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Extending the Economic and Social Ladders to Success

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. GARAMENDI. Mr. Speaker, we're back, and America expects that we ought to be going back to work. And we have a heavy load ahead of us. We want to make sure that every American has the opportunity to climb up that economic and social ladder as high as they want to and can go. So we have to make sure that those ladders of opportunity are in place.

We also have to make sure that we are a compassionate Nation, that we're willing to reach out to those in our country who have been harmed by devastating natural disasters. We certainly saw this on the east coast, and I'd like to spend a good portion of this hour talking about how we, as a Nation, can respond to superstorm Sandy and the lessons that we should learn from this disaster.

It's not the first that has occurred in America, and it's certainly not going to be the last. In previous disasters, we learned a few lessons, but it seems as though we have yet to achieve the necessary wisdom from those occurrences to really put in place the policies that can protect Americans.

First, our sense of compassion drives Americans to reach out in many different ways to assist those on the east coast that were so severely harmed by this storm. Our condolences go out to the families of those who were killed in the storm. Our wallets open to the American Red Cross and other organizations that are providing assistance. We should do that and we should do more of that, but as a Congress there are things that we must also do.

Proposals have been made on this floor to reduce the effectiveness and the support for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Not a good idea. It's very clear from the disaster on the east coast that a single city or State or even a region is unable to adequately address--whether in the lead-up to a disaster where there is warning or in the immediate aftermath of that--the necessary resources to assist and to recover. As a Nation, we need some mechanism to gather together all of the strength of this incredible country we call America and apply that strength to those who have been so severely harmed by that disaster. That's occurring. FEMA has clearly been significantly improved in the last 4 years and certainly since the tragedies of New Orleans, but there is much more that needs to be done.

As a Congress, as Representatives of the American people--people who may be in any part of this country and who at any moment could be affected by a disaster--we need to make sure that there is a national response capability in place that is ready to act with the sufficient resources. That's not just an organizational and administrative issue. That is also the necessary funds available. Shortchanging that money that we set aside for those disasters can lead to a period of time in which inaction is inevitable.

So as we go about our budgeting, as we go about our appropriations process, we must make sure that we do not shortchange and that we provide enough money, that we set it aside and have it there, available for immediate response. It's not just the Federal response. It's those private companies and others that will be hired by the Federal Government or the States and cities to provide the necessary services.

There are many other lessons to be learned from superstorm Sandy and from previous disasters. Early warning systems are essential. Yet we have seen proposals here before the Congress, in the budgets and appropriations before the Congress, to diminish the ability of America to see ahead--to be able to predict storms or earthquakes or fires--by diminishing the money available for NASA in their satellite technology and other research capabilities that are out there by which we can learn well ahead of a disaster that it's coming so that we can then warn the citizens and take whatever precautions are necessary and implement whatever defensive systems may be required.

So it's not just the disaster. It's the preparation. It's the early warning--the ability to know what may be coming to harm the citizens of this Nation. As a Congress, we should be cognizant of the role that we play in providing the resources, the direction, and the authorization for those agencies that are able to have the technologies to perceive, to understand what may be coming to the citizens of this Nation and to those around the world.

Secondly, as individuals, it seems to me we ought to be paying attention, and when the authorities say it's time to leave, we really ought to do that. I was the insurance commissioner and Lieutenant Governor in California, and I often found myself in situations where I had responsibilities along these lines. All too often and all too tragically, the citizens who were warned early that they should leave because of a fire danger did not. Tragedy struck and they lost their lives. So we have individual responsibilities as well as community responsibilities.

There is another set of lessons to learn from superstorm Sandy and the drought in the Midwest and from other occurrences in the weather patterns of this Nation, which is that climate change is real. It is real. It is actually happening as we speak. We know that the great ice caps around this world are diminishing. We know that the ocean levels are rising. We know that there is a warming across the entire planet, and we know that this will have profound effects.

