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Public Statements

National Disasters

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, tonight we are wrapping up affairs here on the floor, and what is going on right now is that the main substitute amendment that had a whole series of other amendments attached to it that has been the result of the work over the last couple of days has been withdrawn, so we are back to square one in terms of addressing a series of national disasters around the country.

Tomorrow, with the new amendment, we will start off the day with a new basic amendment and a new chance to have amendments to the replacement. I explain this simply to say that a number of Senators who had amendments over the last couple of days will come back tomorrow and will ask to have their amendments be considered. I will be one of them, and I wanted to explain why.

In my home State of Oregon, we had the worst forest fires in a century this summer, and the devastation to ranchers and farmers was enormous. There was the loss of forage on their own land, the loss of forage on BLM land, certainly the loss of livestock, and the loss of miles of fencing in these fires. Basically, whole ranching enterprises were destroyed.

The largest of these fires was larger than the Presiding Officer's State, the State of Rhode Island. That is an enormous fire. That was just one of the many fires we had sweeping our State, and this was not just something that happened in Oregon. This happened in many States this summer because it goes along with something else, which is we had the worst drought in many parts of the country. So we have farmers and ranchers across this Nation devastated this past summer by drought, devastated by fires which were larger because of drought conditions.

Normally we would have had disaster programs to assist with these disasters. These disaster programs were authorized in the farm bill. In this Chamber we had a bipartisan coming together. We passed the farm bill, and we sent it over to the House. There it has sat, month after month after month, while our farmers and our ranchers all across this Nation faced these disasters with no assistance, no assistance in a situation in which they should be able to expect assistance. It is the tradition of our Nation that when there are extraordinary disasters, we rally together, respond and rebuild those communities, whether they be urban disasters or whether they be rural disasters. But because the farm bill has not been passed, not gotten to the President, these disaster programs have not been reauthorized, and our farmers and ranchers watch us and wait. They say where is our government, our partner, when disaster occurs?

They know the tax dollars they pay go into the central government and have many times been allocated to others around this Nation facing disasters of all kinds--earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, droughts. But these individuals, now that Mother Nature has struck them, stand waiting.

We have an opportunity tomorrow to right this wrong. We have a bill that is about the enormous terrible disaster that affected our Northeastern States in the form of Hurricane Sandy.

We should be absolutely expedient in taking care of communities so dramatically affected. But at the same time, isn't it right that we take care of the other communities around this country that have faced disasters this last year that are waiting on us?

I invite my colleagues to come to the floor and explain to me if they feel it is not right to take care of the other disasters we have had this last year. I would like to be able to go to the ranchers and farmers in my State and explain to them the arguments that others might bring about why their disaster, the destruction of their livelihood that the great hand of Mother Nature struck, why we shouldn't address and assist them when we are assisting others so dramatically affected around this Nation. Quite frankly, I have no answer. I have no answer. I can't think of an answer.

Will any of my 99 colleagues come to me and explain why we shouldn't pass this amendment tomorrow, the amendment that I will propose? I will tell you that a number of us came together to propose this amendment. Senator Stabenow, Senator McCaskill, Senator Baucus, Senator Wyden, Senator Tim Johnson, Senator Franken, Senator Tom Udall, representing all kinds of parts of our Nation, who understand the impact that drought has had, understand the impact the fires have had. They have come together from different parts of the Nation to say we are in this together. Let's not leave stranded our ranchers and farmers when we gather to debate tomorrow. Let's let this amendment be brought forward, and let's get it passed as part of this very appropriate response to this very terrible disaster called Hurricane Sandy.


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