12.16.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Senate Showdown Over Offsetting Disaster Funding

Vermont and other the other states still reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene have a huge stake in the misguided offset resolution sent to us by the House of Representatives.  In fact, all Americans have a stake in this.

On the heels of unprecedented flooding this spring, the State of Vermont bore the full brunt of Irene in August.  Our small state is stretched to the limit right now.  Our people 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 – and now the need is even greater in this tough year in which 48 states have had federal disasters declared within their borders.  

The Senate promptly started the effort to replenish the depleted disaster funds with a strong and responsible stand-alone bill in September.  Our legislation is within the bounds of the budget agreement reached this summer, and after overcoming a partisan filibuster, we got that bill through the Senate in a bipartisan vote.

Now all these months later the House of Representatives sends us a smaller disaster aid bill along with a resolution that calls for the new disaster spending to be offset.  In other words, undo the bipartisan budget agreement that we all agreed to back in August; change the long practice of Americans promptly helping fellow Americans in a disaster’s aftermath; and pit disaster victims against those trying to get a loan to start their small business, those needing student loans, those needing nutrition and housing assistance, those developing alternative energy sources, or those performing cutting-edge research against disease. 

Mr. President, the House resolution calling for disaster funding to be offset with across-the-board cuts is a weak and cynical response, and it should be rejected. 

It is disappointing and incomprehensible that some in Congress continue to insist that assistance can only come at the cost of other programs relied upon by the American people.  Some of these same voices had no problem with spending hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars on wars waged overseas, on rebuilding communities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on giving tax breaks to the wealthiest among us.  But now they insist on a different standard, different rules, for emergency recovery efforts desperately needed by Americans here at home.  That is just wrong. 

We need to come together as a country, as we always have in the past, to pass an emergency disaster bill that is adequate to the devastation faced by Vermonters and millions of other Americans.  We are bound together as one nation, the UNITED States.  Americans help each other in time of need.

I know there are bipartisan majorities for passing a straightforward disaster relief package as we have for every other disaster in the past, 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.  It is winter now; a harsh season in our part of the country.  Some parts of Vermont already have seen over a foot of snow – and more is on the way. 

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

In the spirit of the holiday season, I continue to hope that reason and goodwill will prevail in the Senate on this ridiculous call to offset disaster relief, and on so many other issues before us that are critical to the American people.

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