It was predicted back in the early nineties when I was working on this issue at the Department of the Interior as Deputy Secretary. We predicted that there would be superstorms, that there would be droughts in new parts of this Nation, that the ice caps would melt, that there would be significant changes in the agricultural patterns around the world, and that certainly there would be significant changes in the river and stream flows. In my own State of California, we anticipated then--some almost 20 years ago now--in the Sierras, which is our single biggest reservoir, that we would see the snow pack diminish and that we would see there would be changes in the flows of the rivers and, quite likely, greater flooding.

That brings us to the necessity of recognizing this as a Nation and for this Congress to work to address not just the reasons for climate change but, just as important, to prepare for the inevitability of the effects of climate change. A small rise in the sea level will certainly change the impact of major storms on all of our coastlines. The storm surges will be higher, the destruction greater, and therefore the twofold necessity: one, to do everything we possibly can to diminish climate change. That brings us to energy policy, which is not the subject of today's discussion; but it brings us, rather, to the issue of how we are going to effect and prepare for the inevitable changes.

A little over a year ago, the President proposed the American Jobs Act. In that American Jobs Act, there was a substantial increase--in fact, a very significant increase--in the amount of money that this Nation would spend on infrastructure. In addition to what we would normally do, the President proposed an additional $50 billion of infrastructure investment in the near term, over the next 2 to 3 years. Unfortunately, that proposal was not even brought up in the current Congress. Nonetheless, it is a proposal that we as Members of this House should give considerable thought to. I look now to the east coast and the west coast and to my own district in California, which is the Sacramento Valley, and I'm looking at the President's proposal of some $50 billion, and saying: What if? What if we would actually undertake a major infrastructure action in the United States? What if we were to really prepare ourselves for the inevitable climate change? What would it mean to Americans?

Certainly, right off, it would mean jobs. It would mean that we would be able to employ, perhaps, 2 million people immediately in building that infrastructure. It also means something beyond that. It could mean we would increase the deficit; or if we were wise, it could mean that we would not increase the deficit at all and that we would simply make some shifts in certain tax breaks that are now given to various parts of our economy--for example, to the oil and gas industry--and shift those tax breaks around so that we would fund infrastructure projects. In fact, that's what the President proposed to do.

Before I go further into how we might use the effort to build infrastructure, I want to say that that infrastructure program is going to be absolutely essential to rebuild an extraordinarily important part of this Nation; that is, the east coast.

New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and some parts of Pennsylvania were devastated. There is going to be a multibillion-dollar rebuilding program necessary just to go back to where those parts of this country were before the storm hit. Much more will be needed to protect those parts of this country from future storms that are certain to occur.

I'll let it go at that. I see my colleague from New York City has arrived here. I'd like her to pick this issue up and talk about the devastation that occurred in her communities, and then we can come back to the infrastructure.

Thank you for joining us, Nydia. I suppose the proper introduction would be Nydia Velázquez.


Mr. GARAMENDI. I thank you very much. Maybe we can engage in a little colloquy here, and we can talk about this in a little more detail.

The storm surge that came into New York was anticipated, but the New York/New Jersey region were not prepared with the necessary infrastructure to protect the communities from that surge. And if I understood you correctly, you're suggesting that the cities or the region needs to put in place those infrastructures to protect it. The subways have to be secured from the inflow of water, and the seawalls and certain other things need to be put in place. Did you estimate a cost of some $20 billion?

Ms. VELÁZQUEZ. For New York City?

Mr. GARAMENDI. For New York City. Not including New Jersey?

Ms. VELÁZQUEZ. Correct. Just for New York City.

Mr. GARAMENDI. I will share with you my experience in my part of California, which is the Sacramento Valley, the city of Sacramento and the surrounding area.

We have significant flood potential. In fact, the northern part of Sacramento is considered to be the most flood prone or dangerous city in America after New Orleans. That creates a need in my own region for some of those same protective measures. We call them levees, not seawalls, but rather levees. They have to be improved. We anticipate the cost in Natomas, which is part of Sacramento, to be well over $1.4 billion. Another city I represent, Marysville, needs some $20 million to protect that city, and then Yuba City next to it. The entire region that I represent has similar needs. I shouldn't use the word ``similar,'' because we're not on the ocean. But we have needs for flood protection just like New York City and New Jersey.

