Highlights need for change to help communities protect themselves
Washington, DC — Senator Reid today addressed the National Conference of Mayors, speaking to them about the difficult choices our communities are being forced to make to try and keep ordinary Americans safe.
Our nation’s Mayors are on the front lines of protecting America’s towns and cities, but unfortunately lawmakers in Washington have put their own needs ahead of the people’s needs and let our country down. The culture of corruption Republicans have brought to Washington has impeded an investigation into Katrina to ensure that our cities are never again so vulnerable, refused real reforms based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, sent our National Guard overseas and left our communities without these important first responders, and ignored the infrastructure needs of our emergency services.
“America deserves better than a policy which disregards the needs of its Mayors in trying to protect the communities that they represent,” said Senator Reid on Friday. “We are faced with a choice: will we continue to put the needs of the special interests above people’s interests, or will we do the hard work necessary to protect our country?”
Democrats are calling on President Bush to take the opportunity of his State of the Union message next week to come clean with the American people, and to join Democrats in offering real solutions to the problems that have developed under his watch.
“Democrats believe America must do everything it can to fight the terrorists and to protect the homeland,” continued Senator Reid. “But our safety is endangered by a policy that protects Halliburton before it protects our troops. Let us hope President Bush uses State of the Union to offer a real policy that helps our mayors protect America.”
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:
As everyone here knows, governing is about choices.
And whether you are the President of the United States or the Mayor of Long Beach, California, there is one choice in which we all share.
That is the choice about how to keep the American people safe.
As elected officials, this is the most important choice we make, and as mayors, your role is unique.
Not only do you have your own responsibility to keep your communities safe, but – as government’s first-responders – you have to follow through on the choices we make in Washington.
When we make good choices- like the choice in the early 1990s to put 100,000 new cops on the street, everyone benefits.
But when bad choices are made, it is mayors who pay the price.
We’ve seen it throughout the last year. Wrong choices in Washington have left mayors with bigger burdens and unpaid bills.
In New Orleans, it was a mayor who was left with a city in chaos – because a choice was made to transform FEMA from a first-class Cabinet organization into a jobs program for campaign donors.
And in Las Vegas, it was a mayor who was sent scrambling to find new funding – - because the Department of Homeland Security chose to take the city off of America’s high-risk list, even though more people celebrated New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas than in New York’s Time Square.
I wish I could tell you that these two examples are exceptions to the rule…that choices being made in Washington are more right than wrong. But too often, that’s not the case.
You know America can do better when it comes to protecting our cities, and together in 2006, we will. We’re going to fight to make sure that the choices made in Washington are the right choices you need to keep our communities safe.
In Washington today, we hear tough rhetoric about making America secure, but that rhetoric is rarely followed by real action.
The problem is… we have leaders who are making wrong choices. They’re choosing their political interest over America’s interest.
And their wrong choices are making your jobs harder and our country less safe.
Consider the White House’s choice not to participate in the Congressional investigation of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster ever to hit U.S. soil… and the worst federal response to a disaster we have ever seen.
We need to find why the government failed so badly. If we don’t, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes.
Any one of your cities or towns could be the next New Orleans. Today. Tomorrow. Next week or next month. And the federal government owes it to you and your citizens to be prepared the next time disaster strikes.
My colleagues and I have called for an Independent Commission to investigate Katrina, but the White House has rejected this approach.
The next best thing is the current Congressional investigation, but even with this, the White House is dragging its feet.
It has refused to provide witnesses to Congress. It has ignored requests to provide documents. And according to one of the Congressional Committee Chairman, it has engaged in a “conscious strategy of slow walking [the] investigation.”
Who pays for this choice? You. Your communities are at risk because the White House is more concerned with its political problems than protecting the American people.
We need to complete this investigation – - not so we can point fingers at those who failed, but so we can join hands and do what it takes to make America safe.
Here’s another choice being made in Washington that does not make sense. The decision announced last Sunday to cut 17,000 personnel from the National Guard.
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, I flew to New Orleans and met with Guardsmen from Nevada. They were brave men and women, willing to do whatever it took to restore order and get the region back on its feet.
These Nevadans were demonstrating the valuable role the National Guard plays in homeland security. They were proud of their work, and I was proud of them.
By proposing a cut of 17,000 Guardsmen, the administration is jeopardizing the National Guard’s role in keeping America safe.
Iraq has already stretched the Guard too thin, and any more cuts could mean the Guard won’t be available when we need them at home.
That’s right – your cities could pay the price for this choice.
