are dealing with in the leadership today?


Mr. RYAN of Ohio. It is all about what is my title. After the greatest natural disaster in the country and everything that is going on, you are talking about your title.

That just proves what we talk about a lot here with the 30-Somethings. It is more politics than it is policy. It is more politics than it is actually fixing the problems.


Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Evident by, my God, this guy is worried about his title after Katrina. Give me a break.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Let us explain what we are talking about. In the press today there was an e-mail exchange revealed between the spokesperson of FEMA and then Under Secretary Brown where he was appalled that Secretary Chertoff had made him, I think it was the point person, I forgot the title he was given, in the aftermath of Katrina. But he looked at it as a slight, an insult, and somehow a demotion from his position as Under Secretary.

In the devastation and aftermath of Katrina, is that what we want the FEMA Director to be worried about, what he is called?

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Right.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. And how he is perceived in terms of title?

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Terrible.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. That is how out of touch this administration is. They are that badly out of touch, and that is why the system cries out for reform. We have to make sure we reform the system so that we can restore people's confidence and that they understand that the three C's are incredibly important: No more corruption, no more cronyism, and we have to restore people's confidence.

Mr. MEEK of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I think what the gentlewoman is saying is so very, very important. We talked last night and spent quite a bit of time on the culture of corruption and cronyism, and we know that it takes a while to get a culture. It is not like an incident here and an incident there. It is a culture.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. It is not random.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, I have mentioned this before and likened the lack of desire on the part of the Republican leadership here to establish an independent commission. For example, if the executives and CEO of Enron after the fiasco that corporation went through, it would be as if we said, Okay, Mr. CEO of Enron, you go ahead and investigate what happened at Enron and do a report and a full examination of the doings of your corporation and you get back to us and let us know what steps need to be taken to prevent it from happening again. We can do the same thing with Tyco.

I think the gentleman is smiling, and people who might hear this description would be sort of laughing to themselves saying of course we would not do that. This leadership is saying of course we would not have an internal partisan committee that would investigate. For some reason that is not ludicrous to the people who run

this institution. It would be ludicrous to anybody who was a rational person who would actually want to get to the bottom of what happened. One would think given the information that has come out slowly over the last weeks now that there would be some more deep, abiding concern.

Let me go back to what I was saying earlier that came out today. Secretary Chertoff, according to The Washington Post, apparently belatedly named Brown the on-site disaster coordinator on the night of August 30 and declared Hurricane Katrina ``an incident of national significance,'' which is the highest order catastrophe under their new national response plan.

This was the reaction of then-Under Secretary Brown and his assistants, ``Demote the Under Secretary to PFO, principal Federal officer?'' an outraged FEMA press secretary Sharon Worthy wrote Brown at 10:54 p.m., soon after Chertoff's decision.

``What about the precedent being set? What does this say about executive management and leadership in the agency?''

Brown's reply was, ``Exactly.''

Reading a little further, there are e-mails ``that show that the government's response plan, 2 years in the making, began breaking down even before Katrina hit the gulf coast.

``Before the storm hit, Brown's deputy chief of staff, Brooks Altshuler, said White House pressure to form an interagency crisis management group was irrelevant even though a task force and principal Federal officer are key parts of the plan.'' He says this: ``Let them play their `Reindeer Games' as long as they are not turning around and tasking us with their stupid questions. None of them have a clue about emergency management.''

Mr. Speaker, these are the people that were responsible for making sure that the people in that picture survived and actually got out and did not have to float in a refrigerator to save their own lives. This is what they were worried about, their own little title and the petty garbage that you would think is reserved for the smallest of issues.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, one of the things that I wanted to highlight was one of the things we have been asking people to do. H.R. 3764 is the Democrats' bill that would establish an independent commission on the response to Hurricane Katrina. The way that the administration relented on the independent 9/11 Commission, as the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Meek) referred to earlier, they initially opposed, was the groundswell of support, particularly from the families of the 9/11 victims.

And we need a groundswell of support from the 81 percent of Americans that, when polled, say they think the only way to approach the response and the investigation of the response to the aftermath of Katrina is through an independent commission. We need people to contact us and become citizen cosponsors of H.R. 3764.


Mr. MEEK of Florida. Third party validators. Then they can go over to the Homeland Security responding to Katrina and Rita and the same picture that was there a couple of weeks ago, the President hugging an emergency worker, rightfully so. I think that is important. But it says nothing, not even a press release, about what we are doing and if what we find we are going to make corrections and these are the subject areas that we are concerned about. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So we know under the drape of not only corruption, cronyism, but this culture that we have here that the majority does not have the ability to even have an inquiry on themselves.

