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Department of Defense Appropriations Act - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, first, I wish to thank my colleague from Pennsylvania. He didn't try to knock out the whole thing and we appreciate that. Having said that, I urge any of my colleagues in disaster areas to think very carefully before they vote for this. This will be the first time ever when a disaster is declared that we have offset money for it. That will mean that disaster money will be much less readily available in the future. The precedent is an awful one. It is something that goes against 100 years of Democrats, Republicans--north, east, south, and west--voting to, when one area has trouble, send the money, without spending months and months and months fighting about whether to cut this or cut that or raise these taxes or do this or that to offset.

I would say we had this fight when Irene came about, and 19 of our colleagues came to the wisdom that it was a bad idea to offset it, and we didn't.

So I urge and plead with my colleagues, on this quick notice to reverse 100 years of decisionmaking and start invoking offsets for disaster, which this is--it is mitigation. We have always done mitigation. It means that instead of rebuilding in the floodplain, we build in a different place nearby. It means instead of putting all of these machines that are flooded in the basement, we put them on the third floor. It means if there is a beach that is not protected, we build a berm. That is mitigation. It is all related to protecting from a disaster and not making the same mistake of building in a floodplain or not protecting in a subway or whatever.

We have always done it. We have never offset mitigation, and it has been in every disaster relief. So I plead with my colleagues to think twice.

I yield the floor.


Mr. SCHUMER. I thank my colleague and very much appreciate my colleague from Oklahoma. He has left, but we do have a friendship. I do believe he is a person of integrity. His views about government and politics are quite different from mine. He has put his money where his mouth is in a number of places when he has not asked to pay for things that many on the other side did, et cetera. So I thank him.

I don't agree with almost anything--well, I agree with maybe one or two of his amendments. And Senator Mikulski summed up the amendment on fisheries very well, so I will talk about some of the other amendments and why we object to them. It will take a few minutes, but I think it is important to set the record straight.

Let me take them in numerical order--first, amendment No. 3368, to strike enhanced cost share for the Army Corps. Well, Mr. President, in past supplementals we established an important precedent for local cost share on Army Corps projects that this amendment will strike. We have crucial projects with the Army Corps. As my colleague from New York, Senator GILLIBRAND, knows, and Senators MENENDEZ and LAUTENBERG from New Jersey, we are naked in heavily populated areas after the storm. This storm was huge. But you would have to be foolish to think there won't be another one, and we need the Army Corps. They are brilliant in the way they are able to protect our coasts. So this needs to be done.

If the local cost share were to go to 35 percent--we don't have just one big State government, we have lots of little localities. Take Long Beach, a city of 35,000. It was wiped out--gone, basically. If they were to have to come up with 35 percent of the project, it would be hopeless.

Now, Katrina got 100 percent. We are not even asking for that. But the 90 percent that has traditionally been given to Army Corps projects when the damage is so large that it is realized the locality cannot pay for it alone makes eminent sense. The village of Lindenhurst, the village of Massapequa, the villages on Fire Island all do not have the wherewithal.

If we were to pass the amendment of the Senator from Oklahoma, we would get no Army Corps relief. Then when storms much smaller than Sandy come along, we would be wiped out again. So it doesn't make sense. The Long Beach Storm Damage Reduction Project, for instance, has a local cost share of $35 million. That is more than a quarter of the entire city's annual budget. If they had to pay this share, it wouldn't get built. The same thing for the little village of Asharoken, which was terribly damaged.

Again, in the past, when there has been large damage, the Army Corps has paid 90 percent, localities 10 percent. To change those rules now for New York, after New York taxpayers and New Jersey taxpayers paid hundreds of millions of dollars toward projects on the Mississippi or the Missouri River or down in the gulf at a 90-10 percent ratio, would be totally unfair.

This amendment would be a crippling amendment, and I strongly urge its rejection.

On fisheries, again, my colleague from Maryland, our wonderful new chair--off to a great start, and I might say, Madam Chair, this being your first bill, you are going like gangbusters, but we didn't expect anything less--has laid out the arguments for those fisheries. The only thing I would say about them is, hey, that is a disaster too. As she said, this is not just a case of needing new lobster pots, this is a disaster, and traditionally we have funded disaster relief in supplemental bills, and it doesn't have to be just one area.

So I thank my colleagues, particularly those from Maine and from Alaska, who put such good work into this, and I also again thank Senator Coburn for separating out the tax cheat provisions. Nobody behind in their taxes should get Federal aid. That is a provision I can accept and I think most of us on this side will accept.

Amendment No. 3371 is the Coburn amendment on the per capita damage thresholds. The amendment would require FEMA to actually change the indicator by which FEMA determines the locality's eligibility for FEMA public assistance. It would make it much harder for States and local governments in the future to get Federal aid after a disaster. It sounds benign, but this is a choke hold on FEMA for many localities and particularly for larger States, such as those we represent.

As my colleagues know, the current per capita damage thresholds are pegged to the Consumer Price Index, and CPI measures the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a specific market of basket goods.

