Executive Sessionby Senator Edward J. Markey
Posted on 2013-12-11
MARKEY. I thank the Senator for her leadership. She and I have
met with people all across the State of Massachusetts who are fearful
of the impact that this can have upon their ability to live in their
own homes, to sell their homes, to continue to operate their
businesses, to sell their businesses.
This is a fundamental issue for our State. Senator Warren and I bring this concern to the floor even as we know that it is a concern that is felt all across the country. It is Louisiana. It is New Jersey. It is South Carolina. It is West Virginia. It is the coastlines of our country. Yes, it is.
The warmer the climate becomes, the warmer the oceans become; the warmer the oceans, the higher the tides; the more devastating the storms, the more changes that take place in terms of the impact on the homes, the businesses, all along the coastline.
But climate change does not only affect the coastal areas. It is affecting our whole country--the whole planet. There is a huge change which is taking place. That is why we are out here. We are out here because of climate change. The storm that hit New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy, was devastating. We saw the courage of the people of New Jersey and New York in responding to that storm. But just with a couple of changes in the direction of that storm, it could have wiped out everywhere from Cape Cod up to Newburyport, Maine, and New Hampshire.
But for a small change in that storm, it could have been down in Delaware, Virginia, wiping out that coastline. But for the grace of God go the States that we represent. The same thing is true all across the country.
We know that the pollution we pump into the sky heats the water and the air. It gives storms more power. We know this scientifically. With more powerful and more frequent storms, we realize that this tragedy is lapping right at the doors of every citizen. We have to do something to prevent it from becoming worse.
But at the same time, we also have to realize that these families are innocent victims. They did not have anything to do with the policies that did not deal with climate change for a generation, that ignored the science. They are now dealing with the consequences of a failure to deal with that issue. We cannot allow the failure to act to be borne by those who are the least able to afford it.
That is what is happening. It is going to be innocent Americans who now have to suffer because we did not have the political will to deal with this issue of climate change.
I have heard, along with Senator Warren, from people all over my State. I have one business that relocated several years ago thinking that was going to satisfy the need to protect against climate change, against the change in the flood plain. Now, under the new plan, they will have to move the business again.
It is unsustainable long term for any businesses, any family to think about living in these kinds of areas unless we begin to think through how we are going to adjust to this law that is on the books which will have an almost immediate impact upon families all over our country.
[[Page S8622]] We need to fix the flood insurance provisions that would have devastating economic impacts on our coastal communities. That is why I am proud to support the legislation of the Senator from Louisiana, the Senator from Georgia, Senator Isakson, Senator Menendez, Senator Merkley, and everyone who has worked on this issue.
We have to ensure that we address the issue of affordability for these homeowners, affordability for these businesses in terms of the increase of the flood insurance rate caused by the new flood maps and ensure that we put that before any crippling flood insurance rate increases.
We have to deal with affordability first. If affordability is not going to be dealt with, then there is going to be a devastation that is felt by millions of homeowners and businesses across this country.
Climate change is real. It is here. It is dangerous, but the fear of rising floodwaters should not be compounded by the fear of an unaffordable spike in insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses across this country.
I thank my colleagues for all their work on this issue. It is an indispensable part of the business of this Congress this year to pass this legislation. We must find a way to work together before we leave in order to pass this legislation.
I call upon all of my colleagues to work together with us. This is as bipartisan as it gets in the Senate. We have to find a way.
I congratulate the Senator from Louisiana for all of her great work.
I yield back.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Louisiana.
Ms. LANDRIEU. I see the Senator from South Carolina on the floor to speak, but I wish to give some concluding remarks in this very important hour about this very important issue. We are down to the wire, and we do not have any time left to provide relief to homeowners and business owners all over this country.
About 1 hour ago there was an objection registered from the Republican ranking member of the banking committee. I have a great deal of respect for that particular Member. I hope he will consider the tragic ramifications of his objection for millions of homeowners and businesses around the country and work with us over the next few days to mitigate any of his objections so we can move this bill to the floor and provide 2 hours of debate. We will accept, those of us in our coalition, a 60-vote threshold.
Let me remind colleagues that a hearing was held in the banking committee by Senator Merkley, who chairs the subcommittee. This bill has been discussed for hours and hours in committee, in public. There are hundreds of stakeholder groups led by, I am very proud to say, GNO, Inc., Greater New Orleans, Inc., a very broad coalition of business owners and parish residents. They reached out across the country, down the coast, the gulf coast, to the east coast, to the west coast, North Carolina, to the good Senator on the floor from South Carolina, reaching out in areas in the Midwest and up in the Northwest.
The reason they did that is because there are new flood maps going into effect in all of these places. I call attention to the diagram of flood maps in the United States. In purple, these were the flood maps that were in effect as of July 2012. In the green, these are proposed flood maps that have been introduced. We can see how many green designations there are.
In the gold color, there are new flood maps possible. There is no State that is going to escape these new flood maps. As Senator Elizabeth Warren said, they are inaccurate. They don't have the capability, the finances, the resources to produce--or the technology, in some cases--accurate flood maps. There have been a record number of mistakes made that we have provided for from the public testimony.
In addition, I wish to show a map of where levees are. There are many levees. I was surprised, myself, having become an expert on levees, I thought. No, I am not the expert I thought I was because I did not realize how many levees there were in other States. I have been so focused on mine that broke in 52 places and almost destroyed a great international American city, New Orleans. We are on the mouth of the Mississippi River, and I am well aware of the levee system that was one of the great engineering feats ever in the world, on the planet. It keeps the Mississippi River in its channel so we can have the great commerce we have had that helped build this great Nation. I am well aware of the great story about that.