I said this as a joke several weeks ago, and I am going to say it again because it is very real. It is like my coming to the floor saying, Listen, my name is KENDRICK MEEK, and I have made some possible mistakes, and to make sure that I do not make these mistakes ever again I am going to investigate myself and I will be back in a couple of weeks to let you know what the findings are. That is how off balance, I am just trying to find the right words, that this whole theory is of the fact that the White House can look into itself and that we are going to have some findings that are going to save American lives in the future and that the House is going to have a partisan commission that is going to look at the agency that we did not give proper oversight to and still do not. The Committee on Homeland Security right now, I am here and I am giving the report, I am on the committee, has not even had one, hear me, not even one hearing since Katrina, not one public hearing to talk about what has worked and what has not worked and why do we have this problem and why do we still have people in shelters. Not a mumbling word. Not one. I am telling my colleagues if I am lying, I am flying, and I am still well footed right here. Not one hearing. That is horrible for the Department of Homeland Security, for the committee that deals with it. And I told my colleagues we are here to take care of the Federal business.

I like some of my colleagues. We go and we talk about baseball games and all of these things, and they are nice people. I consider myself a pretty nice person. But let me tell the Members something. This is about business. It is not personal. It is about business. It is about the business of protecting the American people, and if we are going to sit here and act like nothing is really going on, something is really wrong, and that is the reason why we need this independent commission.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. MEEK of Florida. I yield to the gentlewoman from Florida.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, we have been talking about what they are not doing, that they are not establishing an independent commission. Let us mention what they are getting ready to do because we all can describe what we think the response to the aftermath of Katrina should be. Obviously, a pretty significant fiscal hit on our economy. No question about it. Between Katrina and Rita, we have refineries down. We have gas prices that have skyrocketed out of control. We have people having to dig deeper into their pockets. A dollar is not going as far as we would like it to or as it was previously before the storm hit. So one would think that the Republican leadership's response would be to ease up on the tax cuts. Let us pull back on making them permanent. Let us push back the reconciliation process, which is Washington speak for budget cuts. Let us make sure that we can ease some of the pain and dull the sharp point that has been the aftermath of Katrina.

So, instead, what is their response? Because it certainly is not any of that. This week on Thursday we expect what will be an extremely close vote on a rash of Republican spending cuts that will cut to the core, to the deepest heart of the people who need the help the most, the people who have truly been impacted by the aftermath of Katrina. They are actually going to ask us, force us, to vote on cuts in the Medicaid program, force us to vote on cuts in the Food Stamp program, force us to vote on cuts to higher education. This is a laundry list of items that they are going to propose now. A 2 percent across-the-board random set of cuts that are going to impact the people who were hurt the most by the aftermath of Katrina. It boggles the mind. How that could be a natural response to the needs of the people who are hurting the most is just so far beyond me. I feel like I am dealing with people who live on another planet sometimes.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman from Florida will continue to yield, I was just going to say that all of this points to this culture that the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Meek) referred to earlier, this culture of corruption and cronyism. And it has created this groundswell of need for reform. We cannot go on like this anymore. I mean I am raising young children. He is raising young children. The gentleman from Ohio's (Mr. Ryan) brother is raising a young child now. We need to make sure that the next generation that comes up does not inherit a badly damaged country that results from the policy decisions that are being made here. There is some deep harm that will reverberate for at least a generation as a result of these cuts and more and more tax cuts and an ever-burgeoning deficit and more and more reliance on foreign countries and more debt. There are consequences for these kinds of things.

When I go trick or treating with my kids on Halloween, that is when I most often get to see my neighbors and spend some really good time talking to them, and those are the times that they grab me by the wrist and say, ``Debbie, what is going on here?'' Every year that goes by with another year of this Republican leadership literally not having any ability to be in touch with the reality of the lives of real people is another year that we have shaken the confidence to the core of the American people.

We have got to move in the direction. We have got to get some reform. We have got to get some leadership in America that understands what the basic needs are of the people.

Instead, we have an administration that appears to be of the wealthy, for the wealthy, and by the wealthy. It has, I think, actually reached historic proportions. We have never had a time where you have had the priorities of the leadership in the government so focused on the most elite set of people in the country.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. We are not making this up.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I wish I were making it up.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, in our last few minutes, I want to just point out that the responsibility lies at the feet of the President. He has the bully pulpit to ask people who are among our wealthiest to make sacrifices.

I represent a community that has a lot of wealthy people, and I know they say to me all the time, you know what, I am willing. They understand what the needs are. They get it, and I know we have an hour tomorrow night, that we are going to have an opportunity to come out here again.

One of the things I think we should talk about, and I do not want to do a rush job on it, is there are steps we can take. There are things we can do to make people whole. There is a way that we can restore Americans' confidence in their government, and there are reforms that we can and must make. I hope we will have a chance to talk about that more tomorrow night because we have got to take this country in a new direction. It would be irresponsible for us to continue hurtling down the path of irresponsible public policy and harm that we are bringing on people who are already knocked to the ground, and now we are putting our boot on their neck to keep them that way.


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