I reject the president’s proposal to make such deep cuts in the Guard, and I will do all I can to strengthen, not weaken, this invaluable force, which all of us – Presidents, Governors, Mayors and Members of Congress – count on.
And what about the choices that have been made following 9/11? Are we really doing everything we can to make America safe? We started on the right path immediately after 9/11, but in the years since, we’ve taken too many wrong turns.
After September 11, 2001, leaders from both sides of the aisle came together to create the 9/11 Commission, which we charged with guiding our country forward.
We turned to a bipartisan, non-political group, because we realized that we didn’t Democratic solutions or Republican solutions. We needed American solutions that would keep all of us safe.
In July of 2004, the Commission came back with a strong roadmap for the Congress and White House to follow. But those of us who’ve tried to implement this roadmap have hit speed bump after speed bump.
Here are some recent examples from the United States Senate:
On April 15, 2005, some of us tried to increase funding for first responders by 1.6 billion dollars.
Our effort was rejected.
Two days later, the same group of us tried to restore $1 billion to the COPS program.
But we were rejected again.
In July – just days after the subway bombings in London – the Senate considered legislation that would have improved security on our rails.
Again, we were voted down.
That same day, the Senate voted on legislation to allocate billions of dollars to securing our ports and chemical plants.
You guessed it – the measure fell.
Who pays the price for these choices? Mayors like you. Even when you don’t get funds from the federal government, you still have to find a way to put cops on the street and first responders on call.
Recently, the 9/11 Commission came out with a report card – grading our government’s progress in securing the Homeland. You probably know, the federal government’s GPA was not very high.
Providing a radio spectrum for first responders? An F.
Allocating homeland security funds based on risk? Another F.
Sharing information with state and locals? D.
These grades are the result of the wrong choices being made in Washington.
In those Senate votes I just talked about, we weren’t asking for budget busting projects, we were asking folks to make better choices about where we spend money in Washington.
Wouldn’t we be better off spending 10 billion dollars protecting our trains, ports and chemical plants, rather than handing that money to HMOs, as we did with the recent Medicare prescription drug law?
And wouldn’t we be better off spending billions of dollars to fund first responders, instead spending billions on tax breaks for special interests, as the President’s budget does?
Since 9/11, we have spent only 500 million dollars to secure our mass transit system. That’s a sum we spend every three days in Iraq!
Let me be clear: I believe we need to do what it takes in 2006 to make significant progress in Iraq, so we can begin to bring our troops home. But if we can spend two billion dollars every week to protect the Iraqi people, we can do more to protect our people at home.
In the months ahead, we need to make sure the right choices in Washington outnumber the wrong.
That means making a commitment to securing our roads and rails… our borders and bridges… our seaports and airports…our nuclear plants, our chemical plants and our cargo holds.
And it also means making sure our first responders can communicate with each other when disaster strikes.
This was a major complaint following 9/11.
We heard it again after Katrina.
And it’s long past time we got it fixed.
Last October, I asked current and former top-ranking national security officials like Madeleine Albright to look at the homeland security challenges facing America.
They came back with a number of solutions, including increasing communication between local, state and federal officials.
But right after that, was the need to strengthen our public health system.
The truth is, our health infrastructure is woefully unprepared to deal with the threats we face, including the one we see on the news every night – Avian Flu.
Today, public health experts are warning us that another flu pandemic is not a matter of if…but a question of when. They also tell us this next pandemic has the potential to be every bit as devastating as what the world witnessed nearly 100 years ago, which claimed 50 million lives around the world.
Last year in Congress, I joined with my colleagues to secure $8 billion to prepare and protect our country for the possibility of a pandemic. This is the amount of money America needs to produce and stockpile vaccines, antivirals and other medication… to strengthen and prepare state and local health departments… and to launch a global and domestic surveillance program.
But guess what? At the last minute, over half of this money was stripped from a Conference Report in the middle-of-the night. As a result, instead of the $8 billion we need to protect America, we have only half of what we need today.
Who pays the price for this decision? That’s right, you.
Be assured, I will continue to fight for the resources we need to combat Avian Flu. With the widespread warnings that we have received about this threat, it would be morally wrong and irresponsible for us not to prepare.
From the president of the United States to Members of Congress to the mayors in this room, none of us fight the war on terror alone – we must do it together
That means we need a shared commitment – along the entire chain of command – to putting progress ahead of politics.
To choosing America’s interest over special interests.
And to making sure America’s security needs always come first.
As mayors, you’re doing your best day in and day out.
I believe it’s time we did the same here in Washington, DC.
We can make our future safe and secure, all it takes is a commitment to making the right choices, every time.