We can do this. We're a very strong and powerful Nation, and you couldn't be more correct by saying that if we do it, we protect ourselves, we reduce the potential damage, and we also put people to work.


Mr. GARAMENDI. I know that you're deeply involved in small business. You're the ranking member of the Small Business Committee here in the House of Representatives. I would expect that there would be a significant opportunity for small businesses in this also.

Ms. VELÁZQUEZ. Definitely.

When it comes to transportation and infrastructure, a lot of the businesses are small businesses, and they are the backbone of our economy. They will be the ones creating the jobs that are so much needed in our local communities.

Mr. GARAMENDI. I noticed that we've now been joined by another representative from an area that was significantly damaged, Mr. Pallone from New Jersey.

Perhaps you would like to share with us your thoughts and your experience. I did see you on CNN one night as you were working with your constituents trying to meet the disaster in your area.


Mr. GARAMENDI. Thank you very much, Mr. Pallone.

There is no part of this Nation that is immune from a natural disaster. The disasters will be different: tornadoes, superstorms, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and fires. The west coast, we talk earthquakes. You could talk earthquakes on the east coast, and certainly the new Madrid fault in the central Missouri area ought to keep everybody a little bit nervous. So wherever it is around this Nation, the disasters could occur, and the response which you described is critically important, that is, the forewarning and then the response when the disaster actually hits.

But the preparation to put in place the infrastructure to best protect those critical parts of the communities, Ms. Velázquez talked about the refineries which were badly damaged by the storm. There are certain things that can be done to protect them; and in doing so, you protect your power supplies, the grid systems, seawalls and the like. All of these things are critically important.

I remember last year I was on this floor with my colleague from the New York area who was deeply concerned about another storm that came through. Was it Irene, I believe, that came through the northeast and created significant damage. Mr. Paul Tonko, you spoke with great skill and compassion about your citizens, their lessons learned, and things to share with us today.


Mr. GARAMENDI. Representative Tonko, once again, it's good to be with you on the floor, sadly reliving what you and I discussed here almost a year ago in response to Hurricane Irene and the devastation that occurred in your community.

It seems to me that there are many, many lessons to learn here, some of which I talked about before you came in. Certainly the ability to know well ahead of time what is coming.

We saw with Hurricane Sandy that NASA was able to anticipate, the Weather Service was able to anticipate the nature of the storm and where it was going. That ability to understand what is happening and what is likely to happen really comes from the support of the Federal Government appropriating money to those agencies and then directing those agencies to provide those services. This is something we need to keep in mind.

As we go through the deficit reductions that we must do, we must begin a prioritization of those things that are critical to the well-being--indeed, the lives--of Americans.

We also know that we are going to have to rebuild. Ms. Velázquez was suggesting that it was going to cost some $20 billion for New York City alone. And Mr. Pallone didn't give us a number, but we can anticipate billions for the New Jersey area. And then the areas in upstate New York and Pennsylvania with lesser numbers, fortunately. But nonetheless, it begins to add up to a huge amount of money. And some of the damage is not well known even today.

I was talking with representatives of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 500 of whom came from northern California to assist in New York, and we were talking about what those men and women were doing. They said, in the subway systems that were flooded, they were flooded with seawater. And the effect of salt on the electrical systems is--it's over. You've got to replace the entire electrical system. But not just to replace it, but to then anticipate that it could happen again, so to upgrade the entire infrastructure, to provide the protection that should it happen, you won't lose the entire subway system as has occurred in New York City.

So we need the infrastructure to be replaced but then also to be significantly enhanced. This is a very, very expensive proposition. It's also a way in which people could go back to work and we could enhance the employment. We can do this. In fact, indeed, we must do it.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has said clearly that the infrastructure of America--not just New York City and New Jersey, but my own State of California, the flood control systems we have in our State are woefully inadequate, and they address it as a D. Fortunately, not an F. But not an A, not a B, not a C, but a D. So we know that we have extraordinary needs here.

