Tammy S Baldwin

Challenging Federal Officials on their Response to Hurricane Katrina - Sept. 7, 2005

Tammy S Baldwin
September 07, 2005— Washington, DC
Speech to Energy and Commerce Committee
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My thoughts are with those who are suffering the effects of Katrina and with those who are suffering the consequences of a painfully slow and uncoordinated response to Katrina.

I keep asking myself, "How can a country that has spent its last four years planning for catastrophe have found itself so ill-prepared for this catastrophe?"

There is a huge public call to assign blame to the planners and to name the stunning vacuum of leadership from this President and his FEMA director immediately following this disaster.

I know that there is also an effort to subdue Congressional critique and inquiry, at least while rescue and relief operations are still ongoing. We've been urged to focus on the present and future. But how can we do that properly without understanding the past—our history—and which decisions (both recent and in the more distant past) exacerbated and intensified last week's natural disaster?

Last week showed us, and all of America (and in fact the world), many things; among them that our social safety net has been badly neglected. It showed us also that we've been inadequate stewards of the environment by failing to fight poverty and provide health care to all in America; failing to make proper and adequate investments in infrastructure (including our emergency communications infrastructure); failing to protect the natural buffers - coastal wetlands, barrier islands - which serve as Mother Nature's shock absorbers; failing to listen to scientists long warning us of climate change; failing to embark upon a path that decreases (rather than increases) our dependence on finite resources so that future generations won't experience the fear and anxiety that grips all of our constituents when fuel becomes unaffordable.

All of this was revealed stunningly last week.

Let us not ignore what was exposed. I spoke of the public calls for blaming "the planners." But in a real way, we, on this Committee, in this Congress, are the planners -the planners for the future.

This time, let's seize the opportunity to work toward the common good; to help those with the least, not just those with the most; to make good on the social compact.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you on these very big challenges.

Statement for the Congressional Record

Mr. Speaker, with a heavy heart, I rise today in solidarity with my fellow Americans who suffered the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. We deeply mourn the loss of life. We share the pain of those who are suffering physically and emotionally from this trauma. And we also mourn the loss of some of our faith in government to respond in full measure to people in need.

In the past few days I have received scores of calls and emails from my constituents in Wisconsin expressing their support for the victims of the devastation and also their outrage at the slow and inefficient federal response to that tragedy.

Wisconsinites are deeply ashamed of the images of abandonment and neglect they saw on TV and desperate to help in rescue efforts. My heart goes out to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and to those family members here in Wisconsin and across the country waiting for word from their loved ones. While Americans are reaching into their wallets to support private relief efforts, there should be no doubt that the federal government must provide the leadership to ultimately meet the challenges of this situation.

Particularly disturbing is that we have spent more than $36.7 billion dollars since the September 11th terrorist attacks planning for a response to a disaster of epic proportions. Now we've had one. Given the response of the Department of Homeland Security to this disaster, every aspect of that Department's performance and capability is now called into question and the security of every American hangs in the balance. Wisconsinites are not alone in calling for a government investigation into this catastrophic failure and an immediate overhaul of the system so that such a failure never again occurs.

Congress has now sent more than $62 billion in federal disaster relief to help save and aid hurricane victims and I supported this authorization of money. But money, alone, will not solve the problems we face.

The response to this disaster showed us many things, among them that our social safety net has been badly neglected. It showed us also that we have been inadequate stewards of the environment.

Whether it's our failure to fight poverty and provide health care to all in America; or our failure to make proper and adequate investments in infrastructure (including our emergency communications infrastructure); or our failure to protect the natural buffers, our coastal wetlands and barrier island which serve as Mother Nature's shock absorbers; or our failure to listen to scientists long warning us of climate change; or our failure to embark upon a path that decreases (rather than increases) our dependence on finite resources so that future generations won't experience the fear and anxiety that grips all of our constituents when fuel becomes unaffordable.

All of this was revealed stunningly in recent days. Let us not ignore what was exposed to us. This time, let's seize the opportunity to work toward the common good; to help those with the least, not just those with the most; and to make good on the social compact.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we have the opportunity to reclaim the promise of America. Failure is not an option.

Speech from http://tammybaldwin.house.gov/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=1311, August 30, 2007