Delays to FEMA Funding, Threats of Government Shutdown Must End
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding FEMA funding for victims of natural disasters. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Two weeks ago the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA. And for two weeks, House Republicans have been sitting on that bill, taking no action.
But Democrats have not given up on funding FEMA and keeping our government open.
A House Republican bill that would have killed 45,000 American jobs did not have the votes last week to pass the Senate. But that doesn’t mean we have to shut down the government or abandon Americans in need.
Democrats have made a good-faith effort to compromise. Today the Senate will consider compromise legislation to fund FEMA and keep the government open without killing jobs.
Our compromise includes a clean continuing resolution – a bill to fund the government for the next few weeks. Republicans in both chambers have already agreed to – and voted for – the funding levels in this CR. So this shouldn’t be a controversial vote for them.
The legislation also includes $3.65 billion in funding for FEMA, which will give American communities ravaged by floods, wildfires and tornadoes the help they need. We know House Republicans support that funding level as well, since they voted for it last week.
Democrats would have given FEMA more, since President Obama has declared disasters in 48 of 50 states this year. Unfortunately, this bill will force us to revisit this issue in a few weeks, when FEMA funds will be depleted again.
But this compromise legislation will provide for FEMA’s immediate needs.
I urge my colleagues to do the right thing and support this good-faith compromise to help disaster victims now.
The folks on the ground in states that have been hard-hit by disasters – people who have seen the devastation first hand – are all saying the same thing: there’s no more time to waste.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has begged us to act. A bipartisan group of governors has pleaded with us to act. And tens of thousands of Americans in nearly every state in the union are demanding that we act.
Republicans must not continue to block FEMA from getting the resources it needs to help disaster victims.
This compromise legislation should satisfy House Republicans. It includes their own much lower FEMA funding number.
And it satisfies Democrats because it does not include a $1.5 billion cut that would kill jobs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers has warned us that this thoughtless cut would kill 45,000 jobs at a time when our economy and our country can least afford it.
The program Republicans are targeting “promotes manufacturing in the U.S. and is an important component of America’s energy security,” the Chamber of Commerce wrote.
“Defunding [the program] would hurt manufacturers and their employees,” wrote the National Association of Manufacturers.
Democrats believe – and American auto producers agree – that we should not have to choose between saying no to disaster victims and killing American jobs.
So, as you can see, this legislation is fair to both sides. It will get disaster victims the help they need without killing jobs.
It is a common-sense solution that should pass both chambers with bipartisan support. We will vote on it shortly.
I am cautiously optimistic that my Republican colleagues in the Senate will not force a government shutdown.
Earlier this month, when the Senate passed bipartisan legislation funding FEMA, 10 Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill. It would have given FEMA nearly twice the funding that this compromise legislation does.
At the time, those 10 Republicans said they believed disaster relief should be immune to partisan politics. They believed their constituents shouldn’t wait a moment longer for help.
I can only assume those Republicans are as angry as I am over the delays by their Republican colleagues in the House.
In the weeks since that vote, the disasters have not gone away in their home states of Missouri, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, Alaska, Florida and Pennsylvania. Roads and bridges, homes and schools in those states and many others must still be repaired and replaced.
Yet millions of dollars of restoration work has stopped in those 10 states alone. Nationwide, work on nearly $470 million worth of reconstruction has been delayed because FEMA is out of money.
But even with construction projects at risk in communities that were only just beginning to get back on their feet, FEMA’s disaster fund will still run out of money this week.
FEMA has devoted every penny in its coffers to pay for food and shelter for families who lost their homes in major disasters in the last few months. There isn’t a dime left for anything else.
And now even that money will run dry if we don’t act quickly.
That is why I am hopeful Republicans will do the right thing today.
We must remember that we are not talking about zeros on a budget spreadsheet.
FEMA takes care of people who have lost mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, spouses and friends.
Without additional funding, thousands of people who have lost literally everything they owned will be forced to go without food and shelter.
And reconstruction will be delayed in communities where homes and schools and roads have been wiped off the map by tragedies so terrible they’re difficult to comprehend.
To families in Joplin, Missouri – where 153 people died in a terrible tornado – this is more important than politics.
To families in Nags Head, North Carolina – where Hurricane Irene left houses under water or washed them out to sea – this is more important than politics.
To families in Texas – where wildfires have burned thousands of homes – this is more important than politics.
To families in Cairo, Illinois – where the Mississippi River overflowed its banks and swept away everything in its path – this is more important than politics.
And it ought to be more important than partisan posturing to every member of the Republican Party. It certainly is to me.
Truman once said, “America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
No amount of money can ever replace what the people of Joplin or Cairo have lost.
But at least we can help them get back on their feet. We can help them start over.
That’s what FEMA does. That’s FEMA’s job.
It’s up to Congress to give FEMA the resources it needs to do the job at hand.