Pelosi: Katrina Response a scandal of incompetence
From the Office of House Democratic Leader
February 8, 2006
Washington, D.C. - House Democratic Leader
Nancy Pelosi joined Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts
and other Democrats today at a hearing this afternoon on the housing
crisis facing Gulf Coast communities in the wake of Hurricane
More than 400 Katrina survivors attended the session,
with several testifying about the Bush Administration's failed
response. Below are Pelosi's remarks:
"Good afternoon, I am very pleased to welcome
all of you to the Capitol of the United States. We are honored
by your presence.
We need to hear your stories because nothing will
speak more eloquently to the needs of the people affected by Katrina
and the other hurricanes than you.
"Your testimonials will be our inspiration;
will be our documentation, our justification, as to how we go
forward. My friends, I extend the warmest of welcomes to you.
I know you have traveled by bus for more than 24 hours in delegations
sponsored by ACORN.
"We do not believe that the federal response
today has met the standards of the American people.
"In the immediate days following Hurricane
Katrina, I traveled to Houston to visit with survivors like you
at the Astrodome and the George R. Brown Convention Center with
my colleagues, Al Green, Gene Green, and Sheila Jackson Lee. There
were thousands of people there and we heard the stories of many
of them. But nothing said it more clearly to me than my own grandson.
Three of my grandsons live in Houston and they go to school with
some of the young survivors. My 4-year-old grandson said to me,
'Mimi, these children want to go home.'
"With Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Leader
in the Senate, we met with the ministers, religious leaders, mayors,
parish presidents, governors, and working people from the region.
Many of you here were also on the AFSCME trip late last year to
tell the story of all who were affected. And recently we heard
from the group 'Women of the Storm,' who came to invite all Members
of Congress to the Gulf Coast to see for ourselves so there can
be no doubt in anyone's mind to the magnitude of the of the need.
"As you know, a picture cannot capture the
devastation - though Congressman Charlie Melancon did a marvelous
job at our issues conference last week with his 'City in Ruins'
presentation. Members of Congress must see the destruction firsthand.
I have asked the Speaker to follow up on a request from Democrats
and Republicans for a delegation to visit the region. I hope that
that will happen in the next few weeks.
"There is a scandal in this country - it is
a scandal called Hurricane Katrina. It is a scandal about incompetence
and cronyism; it is a crisis of failed leadership by the government
in Washington. And you - the survivors, those who are committed
to rebuilding your homes and communities, deserve the truth about
what went wrong and why. And you deserve better answers.
"That's why Democrats have called for the creation
of an independent commission so we can get the important documents
that the Administration refused to release. Committee subpoenas
are ignored, and as we have said, the Administration is hesitant,
reluctant, will not investigate its own failures.
"But don't take my word for it. Just last week,
the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that
the Bush Administration failed in its response to Hurricane Katrina.
Specifically, GAO cited the Bush Administration for lack of leadership,
excessive bureaucracy, and a failure to heed lessons learned from
past natural disasters.
"For months, Democrats have been fighting here
in Congress for expanded housing efforts to meet the needs of
Katrina's survivors. Unfortunately, we have encountered opposition
every step of the way, and that's why it is so critical that you
"For example, under Representatives Frank,
Waters, Melancon, and, Jefferson's leadership, as well as Congressman
Gene Taylor of Mississippi, Democrats have called for 350,000
emergency Section 8 housing vouchers so displaced families can
move quickly into rental housing outside the disaster areas. We
did that successfully after Northridge earthquake in California
in 1994. If it was good enough for the California earthquake,
it's good enough for Katrina.
"Under Barney Frank's leadership in the Financial Services
Committee, the Democrats succeeded in creating an affordable housing
fund that would provide $780 million over two years, with the
lion's share going to the devastated hurricane areas.
"You know what happened next? The Republican Leadership
weighed in and blocked the bill. And you know why they blocked
it? They said that if anyone received these funds they couldn't
advocate for affordable housing. They wanted to muzzle you; they
wanted to gag you; they wanted to take away your right to be here
today to speak out for more affordable housing.
"The Republicans haven't even requested money to repair
damaged public housing units in the region.
"While all of this is going on, people are still living
in tents and inappropriate housing facilities, far from where
they want to be. This isn't just about building homes; it is about
a sense of community, a society, that people determine that when
they go home it is home, it is not just somebody else's view of
what that should be. We want it to be safer and that's a critical
"The Small Business Administration is the place that you
go to if you want to take out a loan to rebuild your home. Hundreds
of thousands loan applications are still pending. SBA didn't have
enough funding before Katrina, and it has not been adequately
"So whether you are talking about FEMA and the first response,
which created a second disaster after the natural disaster, or
this long-term recovery, it's a scandal.
"Our colleague, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who serves
on the Financial Services Committee, but is also the senior Democrat
on the Small Business Committee, will stay on the case until the
SBA has what it needs to get the businesses and the homeowners
of the Gulf region what they need to rebuild their communities.
"And if that wasn't all bad enough, the Bush Administration
delivered even more bad news to Katrina survivors: the Bush budget.
The Bush budget is a document that is not a statement of American
values. It is a budget that meets the greed of some Americans
at the expense of meeting the needs of the American people.
"What we want to see happen now, because of your visit here
to Washington, and hopefully a congressional visit to the region,
is a complete change of attitude. One of the reasons that the
Republicans are not doing what they need to do here is because
they do not believe in government's role in helping the needs
of the American people.
"That's why FEMA is broken, because FEMA was supposed to
be the link between people and government in time of natural disasters.
It was broken because of cronyism and incompetence. But we have
to change all that.
"Let us all be hopeful, that because of your outspokenness,
your willingness to testify here today, that we will turn this
around, that there will be a different attitude - how can we help,
not how can we hinder the efforts.
"With an independent commission we can see what really is
behind all of this, so it never happens again.
"The best message we can send to the world about America
is to say, 'Katrina challenged the conscious of our country and
the American people were up to the challenge.' Let's make sure
that the American government is up to the challenge as well."