Senator Lott Speaks on the Senate’s Accomplishments, Including Katrina Relief
From: Office of Sen. Trent Lott Filed 9/26/06 GCN
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi made the following statement today on the Senate floor to highlight the Senate’s accomplishments in the 109th Congress:
Now, Mr. President, there are a lot of those that are saying we should be accomplishing more – and I'm hoping before this week is out we’ll pass a major border security bill. I'm hoping we'll pass the Outer Continental Shelf package. I believe we’ll get defense authorization, defense appropriations, hopefully several other good bills.
I have never seen a Senate more paralyzed than the one I’ve seen over the past few months. There's no doubt in my mind, a conscious decision was made by the Democratic leadership in January a year ago to slow-roll, obstruct, delay, everything, because every time you take a week or two on a bill that should be done in a day or two, that’s that many days that you can’t do other things that need to be accomplished.
But I think rather than trying to have a list with a whole lot of things on it – little things in many instances – it's more important to keep a focus on the big issues. What have we done to really help the American people? Quite often the American people say, please don’t pass more laws. Leave us alone. Allow the private sector, the localities to do their jobs. So, I think we overemphasized just sheer numbers. But I think it’s important we look at the list of what this Congress, what this Senate, has passed this year, and when you add to that, other things that we will accomplish this week – because always the most effective week of a session is the one before we go out before the end of the year. I remember one night we passed something like 67 bills after almost everybody had gone home. The Democratic and Republican leadership had a blast. We passed a lot of good legislation. But look at what we already have done.
The Patriot Act. Under the title of homeland security, we have taken major actions, and they’ve made a difference in securing our country. A critical part of the War on Terrorism is the Patriot Act, border security. We have funded the War on Terror.
In the tax and budget area – once again, Senator Judd Gregg has done a great job – we cut taxes $70 billion. Other than homeland security and defense, we’ve held the line on appropriations. A lot of credit goes to my colleague from Mississippi, Senator Cochran.
We've passed the comprehensive energy policy bill last year, and it is having a positive effect. It takes time for legislation in that area to have effect.
We passed the Pell Grants for math and science competitiveness and education. We passed lawsuit abuse reform. We passed a number of bills in the health area for the benefit of America, including health information technology. It sounds like something that wouldn't make that much difference, but it is going the control costs and make information more available to patients, so that they can make the right decisions for their health needs.
We’ve had tremendous fights over judges, but we have confirmed two Supreme Court Justices – outstanding ones – 14 circuit court judges and 34 district court judges, and hopefully we'll do many more this week. But there again, the Democrats chose to filibuster on judges – in my opinion, clearly an unconstitutional act.
In fact, the majority leader now on almost every bill has to file cloture. Why? Because otherwise you can’t get to the substance of the bill. When you spend 30 hours on a motion to proceed to a bill that has major consequences – border security – then you know there is something wrong with the institution. Instead of us finding ways to work together, we find ways to expound and put out more hot air instead of taking actions.
We’ve done other things to protect families, and we’ve moved towards sound government with the Voting Rights Act. But I’m here today for a reason and for efforts that are not listed on this board.
One year ago I was standing on this floor about now, pleading with my colleagues to help us in dealing with the aftermath of the biggest natural disaster to ever hit this country. We tend to forget about it, but most of last fall we spent passing in a bipartisan, bicameral way, Katrina relief legislation. We passed major appropriations, and I'm not talking a few million. I'm talking well over $100 billion. When we came back from the August recess, instead of going to some of the bills that were scheduled, like repeal of the death tax, we went immediately to Katrina legislation. But in providing appropriations, in providing tax incentives for businesses and industries to rebuild, to stay in the area or come to the area to help us recover, we did that. We also made medicaid changes, which allowed the states of Louisiana and Mississippi to cope with the great increase in the number of people that needed Medicaid assistance, assistance through that bill to help many of our hospitals that were primary care hospitals. They treated everybody that showed up. It ran into hundreds of millions of dollars.
And right across the board – Stafford (disaster) Act changes, help for our schools and colleges. Every one of our schools in Mississippi were back open by November 7. Many were in pretty outdated facilities – dilapidated facilities without air conditioning – or in temporary buildings, but every one were back open by November 7, partially because Congress made a commitment to help them with the costs of what they had lost and to deal with the gap between what their insurance provided and what they were going to need to recover. I’m here to thank the Congress for helping us.
Have we had continuing problems? Yes. Have we been disappointed in FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security and the Corps of Engineers? Yes. Even though a lot of good people have done good work, but I have to admit that even at the state and local levels, we’ve had problems sometimes in making decisions and dealing with elevation requirements and dealing with the national flood insurance and even distributing the money.
When you’re trying to distribute $3 billion to 17,000 people, you just don't throw it out the window. You have to have a process to make sure that these people actually lost their homes or had damaged homes, and that they’re going to deal fairly with their mortgage holders, but they would get a way to get their homes back in place. That process is still under way. It’s been a very difficult one. You can be critical of what happened after Katrina. But there are few places where a lot of credit should be given, and it has not been adequately done so.
The Congress did the job after Hurricane Katrina. Every committee chairman and ranking member came to our aid. The Mississippians and the Louisianans, the Texans and Alabamans, we told you what our problems were. We poured our hearts out, and the Senate did its job.
Senator Cochran, my colleague from Mississippi, deserves enormous credit for the very calm, cool and determined way he handled that legislation. So I'm here to say thank you, and when you make this list of Senate accomplishments, you must add to this list the things we did after Hurricane Katrina. The system worked. Congress did its part. For that I will be eternally grateful. By the way, it ate up a major part of three months trying to make sure we were doing it right, appropriately, to really help the people that needed it and to make sure that it was done in an honest way.
I’ve complained that we don't do more. I complain about the way we do things. I don’t like the totally partisan political season we get into. We all do it, and I do it. But while we’re doing that, we ought to take a little credit for what we did accomplish and what we did right. And I just wanted to make that point this morning. Thank you, Mr. President, and I yield the floor.