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Public Statements

Rebuilding America's Infrastructure

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GARAMENDI. I thank you, Mr. Speaker. It's good, it is very, very good that the new 113th Congress acted today to reach out in sympathy, compassion, and with real support to the people who were so severely impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

One of our colleagues, just a moment ago, spoke about this Nation being at a crossroad. And indeed, we cross paths many, many times and there are many different crossroads. The people of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and other parts of this great Nation here on the east coast came to a crossroads. That crossroads was 97 days ago when Superstorm Sandy came ashore and whacked and destroyed, pummeled and, indeed, killed Americans.

Today, the House of Representatives, not unanimously, unfortunately, but by a strong majority of Democrats and some Republicans, stood tall and said we are one Nation. We're one Nation, and when one of us is harmed, we'll stand with that person. When one State is harmed, we'll stand with that State, and we will come together, just as my colleague said a moment ago, we will come together to provide what is needed to rebuild, to sustain, to provide, so that they who have been harmed can carry on.

There's a lesson here for all of us, and tonight my Democratic colleagues and I will talk about the lesson that Superstorm Sandy brought to this Nation. Certainly one of those lessons has been fulfilled today. As a great Nation, we will provide what is needed for the rebuilding, for the immediate needs, even though it is 97 days late. We will provide because we are a compassionate Nation.

But there's also another lesson here, and that lesson is for this entire Nation to get ahead of the next disaster. It will come. It'll be another storm up the east coast or into the gulf. It'll be an earthquake in my State of California or a flood or a fire. But there will be yet another natural disaster of one sort or another, perhaps man-made, perhaps Mother Nature.

What we must do as a Nation is to get ahead of that, to prepare ourselves not only with emergency responses, but more and just as important, to prepare the infrastructure to protect the lives and the property of the citizens of this Nation. That's the second lesson of Superstorm Sandy. Build the infrastructure to prepare for the next flood, the next hurricane, the next onslaught of Mother Nature. We can do it. And in so doing, we not only reduce the cost of that next storm, that next flood, but we also save the lives of Americans, and we put people to work right now.

This Nation is not yet fully recovered from the recession of 2008. This Nation has not yet fully brought Americans back to work, and we can do so taking the lesson of this day's action here on the floor of the House of Representatives where we, at least most of us, voted to build for the future, voted to put in place those infrastructure improvements, not for yesterday, not to rebuild just what was there that was destroyed, but, rather, to build for the future onslaught of a storm coming into New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, or other parts of this Nation.

To be prepared. The Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. Benjamin Franklin: An ounce of prevention is worth a dollar of cure. These are truisms that have been with us forever, and today we want to talk about infrastructure investment, the kind of things that were done here on the floor, some $33 billion going not only for immediate relief, but to build the infrastructure necessary to protect and prepare for the next storm.

Joining me today in this discussion, at least at the outset, is my colleague from New York, Paul Tonko. We often meet here on the floor. We sometimes call this the East Coast/West Coast show. I'm from California. Representative Tonko is from New York.

And you were there, not only for this storm, but for the previous storm, and that was less than 18 months ago. Let's talk about these things, Mr. Tonko.


Mr. GARAMENDI. Thank you, Mr. Tonko. The bill now is out of this House. It's over in the Senate. We expect the Senate to pass it probably tomorrow or the next day, certainly before the inaugural on Monday, and then the President will undoubtedly sign it shortly thereafter, bringing that kind of relief.

You mentioned the job issue, and people need to go to work. When we have these natural disasters, and we come forward with the kind of support that we have seen today, and will soon be available for New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and the surrounding areas, people go back to work. Those people that have received immediate FEMA support for housing, for clothing, for food, that money's immediately spent into the economy.

On the infrastructure side, it's crucial. When the subways of Lower Manhattan flooded, the world's financial institutions took a whack because it was shut down for several days. People couldn't get to work, and so the entire world's economy slowed down, costing billions of dollars beyond just the damage.

Now, part of the infrastructure, part of the bill that was passed today, the infrastructure improvements are to harden, to prepare Manhattan and the surrounding areas, the beach communities and others, for the next storm, to put up the seawalls.

