Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding Republican attempts to block FEMA disaster funding. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Last week the Senate passed three important pieces of bipartisan legislation. It was a productive week.
We reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration, keeping 80,000 safety inspectors and construction workers on the job. We passed a highway bill that will keep 1.8 million people at work building roads and bridges. And we reached a bipartisan agreement to rush relief to communities devastated by floods, tornadoes and wildfires.
So I was hopeful as this week began that it would also be productive. I thought Congress might be able to set aside party politics to accomplish the important work of this nation.
Instead, Republicans have once again allowed partisanship to rear its ugly head.
Now House Republicans, obsessed with pleasing a group of Tea Party radicals, are refusing to give the Federal Emergency Management Agency the funding it needs to reconstruct ravaged communities across this great nation. And they’re threatening to shut down the government if they don’t get what they want.
It’s bad enough that we can’t agree that victims of floods and fires should get the help they need without delay.
Now we can’t even agree on what we’ve already agreed to.
We spent months this spring and summer negotiating a deficit reduction agreement that allowed Congress to appropriate more than $11 billion in disaster aid for next year. Now, after an earthquake, weeks of wildfires and a hurricane that slammed the Eastern seaboard, we’re asking to free up $6.9 billion in emergency funds to help Americans in need.
There is a reason we’ve agreed in the past that disaster funding should be set aside from the regular budget process. There’s a reason we agreed as part of July’s deficit reduction agreement that it should be set aside once again.
Farmers who have lost their crops to floods and families who have lost their homes to hurricanes shouldn’t be used as pawns in a budget bidding war.
Over the last two decades, almost 90 percent of the money Congress has authorized for disaster relief has been done outside of the regular budget process. I ask my Republican colleagues, why should today be different?
FEMA is running out of money. That’s the bottom line.
The president has declared emergencies in 48 out of 50 states this year.
And we’ve had 10 disasters already that have cost more than $1 billion each. It’s been 30 years since we’ve had so many large natural disasters.
As of this morning, FEMA’s disaster fund has $215 million left. That’s less than any hurricane season in history, and the number is dropping as I speak.
The agency that rushes to help when disaster strikes will run out of money on Monday. I repeat: Monday.
And we’re still in the middle of hurricane season. Turn on the weather channel and you’ll see why it’s so important we give FEMA the resources it needs to react quickly to whatever Mother Nature sends our way.
FEMA has already halted reconstruction projects in 42 states to free up funds to react to the immediate needs of communities affected by the most recent disasters.
Because of these delays, FEMA will take longer to rebuild bridges in New Hampshire and schools in Missouri and homes in Texas – all because of Republican stubbornness.
The federal government has always been there to help Americans in their hour of greatest need – when the homes where they raised children and spent holidays and made memories had burned to the ground.
It has been there for them when the crops they lovingly planted – and count on to make a living – were drowned by floods.
It has been there when the schools they study in and the bridges they drive on have been rocked by earthquakes and blown away by tornadoes.
And never before has Congress tried to nickel and dime the victims of these disasters – Americans who have watched all they own go up in smoke or wash away.
But that is what Republicans are doing today. They are shortchanging communities that can least afford the delays of partisan gridlock.
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell once said this: “Bipartisanship means you work together to work it out.”
American families and communities are relying on us to work together to work it out. I am holding out hope that we won’t disappoint them.