The President, in his American Jobs Act, proposed a $50 billion addition to what we normally do with our infrastructure, which is a lot, an additional $50 billion to be spent in 2 to 3 years. That's a critical boost. And I know the cities I represent--the Sacramento area; Natomas area, one of the most dangerous places in America for flooding; Marysville and Yuba City; the delta, where I live--are all subject to flooding. We need to enhance our levees in order to protect ourselves, not from a 100-year, but from a 200-year storm, which is much more likely to occur.

We can pay for these things. This doesn't have to add to the deficit. For every dollar we put into infrastructure, we get $2-plus back in economic growth. So it's actually an investment, a short-term and long-term investment that will last for years.

There's another thing that we have which is no longer authorized. Part of the Recovery Act, the stimulus bill, was the creation of Build America Bonds. The President proposed that as part of his infrastructure program, the Build America Bonds, which are called BABs--it took me a while to figure that one out. But BABs, Build America Bonds, are partly funded by the Federal Government and partly funded by the local agencies and had an enormous effect on enhancing infrastructure, sanitation systems, water systems in communities.

Let's talk a little bit about these kinds of things, the effect that they may have on your communities in New York, Pennsylvania, and others.


Mr. GARAMENDI. You've raised some, I think, very, very important points.

These are not partisan issues. This is not Democratic or Republican. Over the years both parties have been champions of infrastructure investment, and both parties have been very clear about the need to respond to the disasters that have occurred.

We need to be ahead of this, and we need to work together. It's our responsibility, 435 of us here in the House of Representatives, as we end this session, we should be willing to step forward in the lame duck session, provide the resources that are needed immediately, if they are not now available, for the rebuilding, for the humanitarian efforts and the recovery that's necessary.

Then, we should, although I don't know that this would happen, we should take that step forward to put in place those programs that will create an infrastructure that will protect Americans from the occurrences that we know have happened and will happen in the future.

You've mentioned one that I think is very important, an infrastructure bank, together with the Build America Bonds, shifting unnecessary tax breaks from one industry back into others so that we can build. As we do this, as we do this rebuilding, as we do these infrastructures, it comes to my mind, something you and I have spent many days talking about here on the floor, is that we make it in America, that we use American-made equipment to build these projects, we use American-made equipment and supplies in the construction activities.

In doing so, we not only put in place the infrastructure, which is an investment for the long term, but we also build and rebuild the American manufacturing sector.

So we can have a win, and a win, and another win. So, we can have a triple win here if we are wise in putting our policies together.

I know that many of our colleagues on the Republican side have taken up these issues. We have time, 2 months now in this session, to deal with this. Obviously, we have the big deficit issue. But we also know that in that deficit issue, we cannot forget the immediate needs of America, and the long-term benefits that come from strategic investments.

I'll wrap with this, and then if you would care to call this a session.

I was flipping through the channels trying to find the latest news on the current scandal in Washington, and I came across, I think it must have been a PBS show on the Brooklyn Bridge. I think it was David McCullough who had written a book on the Brooklyn Bridge. And the 150th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge is this year or maybe next year. It's in this period of time. It's a piece of infrastructure that has served New York City, and in a larger context, the Nation, for 150 years.

So, what we can do now as we rebuild New York, New Jersey, and the other areas, and, please, California also, as we protect ourselves from these natural disasters, we will put in place investments that will serve for multiple generations into the future.

Now, that's a capital investment with an enormous return, as the Brooklyn Bridge was 150 years ago.

So, we have these opportunities, and we ought to take advantage of them, not just for humanitarian reasons, but also for immediate jobs and long-term

investments. That's our task. That's what we ought to be about. Not a Democrat, not a Republican idea, but a true American idea that goes way back to the very early ages of our country.

Mr. Tonko, if you'd care to wrap, we'll call this a day.


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