Now, what does that mean?

Well, it means that the ounce of prevention and the pound of cure have taken place, but it also means people are going to go to work.

Let me refer to this chart here. This is from Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, and the former economic adviser to John McCain. His analysis, and this is generally agreed to by most economists, is that for every dollar invested in infrastructure, you get $1.57 back into the American economy. So you're not just putting a dollar in. You're getting the American economy going. You're putting people to work.

Those people will then be able to pay taxes, buy food, support their families, and build for tomorrow's disaster, putting in place the infrastructure that is hardened, that is protected, eliminating the potential, in this specific case, of flooding of the subway systems in New York City.

I know that you talked about doing this in your area for the storm. You may want to pick that back up, and then I want to come back and talk about my own district in California.


Mr. GARAMENDI. You're speaking of something that is very close I know to your heart. I've heard you speak on this issue some months ago about some of the historic buildings that date back to the pre-Revolutionary War era in New York.

And it's interesting to note that in this Sandy legislation that passed the House today there are numerous reforms, improvements on the way in which the Federal Emergency Management System works, so that the historic resources can be rebuilt and maintained, so that that sense of history, that sense of our past and who we are as Americans is going to be there for future generations. Some of the old rules and regulations made it virtually impossible to do that.

There's also in this legislation other reforms that allow the projects and homes and businesses to be rebuilt in a way that protects them from the future storms and the increased storms that you so aptly described.

Let me just take this home to my district. I represent the Central Valley of California, the great Sacramento Valley, 200 miles of it, literally from the beginning of San Francisco Bay 200 miles up the Sacramento River. And probably, I haven't been able to count all the levees in my district, but I probably have well over 1,500 miles of levees that protect large cities, medium size cities, farms and other critical assets and infrastructure in the State of California. For example, the intercontinental rail system both north and south, intercontinental highway systems, universities, international airports. These critical assets are at risk of flooding.

The Army Corps of Engineers is taking a look at the levees in one part of my district. The Natomas Basin, which is part of the city of Sacramento, judges those levees to have a 1 in 30 chance of failure, so that over a 30-year period of time it's anticipated there will be a catastrophic failure of those levees. One hundred thousand lives just in that part of Sacramento at immediate risk because those floodwaters--should those levees fail, it would be a repeat of what happened in New Orleans, only the water is deeper and the floodwaters would rush in, at least as fast, if not faster. A monumental disaster, international airport gone, highways gone and on and on.

We need to get ahead of that. We need to build that infrastructure, those levees, to protect those assets. A penny of prevention, a pound of savings.

So these are the kind of things that we can do. And there are ways we can do this. Yes, it may run up the immediate deficit. But once again, for every dollar that we invest in those levees we not only save lives and property, but we put people to work and we get the economic engine going.

Further up in my district, again along the Sacramento and the Feather Rivers, I have a project that's 44 miles of levee that clearly will fail. It has failed four times in the last 60 years. Lives have been lost. One of the most catastrophic failures of a levee happened in this stretch of river. We need to rebuild that.

The Federal Government's role in the construction projects of these levees has gone back to the very beginning of this Nation. And it is Congress' task to allocate the money, to decide the projects that are going to be built. But unfortunately, we've tied ourselves in knots here with certain rules that have been put in by our Republican colleagues that prevent us from taking the necessary action to protect our communities.

We're not talking about willy-nilly unnecessary projects; we're talking about saving lives and property. This is how we should be acting. Rebuilding after a storm to a higher standard, building before the storm to protect our people, the people that we represent.

These are critical issues, these are infrastructure projects, and we need to get on top of this and push these projects forward. Yes, it will cost money, but not nearly as much as the cost of a levee failure because we failed to act in time.


Mr. GARAMENDI. I would like to move in just a moment to the issue of how we can actually help other parts of our economy grow as we build our infrastructure. But before I do I am just thinking about the previous discussion from our Republican colleagues where they talked about the deficit and the deficit and we ought to eliminate government programs.

Certainly there are government programs that are neither efficient, effective, or necessary, and, yes, those should be cut. But when you start talking about infrastructure this is something that we really must do.

