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Public Statements

FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to thank the chairman for the bipartisan measures this bill contains, measures like the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System and a number of others.

I rise in support of H.R. 2903. This bipartisan measure reauthorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA; authorizes an Integrated Public Alert and Warning System; and includes many provisions that were incorporated into similar legislation in past Congresses. I am pleased to see them, once again, come to the floor. Perhaps we can get them through the House and the Senate at some point in the near future, because these are not controversial matters.

Despite our broad support for this measure, we are disappointed in the authorized levels of funding for FEMA and the disaster assistance programs. Instead of evaluating the needs of the agency and its programs and then establishing the maximum amounts that would be appropriate, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, through this bill, is essentially deferring to the Appropriations Committee to tell the authorizers how to do their jobs by only authorizing amounts equal to the last appropriated amounts.

Let me be clear, however. If we authorized the maximum that could be needed, the budget deficit would not be increased. The amount authorized merely specifies need while only the actual amounts appropriated can affect the amounts spent. It is the authorizers who are to speak to need. It is for the Members who, in fact, decide how to divide the funds, the appropriators, once the need is assessed, to decide how much the country can afford to spend. They need our expert guidance. They don't have it in this bill.

I would also like to call attention to a few important changes included in this legislation:

For example, H.R. 2903 improves many of FEMA's programs and activities, including codifying the debris removal program. The current debris removal program is based on a pilot program from several years ago. We have heard firsthand from local governments and emergency management professionals about the need to make this successful program--a program that we have already piloted--permanent to help local communities expedite recovery from disasters.

In addition, this bill addresses a long expressed concern of mine about the need to expedite FEMA's appeals process. Without firm timelines, the current appeals process has led to long and unnecessary delays in disaster closeouts. This, in turn, has prevented disaster funds obligated for a specific disaster from being deobligated and returned to the Disaster Relief Fund. Last fall, as the Disaster Relief Fund was on the brink of running out of funds, FEMA was actually able to close out several disaster accounts and find the necessary funds to finance disaster relief until Congress replenished the fund.

Moreover, timely resolution of these appeals will allow these funds to be used for infrastructure repair, which will assist the economic recovery for communities hard hit by disasters.

More than 12 years ago, Congress enacted the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, directing FEMA to begin using cost estimating for repair and reconstruction projects to expedite the recovery process and disaster closeout. Yet, today, FEMA still has not promulgated regulations to implement this provision. H.R. 2903 requires FEMA to promulgate these regulations and to implement cost estimating within 180 days of the passage of this act. We mean it this time.

This provision also will eliminate one of the most inefficient and ridiculous uses of Federal funds that I know of, one that has gotten on my last nerve, where FEMA pays not only for its own experts, but also for the States' experts, essentially encouraging the submission of competing estimates of cost repair, instead of each side deciding on a neutral party to, in fact, estimate those costs.

Finally, FEMA Administrator Fugate has requested that I note FEMA's support for section 210 of this bill, which would authorize Indian tribes to directly make a request to the President for a disaster or emergency declaration. This provision acknowledges tribal sovereignty, enhances FEMA's working relationship with the tribal governments, and improves emergency and disaster responsiveness throughout Indian Country. Numerous Indian tribes have expressed support for this provision, as has the National Congress of American Indians.

I want especially to thank the ranking member, Mr. Rahall, for his leadership on this and other issues in this bill.

Despite my concerns about the authorized amounts in this bill, H.R. 2903 is good public policy and is necessary to eliminate inefficient government actions and to expedite disaster recovery.


Ms. NORTON. I appreciate that Chairman Denham has brought this FEMA reauthorization bill to the floor.

Mr. Speaker, this bill has now gone over a couple of Congresses. The Democrats didn't get it done, and the Republicans didn't get it done. It's really too important. I hope that in the 113th Congress, this bill can be brought forward early because a lot of very good work has been done on the bill.

Mr. Speaker, I regret that as we sit and think about the 112th Congress, it will be impossible to think of a single major bill passed during these 2 years. In order to pass bills, both Houses have to get together and compromise. That seems to have been impossible, at least for this House.

We are about to leave town in September with a couple of months still to go without the middle class tax cuts just when the recovery needs a boost; in the midst of a drought, without the farm bill; and without the Violence Against Women Act, which passed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate. What will it take to get something done? I hope the 113th Congress proves more productive.

This has been called a do-nothing Congress. I would say this Congress has done real harm. To call it a do-nothing Congress is to give it more credit than it deserves.

This is a Congress, at least in the House, that will be remembered for having voted to end Medicare as we know it and increase the cost of healthcare for seniors by $6,400. The 112th Congress will be remembered, all right, for tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations that ship jobs overseas.

We, in the 112th Congress, have done something amazing when you consider that we have been in a recession unheard of since the Great Depression. We have left the economy entirely to the Federal Reserve Board, to monetary policy, by abandoning the job of Congress to enact fiscal policy. There has been none in the 112th Congress that has had any effect on the economy.

No wonder. We are here for only 8 days after the August recess. If our Republican majority could have phoned in the CR, I believe they would have done it, if you look at what is on our plate as we get ready to go home.

We are going home in September leaving, unthinkably, even the major business of sequestration, the ultimate bill that was passed to force us to get together and compromise. In leaving sequestration on the table, we are leaving a bill that could collapse the entire economy. It's a fitting end for a Congress that did nothing, but in fact, did harm.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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