For New York, the per capita threshold that has to be reached for a county to be declared a major disaster area is $1.37. The amendment of my colleague would peg the per capita threshold starting at the timeline of 1986. There would have to be such enormous damage in so many localities to get money, and in effect it would double the per damage threshold needed to be declared a disaster area.

In every State, we have watched as disasters occurred and kept our fingers crossed to see if the Federal Government would declare that area a disaster. It is based on a formula. The formula is not easy to reach. I have had countless counties disappointed, asking me: Why didn't we meet the threshold? But to now make the threshold almost doubly hard to meet wouldn't work.

I say to my good friend from Oklahoma--and I know this may not change his view on the amendment because, as I said, he is a person of integrity--for the six major disaster declarations declared in Oklahoma over the last 2 years, the damage per person would have had to be double its current level. I imagine those in Oklahoma who were impacted by severe winter storms, tornadoes, and floods wouldn't be happy to hear it is harder now--if this amendment were to pass--to repair roads, remove debris, and support emergency response efforts.

So I would say to every one of my colleagues in every State, if you want to pull back on Federal disaster assistance by changing to an arcane formula when there is substantive damage, support this amendment. I hope we will reject it.

The next amendment is No. 3382, and I urge my colleagues to vote no on this. This would place a lot more bureaucratic redtape between disaster victims and the Federal assistance they deserve.

Our good friend from Louisiana coached Senator Menendez, Senator Gillibrand, Senator Lautenberg, and myself about what went wrong with Katrina, and one of those things was that the contracting procedure had become so arcane and so rigid and so difficult that contracts either never happened or they took much too long to do. Now, should we expect every contract to be competitively bid? What about emergency contracts? Do we want to have a 6-month bidding process when the damage needs correction in 90 days--picking up debris, building back a beach that might face a storm in 30 days? Second, we in New York have our own competitive bidding requirements. Those can suffice. Why have double sets of them? And sometimes the States and localities have to waive them when there are true emergencies.

So sometimes our colleagues are placing us in a catch-22. They say: You don't spend disaster relief fast enough; you stretch it out over such long periods of time. Then they impose requirements that make sure we don't spend the money fast enough. It doesn't make sense.

If the amendment by Senator Coburn passes, it will guarantee disaster aid could be delayed for months and years, and the consequences of that--the economic cost, the danger to our coastlines, our localities, our small businesses, and the human cost--would be a terrible, terrible way to go. I believe this is a Trojan horse that will cripple efforts to bring quick, efficient, and honest disaster aid to our localities, and I urge its defeat.

Amendment No. 3383. This strikes ACOE studies and authorization. Now, again, we don't want the rules changed on us. Sometimes we have improved the rules to make sure we learn from the mistakes of past disasters, but to just change the rules from past supplementals makes no sense.

As many of us here know, the project of getting coastal protection built by the Army Corps can be mired in redtape and delays. Every one of us has experience there. What is taking you so long, Army Corps? The provision being struck by amendment No. 3383 is designed to accelerate critical protection projects and get rid of the redtape.

I know my colleague from Oklahoma believes in less bureaucracy and more efficiency. Well, if this passed, we would be giving the people of Staten Island or Massapequa more bureaucracy. For a decade, for instance, the Corps had delayed a protection project for the South Shore of Long Island due to lack of funding and authorizations from Congress. They decided and they said it made sense, but they didn't get it done. Had these seawalls been built, it is almost certain lives would have been saved and millions of dollars in property damage avoided.

So in this bill, such as with Katrina, we are accelerating the ability to do that. We are accelerating it in Long Beach. In 2005 Long Beach rejected a project I helped to push to build dunes to protect that flat, low-lying area with low-lying homes from storms. The Army Corps has done the study. The Army Corps has said: Here is what is right; let's move forward. Under the amendment of my friend, we could not, even though all the preliminary work has been done.

So I urge a ''no'' vote on this amendment.

OK, I think I have addressed the major amendments to which I object. As I said, I don't object to every one of my colleagues' amendments, but I object to the major ones, and I hope we can have a bipartisan amendment.

Mr. President, for 100 years, when disaster has struck, we have been one America. We have said: We know any locality, even large localities such as New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, won't be able to handle that sort of disaster relief on its own. And in wisdom, we have said: We are one united people. And the people of the other regions, the other States, will come to the aid of this area that has been crippled. We can't change the rules now.

Those of us from New York and New Jersey say: Aha. Some of my constituents and I am sure some of the constituents of Senator Menendez are saying: Aha--now that it is New York and New Jersey, they are changing the rules. Not fair. We have been there. We have been there for our colleagues whenever they have had disasters, and praise God, we haven't had that many until recently, but we need you.

You will need us. Given all the changes in the world, there will be disasters that strike everywhere else. We want to be with you, and we don't want to see the process so encumbered and so weighted down that relief cannot come. The sum total of these amendments would be to do that.

I strongly urge my colleagues, hopefully in a bipartisan vote, to reject them.

I yield the floor to my colleague from New Jersey.


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