It was said that for an expenditure of some $15 billion New York City could have protected its subway system and the shoreline from the devastation of two major storms, one that occurred a year ago and another one that occurred just 97 days or 3 months ago, Superstorm Sandy.

So if we get ahead of these disasters and build the necessary protections, for example in my district if we build those levees, yes, it will cost money. For the Natomas area it's about $1 billion. Very expensive, no doubt about it.

But if we do not protect and do not build those levees the devastation will amount to several times that amount of money. That's precisely what happened in Manhattan and in the New York City area.

So again, you spend that money up front, yes, you put people to work, yes, there may be an immediate issue of where and how we fund it, and that's a legitimate issue, but fail to do it and then the cost is horrendous. And, yes, if the State, the Federal, the local governments, the individuals, that will all be an expense that they have to endure. And Superstorm Sandy, the bill we saw today, is precisely on that.

Now, having said that, let's talk about the broader subject. You mentioned Build American Bonds just a moment ago. The Build American Bonds were part of the stimulus program, now almost 4 years old.

That program created a new mechanism to assist local governments in providing the funding to build infrastructure--very, very successful in putting people back to work. We could extend that. In doing so, we will put people back to work. We will build the infrastructures, whether those are highways or bridges or whatever.

As we do that, one of our favorite topics that we've talked on this floor many, many times about is this: We can Make It in America. We use our taxpayer money to make and to spend that money on American-made products. So the steel in the bridges, the concrete, the other design elements are American jobs. And as we do that, we rebuild the American manufacturing base.

You've talked about this extensively. You go back in history, but go for it.


Mr. GARAMENDI. Last year, you and I talked--or last Congress, which was last year, you and I talked about this Make It in America, this manufacturing. We spent a lot of time talking about it. I had introduced in that session of Congress legislation that would require that our tax money--at least 85 percent of it--be spent on American-made products and equipment.

Let's take the Superstorm Sandy situation. We know that, for example, Amtrak is receiving, I think, a little over $150 million to repair its tracks that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Those are jobs--men and women will be working--but it's also steel, it's electrical wires, it's consultants, and it will undoubtedly be various kinds of electrical systems that will be used by Amtrak in rebuilding, similarly with regard to the subways in New York.

Now, if we were able to write into the Superstorm Sandy legislation that 85 percent of that money that's used on rebuilding the infrastructure came from American-made products--in other words, Buy America--then that would not only put people back to work, but it would stimulate the steel industry, the electrical industry, and certainly the consultants, engineers, and architects. So I'm going to reintroduce that legislation--too late now for Superstorm Sandy, but there will be other legislation.

For example, we know that we're going to have to rewrite a new transportation bill in this session. There's a 2-year bill that's now in place. It will expire at the end of the 213th Congress, so we're going to need to redo that. We should write into that transportation legislation--where we will spend $50 billion, $60 billion a year to build transportation systems--a clause like my bill that says that's taxpayer money; let's use that taxpayer money to buy American-made equipment and supplies, putting Americans back to work and using that to rebuild the American manufacturing sector along the lines that you describe, not with yesterday's technology, but with advanced manufacturing.


Mr. GARAMENDI. You couldn't be more correct. You used the word ``holistic,'' meaning whole and in total, a total package. For years I've said that to have a growing economy and a just social environment, we needed to make, as Americans, critical investments. You hit three of those critical investments.

You talked about research--absolutely critical investment in the future growth of the economy and to solve today and tomorrow's problems. That's research, most of which, interestingly, is funded either directly by the Federal Government through the National Institutes of Health or Defense Research Agency, DARPA, or one of the other Federal agencies, or indirectly through the research tax credit that we provide for businesses to engage in research.

So research is one of the key investments that lead to economic growth. You mentioned the second one, very interesting, and that's education. A well educated workforce will be competitive across the world. That's a critical, perhaps the most critical, investment. Again, a role for the Federal Government, certainly a role for States and local governments, but a role for the American society that cannot be ignored--research, education.

