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Floor Speeches

Pascrell-LaTourette Amendment to Restore Fire Grant Funding

Mr. PASCRELL. First, I want to thank Mr. LaTourette for, as usual, taking on a very, very exquisite subject here and not coming late to the fight. So I am proud to rise in strong support of this bipartisan amendment. I want to thank my good friend from Ohio for his leadership and willingness to work across the aisle on this important issue.

   To those who say that the Federal Government bears no responsibility about public safety, they are absolutely wrong. On one side of our mouth we say that we must protect and defend our first responders; on the other side of our mouth we say that we have no responsibility whatsoever in talking about our firefighters and our police officers. And that is why, just a short period of time ago in the 2011 CR, both sides came together. The majority of both parties supported putting money back into the budget.

   We are debating a bill called the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. It's an ironic title because this legislation, as written, fails the American people and fails the very people who are on front lines of our homeland security. It is our firefighters and our police officers who will respond to a national tragedy before the Federal Government. This is what we said in 9/11. This is what we said in every year since 9/11, and it has not changed.

   We understand the financial realities this country faces, and I am prepared to work across the aisle to find common solutions as we did 6 months ago. But what we cannot afford is to sacrifice our country's security at the altar of spending cuts, and that's precisely what the bill, as written now, does.

   The FIRE and SAFER programs, these programs, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, reached across the lines, across that center aisle that goes down between us, and said let's work together on the national security of this country. Remember, the FIRE Act was written before 9/11 when places in the far west had to push their equipment to a fire. Simply put, that's not acceptable in the United States of America, the greatest country in the world.

   And when we ask our first responders to be ready, to protect us, to protect the community, we need to know that they have the resources necessary. And, as you know, not only in the past several years have our local communities been unable, small and large communities, to have all of those resources at their hands, now it's even more difficult. What you are asking here is a cut of 57 percent compared to the 2010 and 2011 budget. Unacceptable. 

   I support adequate funding for all of the agencies funded in this bill, but we are shortchanging the very people who ran into the burning buildings on September 11. You can't tell me those folks weren't on the front lines that day. I don't believe you if that's what you are telling me, and I know you don't mean that, but then don't say it.

   The FIRE Act was signed by President Clinton before September 11. We are talking about basic equipment needs for our fire departments to protect all of our constituents, and hasn't that changed since 9/11. What their responsibilities are and what they need to respond to is much different than 9/11.

   September 11 changed the relationship we had with our first responders, solidified our decision that no longer would this funding be a solely local issue. Firefighters and police officers are an integral part of homeland security, and ensuring they are well staffed and equipped would be partly a Federal responsibility.

   Since they were originally authorized back in 2000, these programs have provided nearly $7 billion to our local fire departments in nearly every congressional district in this country. The fact is that our firefighters rely on this funding for the equipment, for the training and for the personnel, especially in these tough economic times.

   An independent evaluation of the FIRE program, Mr. Chairman, published by the U.S. Fire Administration, concluded it was highly effective in improving the readiness. And this is the most efficient Federal program in the entire Federal budget. Hear me.


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