I was not aware of the tremendous flooding risk in California, in Arizona, in New Mexico, and in Montana, of all places. I knew about Arkansas, Illinois, and St. Louis because of the Mississippi River up to Minneapolis.
Look at Pennsylvania. I was shocked to see so many flooding areas in the State of Pennsylvania.
I wish to say it is not only a coastal issue, it is a national issue. We are the national Congress. These rates are going up now and it needs to be fixed now.
I hope the Republican opposition will think clearly about their objection, the ramifications it will have, and find a way to say yes-- find a way to say yes.
The bill that Senator Menendez and Senator Isakson are offering costs zero. It helps millions of people and ultimately will make the program fiscally sound.
As the Senator from New York said so eloquently and so accurately: If you price people out of the program, there will be no one to support the program. The program will default, taxpayers will still have to pick up the debt associated with that program, and then we will also have millions of people losing their homes and their businesses. It makes no sense. It makes no financial sense.
I am not going to speak too much longer, but I do wish to state I am very happy, as an American, there are many newspapers we can read. There are many blogs, a lot of radio shows, and all sorts of different opinions. We have to read a lot, think a lot, and get different views to find the truth.
I am going to read the first paragraph of the Wall Street Journal because they need to listen to a couple of other bloggers or writers because they are way off base. The Wall Street Journal said last week: ``Federal flood insurance is a classic example of powerful government aiding the powerful, encouraging the affluent to build mansions near the shore.'' That statement is so inaccurate it is laughable.
The people I represent in Louisiana--we hardly have a beach. I don't know if anyone has visited Louisiana. We don't have beaches. We have marshes. No one I know who lives in New Orleans or Baton Rouge is anywhere near a beach. I am going to read a letter from a very affluent and powerful person: I am a 66-year-old woman and have lived in the same house in Broadmoor since 1974.
I knew this neighborhood when the letter arrived at my desk because that is the neighborhood where I grew up and still reside. There is not a beach within miles of Broadmoor.
She continues: I lived there with my family, raised a son who also lives and owns a house in Broadmoor-- It is a very middle-class neighborhood that we come from.
Continuing: --and plan to stay in my home for the remainder of my life. I live on a very strict budget and have just this month received my first Social Security payment. If something is not done to change the law that will potentially raise my flood insurance by the thousands, it will not be possible for me to keep my home nor sell it.
I wish to have the Wall Street Journal editorial board hear this. This is not a millionaire mansion on a beach. This is a 66-year-old woman who just received her first Social Security check. If this law is not changed by the 100 Members of this body in the next few days, she can either stay in her house or sell her house.
Please do not lecture to us from some high place in some big corporate office about Senators on the floor of the Senate trying to fight for powerful interests for people in mansions who live on fancy beaches. That is not what this bill is about.
I have hundreds of pictures. If the Wall Street Journal or any newspaper wants to editorialize about this, please check my Web site, ``My Home Story.'' I have hundreds of pictures and other Senators have hundreds of pictures. I don't see a mansion.
All I see are cries of people who say: Wait a minute. My house has never [[Page S8623]] flooded. I live in a simple neighborhood. I am a simple person. I am an American who works hard, and you are running me out of my home.
The bill that passed, Biggert-Waters, was well intentioned but drafted inappropriately and has some very pernicious guidelines or rules in it that can only be changed by Congress. Some people wish to think that FEMA can wave a magic wand and make it work. FEMA cannot wave a magic wand. We have to do our job as Senators. I hope the Senate will do its job.
We cannot agree on everything that needs to be fixed, I understand. There are many arguments about other things that some people think need to be fixed and others don't. But I don't know of anyone nor have I heard anyone on the floor give us one good, solid reason that the Menendez bill shouldn't pass, such as: I don't like section 1, I don't like section 2, I don't like section 10, maybe section 5--not one. It is all posturing.
Please let us get over the posturing and help people who live nowhere near a beach, who are going to lose their homes and need us to act. I believe we can do it. As I said, we have great Republican leadership and great Democratic leadership.
In closing, the Senator on the floor has my great respect. Also, Senator Isakson, who is the lead Republican Senator, is known in this body as an expert on real estate and finance. He is very clear in his appreciation and understanding that the real estate market is going to be shaken to its core, as well as homebuilders and community bankers who are holding mortgages on these 5 million properties.
We have come too far. We have come too far in restoring this housing market. This bill was well intentioned but poorly drafted, stuck into a conference committee report at the last minute, not with as much oversight as we should have given. We can fix it. Let's do this.
I thank the Senator for being so generous. It is a very important issue. I am prepared to stay here for as long as it takes before Christmas--even, I hate to say, up to Christmas Eve, as I wish to get home for a little bit of time, but this needs to be fixed before we leave for Christmas.
The House can come back in January, take up this bill, and we can send it to the President's desk early in February, make it retroactive, and give people relief. This is not about helping out powerful interests and millionaires on the beach. This is about helping many Americans who have done nothing wrong and everything right. They have been in their homes since the 1960s, 1950s, in some cases from the 1800s, and are going to be priced out of their home. Their equity will be stolen from them by a poorly drafted piece of legislation.
We can do better and we should.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Blumenthal). The Senator from South Carolina.