09.26.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Senate Showdown Over FEMA Funds

Vermont and other states that are reeling in Irene's aftermath have a stake in today's Senate vote about replenishing federal disaster relief funds.  In fact, all Americans have a stake in this.

Our small state is stretched to the limit.  Our communities need the helping hand of federal disaster recovery programs -- just as Vermonters, decade after decade, have always supported this safety net when other states have needed it.

These programs were already running on fumes before Irene.  This has been a tough year.  Forty-eight states have had disaster declarations within their borders.  Already, some ongoing federal aid for our spring floods is having to go into a holding pattern for lack of funds. 

The Senate three weeks ago promptly started the effort to replenish these disaster funds with a strong and responsible stand-alone bill that was shaped by the Senate Appropriations Committee, as it should be.  Our legislation is within the bounds of the budget agreement reached just two months ago.  After overcoming a partisan filibuster, we got that bill through the Senate in a bipartisan vote.

The bill the House sent back last Friday was a weak and cynical response to the Senate bill.  Worse still, House leaders have again injected their tactic of taking the American people hostage, by linking disaster relief to a short-term funding bill for the entire federal government. 

The Senate bill makes a significant down payment on our recovery needs.  The House bill does not.

We are bound together as one nation, the UNITED States.  Americans help each other in time of need.

There would be bipartisan majorities for passing a straightforward disaster relief package like the Senate bill, but political point-scoring and my-way-or-no-way factionalism stand in the way.  That is unconscionable.

Vermonters and countless others who are trying to get back on their feet after Irene and other calamities across the nation do not have the luxury of time to waste on the temper tantrums of ideological factions in Congress.  Winter is fast approaching.  Winter can be a harsh season in our part of the country. 

Statesmanship should never be out of season -- least of all, when our fellow Americans' livelihoods are at stake.

I continue to hope that reason and goodwill will prevail today in the Senate and in other crucial decisions on disaster relief, and on so many other pending issues that are so important to so many.

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