The following is the proposed text of a speech Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, should give on the floor of the United States Senate (with a nod in the opening paragraph to Daniel Webster).
Mr. President, I wish to speak today, not as a New York man, not as a Northern man, but as an American, as a citizen of the United States whose heart goes out to the suffering people of Oklahoma.
My state, along with adjoining states, suffered terrible devastation during the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy late last year. At the time, and in the months after, many members of this body, including the two senators from the great state of Oklahoma, refused to vote for aid for the victims of that disaster.
I won’t get to vote on disaster relief for the victims of this week’s tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma. Officials of the executive department tell me that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund is well stocked; it has sufficient resources on hand to help the beleaguered folks of Moore, Oklahoma.
Of course, it’s early in the year; people in tornado alley are likely to suffer more killer storms. And we have just begun the fire season; wildfires occur with greater frequency due to the worsening drought and extreme heat in the west caused, no doubt, by global warming. Then comes the hurricane season, and who knows what else.
By then, the $11 billion in the disaster relief fund may be exhausted, and we may have to hold one of those votes that embarrasses this august body: Triaging, in effect, among our suffering citizens, deciding whose pain deserves relief and whose does not.
But, and this is why I am speaking today, if we were to hold a vote now, if there were not sufficient funds to help the tornado victims of Moore, Oklahoma, my head would tell me to vote no. Why? Five of the seven members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation voted no in January to provide disaster assistance to the people of New York and of the other states still suffering months after Sandy’s winds, rains, and floodwaters roared through the region.
Among those five: The two senators from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn. I’m not sure what Senator Inhofe’s reasons are, but Senator Coburn has been at least consistent in his insistence that any new appropriations, even for disaster relief, should be offset by budget cuts (though he appears to have wavered on that, now saying that he won’t stand in the way of relief for Oklahomans).
It astonishes and saddens me that members of this deliberative body would hold innocent people hostage to the dictates of their austerity ideology.
It wasn’t always this way. In the early years of our Republic it was accepted that classes of victims of disasters that could not be foreseen were entitled to governmental assistance. The only time, before now, when that precept was challenged was in the two decades before the Civil War, when an extreme defense of states’ rights led to southerners to fear any extension of federal power.
My head would say vote no. But my heart… Who can look at those pictures from Moore and not want to do everything possible to help?
Those pictures portray innocent people who have lost loved ones. Some are injured. Many have lost their homes and their possessions.
That’s what those pictures show: Suffering people. Not Democrats, not Republicans, not Oklahomans, not people of any creed, race, or ethnicity.
No, just Americans who are hurting. We help them.
It’s what we do.