Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor after Republicans delayed FEMA disaster relief for tens of thousands of Americans. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
This week Republicans sent a message to victims of devastating hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes: tough luck.
Last night, Democrats tried to move forward on a measure that would have granted the Federal Emergency Management Agency additional funding to help communities devastated by natural disasters.
This ought to be the least political issue going – whether to reach out a helping hand to our friends and neighbors in their time of need.
They have lost friends and loved ones. Their homes, businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed by acts of god. Their communities are under water or reduced to rubble.
It’s in our power to help them. But last night Republicans overwhelmingly voted to prevent us from coming to their aid. They prevented us from getting disaster aid to American families and businesses that need it now.
They don’t need help next week or next month. They need it now. They need it today.
It is unthinkable that Republicans would waste time catering to the radical Tea Party while innocent victims of devastating disasters bide their time.
This is not a nation that stands idly by while our fellow Americans suffer. We are a nation of action.
When it is in our power to aid a fellow citizen, we have always done what it takes. And we have done it without politics, without pandering and without a moment’s delay.
This year the United States has dealt with more than its usual share of terrible natural disasters.
Hurricane Irene is estimated to be among the 10 most costly disasters ever to hit this country. It caused flooding and wind damage from Florida to Maine. It destroyed hundreds of bridges in New Hampshire and drowned thousands of acres of crops in New York.
A few short weeks ago, Virginia was rocked by the strongest earthquake to hit the East Coast since 1944. It was felt by tens of millions of people in every corner of the eastern United States. It damaged buildings in Richmond and closed the Washington Monument indefinitely.
Record flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers cost several lives and devastated farmland in the Midwest.
Tornadoes ravaged the Southeast and the Midwest, killing hundreds of people, destroying countless homes and businesses and costing billions of dollars.
In February, a massive blizzard buried the Midwest and Northeast under two feet of snow, paralyzed the city of Chicago and killed 36 people.
And even now firefighters are battling terrible wildfires that have raged for two weeks across central Texas. Those fires have killed at least two people, and driven residents from homes they may never see again.
Since January, Texas has had nearly 20,000 fires that have burned nearly 3.7 million acres. The state Forest Service responded to 19 new fires on Sunday alone.
This year, President Obama has issued disaster declarations in 48 states, and it’s only September.
The United States has had 10 billion-dollar disasters already this year, the most in more than 30 years. So no it’s no wonder there is only $407 million left in FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund.
FEMA has spent $365 million in the last two weeks alone making whole American families affected by Irene and other disasters.
Here’s the bottom line: FEMA is running out of money.
Funds are so low, FEMA stopped rebuilding Joplin, Missouri – where more than 150 people died in terrible tornados – so that it would have enough money for food, water, and emergency housing for victims of Hurricane Irene.
Even Republican governors – who have seen the destruction firsthand – agree there’s no time to waste.
Governor Christie of New Jersey said this: “Our people are suffering now, and they need support now.”
Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia said this: “My concern is that we help people in need.”
Senate Republicans are once again holding Congress hostage to appease the Tea Party. Meanwhile, more than $200 million in disaster recovery projects are on hold.
No matter how often we wish for a crystal ball, the process of guessing how much money we will need for natural disasters isn’t perfect.
Each year Congress estimates how much it will cost this country to recover from the inevitable storms and wildfires and floods. And then it reacts to what Mother Nature sends our way.
Now is the time to react. It is the time to show Americans, as we did in the wake of September 11, that when disaster strikes the federal government will be there to help rebuild.
And it’s time for Republicans to prove – for the first time this Congress – that they are willing to put politics aside for the good of the American people.