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Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BAKER. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlelady for her courtesy.

I rise today to make observation that when a hurricane makes landfall, most people do not consider it a Republican or a Democratic event; that in the aftermath, when you have been devastated from life and property and someone comes to help, you don't ask, are you from local government, State government or Federal Government, and, by the way, are you a Republican or a Democrat?

The only thing I observed that hurricanes and government have in common at this point as a Louisianian is that either one you touch, you are going to come away confused, disoriented and possibly hopeless.

We can do better. I should be quick to add, however, lest these comments be misinterpreted, that it was President Bush's administration who came to this Congress and asked for the $100 billion of taxpayer money to begin the long, slow process of recovery. I also want to quickly add that it was Chairman Frank who discussed with me the administrative problems of the resolution and incorporated into the bill now before us important expediting processes which will make a measurable and financial difference to the people of Louisiana.

I want to express my appreciation to Chairwoman Waters and Ranking Member Biggert for their continued effort to understand and respond.

Not to dismiss that there are problems. In fact, a provision I was trying to include in the bill, which was made reference to during the debate on the rule, caused the CBO to express concern that we had a scoring problem. To make sure I say this the way I intend it, I learned that the CBO scoring process is mystical, algorithmic, nonsensical, opaque process intended to obstinately delegate common sense to irrelevance.

Short-circuiting all of that, let me say I appreciate Chairman Frank's staff working diligently and the Rules Committee allowing that provision to be made in order and to be included in this legislation.

That problem is not the only one for taxpayers. Let me explain to you that when you send us a dollar, we don't get a dollar. At best, we get 80 cents, because FEMA has been keeping at least 20 percent of all the money intended to help people recover for their operational expenses. The American public needs to know that, that we are not wasting $100 billion. Certainly we can be more efficient in rolling out a response to a devastation that we have seen never before in this country, 90,000 square miles. I would say where we are today is not a hopeless mess, but indeed it is a mess.

My hope is that the small pilot program contained in this legislation, which will enable the collection of disparate tracts of property to be cleaned off and sold back into the private market, can be a way to kick-start a free-market recovery that to date has been impossible with government interference and obstinate regulation. There is a faster, better way, a more efficient way, to combat this scale of devastation and human suffering.

Maximizing taxpayer expenditures while minimizing benefits to those in need doesn't seem possible to the extent that we have seen in the current circumstance. If there is to be any long-term benefit to the resolution of this matter for all the affected taxpayers around this country, it is to construct a response mechanism that when the next devastating event occurs, we will be able to deploy resources, get people the help they need in an efficient manner, and get government the heck out of the way and let free markets function.

The bill before us today incorporates provisions that I believe will help get us closer to that goal. Are we there yet? Of course not.

Webster charges this House of Representatives with a very clear mission: Let us develop the resources of this land, call forth her powers, build up her institutions, promote all her great interests, and see whether we also in this, our day and generation, may perform something to be worthy of remembering.

Webster got it. We need to leave this place in a better condition than when we found it. We can do better than this. And before the next disaster strikes, we must.


Mr. BAKER. Mr. Chairman, I would just observe the gentleman is absolutely correct. There is FEMA-ese and HUD-ese and they don't apparently have a translator.


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