Lucille Roybal-Allard

Appropriations Bill for Hurricane Relief - Oct. 8, 2005

Lucille Roybal-Allard
October 08, 2005— U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the supplemental appropriations bill for the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. My heart goes out to the people of New Orleans, and to all the families affected by Katrina in states across the gulf coast. The huge path of devastation Katrina left behind has horrified us all. And we have been equally horrified by the conditions and difficulties confronting the affected families as they struggle to meet life and death challenges brought each day since the hurricane. As I have, the entire world has been moved by the resiliency and fortitude of these stalwart Americans and their ability to pick up the pieces and move forward. I know that state and local officials in Louisiana and all the affected states take enormous pride in their people and appreciate the outpouring of assistance that has been rendered to those in need by police, emergency personnel, religious organizations, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, our military, national guard, and the community at large. Tragically, this administration failed to meet its responsibilities, and the Republican leadership in Congress, which oversees our federal agencies, must share the blame for the terribly inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security. Repeatedly, the Republican leadership has cut critical funding and personnel for FEMA. The federal response along the gulf coast was poorly planned, inadequately coordinated, and just plain late, leaving hundreds of thousands to endure prolonged peril. In addition to my concern about the human welfare of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, I am also concerned that the inadequate response to this emergency has exposed weaknesses that indicate we may not be adequately prepared to meet the challenge of a terrorist attack or future national disasters. It is essential; therefore, that we carefully scrutinize what went wrong. Not to point fingers or place blame, but to identify and to correct our mistakes, and fortify our weaknesses in order to assure the American public that things will be different in the future. I support this funding bill today, because clearly it is needed. However, I am deeply disappointed in the Republican leadership's current approach to address this disaster and the weaknesses it has uncovered. With little consultation with Democrats, Congress has already given nearly $60 billion to FEMA, an agency universally recognized to have failed in its mission on the gulf coast. Rather than work in a bi-partisan way to address the weaknesses in FEMA and require accountability for the millions of appropriated dollars, the Republican leadership has unnecessarily rushed through two appropriations bills with little debate and no opportunities for amendment by the House. Meaningful corrections to our emergency response capabilities will take time and careful consideration by both parties in Congress working together on behalf of the American people. Yet the Republican leadership, again without consulting Democrats, has moved forward with a partisan proposal for oversight hearings controlled by the very same congressional leadership responsible for lack of oversight and inadequate funding of FEMA in the first place. If we are genuinely interested in getting to the root of the problem, a "no holds barred" analysis of FEMA's shortcomings is critical. The most effective way to meet this objective is through an investigation conducted by an outside, non-partisan panel of experts, such as the 9-11 Commission, which shed so much light on our intelligence shortcomings. Even while we are stunned by the devastation of Katrina and know that FEMA and the Administration should have done better, we should not shy away from taking a hard look at what went wrong and how we can correct it. Again, such evaluation does not constitute finger pointing -- It is clearly the responsible thing to do. It is a responsible act in order to be adequately prepared for a future crisis or disaster. We owe no less to those who have suffered and lost so much during this disaster and we owe no less to the American people. I will support this necessary funding today. In the future, however, the Appropriations Committee must be given the opportunity to perform its mission to scrutinize requests carefully. And the House must be allowed the time to debate and amend the bill as necessary. Mr. Speaker, many have already commented that the response to this national tragedy differs significantly from the bipartisan conduct and unified feeling we had after the terrorist attacks on September 11. Let's again resolve to proceed in a bipartisan manner to address the underlying problems of our national disaster response as we continue to supply the necessary support to the people of New Orleans and the gulf coast to enable them to put their lives and their communities together again.