You drew it very, very correctly, and that is the manufacturing that comes from that. Manufacturing matters. How do you do that? You need to be in front of it; and when you talked about the research and the manufacturing technology, you were spot on. That's the third critical investment. The fourth one we also talked about here is infrastructure. So these are four of the critical investments that we need to make as a society.

Some of that falls on individual companies, encouraged by a research tax credit or encouraged by Buy America. In different ways, we can encourage the manufacturing tax policy, which is critically important. We did that. Actually, it was a Democratic proposal. We did it 3 years ago. We've continued it. We've continued it in the recent fiscal cliff legislation where we provided 100 percent write-off for capital investment.

That was from the Democrats. We care about business, and so we said, grow your business. We will provide you with a 100 percent write-off in the first year of capital equipment that you put in place. Not depreciation over 3, 4, 7, 15 years, but rather immediate, an enormous benefit to business. So we want the businesses to invest so that they can Make It in America.

There are two more critical elements. I'll go through them very, very quickly. Provide for the national defense wisely. I think the public knows by now that we're spending $100 billion in Afghanistan this year--$100 billion. We need to bring it back home. We need to end that war. Thankfully, the President has set us off on a course where we will end American offensive action and move to supporting the Afghan Government in the spring of this year.

Mr. President, we're thankful that you put that policy. Now let's bring the rest of it home, $100 billion. We need that money here. So we need national defense, but we need to be really wise about how we spend our money.

Finally, the fifth thing is this: we need to change. We need to be willing to change. Thank you for bringing up the first three of those. But this is how we invest in the future, and these are policies that we need to put forward. They're the critical foundation for economic and social growth.


Mr. GARAMENDI. If I might interrupt you for just a moment. This had to be 6 or 7 years ago, I was Lieutenant Governor of California, and 3M, the manufacturing company, came in to talk about exactly that issue; and they had researched and developed a new conductor that was 30 percent more efficient in passing those electrons down the line. Think about what we could do in America to improve our energy capability by putting that in place; and if that were made in America, we could not only improve the energy efficiency. We would increase the capacity of our electrical system by 30 percent simply by rewiring those conductors across this Nation. That's American manufacturing, research and manufacturing. Put it in the infrastructure and build our strong economy. Great example.


Mr. GARAMENDI. Well, we have a little bit more time. I think it's about time for us to wrap all of this into one piece. And I will take the first shot at it, and then if you would be so kind as to finish it up.

I'm thinking of Chicago. It's not my territory. It's a long way from California. It's a beautiful city, a very dynamic city. At the turn of the previous century, in the late 1800s, they had an architect, a city architect, Burnham, and he wrote: Think no small thought for it stirs not the heart of man. Very interesting. We ought to add women to that equation now. But what he said is that when we rebuild this city, we need to build big. We need to think bold thoughts. We need to think about the greatness that could exist if we step forward.

Earlier in the previous hour we heard about the exact opposite. We heard about inward, thinking small, we are not going to reach out and fulfill the great potential of this Nation. Instead, we're going to retreat. We're not going to allow government to be part of the greatness of our future; but, instead, we're going to make it smaller and less viable. And those five things that I talked about, education, that's a public investment. Infrastructure is both public and private. But the public side is critical.

You look at manufacturing, manufacturing has always been private; but it has also relied upon the public sector. And if we use our tax dollars to buy American-made products, we are causing the manufacturing sector to grow, to blossom and to innovate and to be even greater than it is today. In developing the research, that's both public and private, but it is largely a public sector investment. So we can deal with this by investing, by thinking boldly about what it is we can do and, in doing so, make certain that everything we invest in publicly is necessary, that it is run efficiently, and that its outcome is effective, and that it fulfills the goal for which it was designed.

Those should be our watchwords: efficient, effective, necessary, and bold. Think no small thought. This is America. This is the world's greatest country perhaps ever, and it was created by bold thinking, both public and private working together in a synergy that created this incredible Nation.

I'm excited. I'm excited here in the very early days of the 113th Congress. I know we're going to have some big battles over debt limits and the like. But as we go through those fights, I want us to be bold. I want us to be big in our thinking. I want us to fulfill the great potential of this Nation. And I know we can do it. I know we can do it.


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