Washington, D.C. -- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi issued the following
statement at a news conference this morning held with Senate Democratic Leader
Tom Daschle and Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International
Association of Fire Fighters:
"Thank you, Senator Daschle, for your leadership on this critical issue. And thank you, Mr. Schaitberger, representing firefighters across the nation, for all that you do.
"As Members of Congress, we have many privileges and honors. But I would say that one that is unsurpassed is to stand here with these brave people who protect our country by risking their lives as part of their daily lives. You and your colleagues responded so magnificently on September 11, and I know you will be the first to risk your lives if another attack were to occur.
"The commitment of our first responders -- the firefighters, police officers and other local officials across the country -- is unquestioned.
"What is so sad about today is that we have to come together to point out once again the credibility gap between the rhetoric of what the White House says, and the reality of what they are willing to fund for our first responders, what they are willing to provide in resources to these heroes.
"The Republicans have simply not provided the resources needed to adequately fund our first responders.
"With the Administration preparing for war in Iraq, and America at 'high' alert, this is an extremely dangerous time in our countrys history. It is indefensible that the Bush Administration has not made funding for our first responders its top priority. Instead, it advises Americans to buy duct tape, plastic sheeting and bottled water.
"Thats fine. As a Californian and one who has had my district wrecked by earthquake, we understand about being prepared. So I have no complaint about advising the American people to be prepared for any eventuality. What I do have a concern about is not matching that level of concern with the resources for our first responders to protect the people who took the time to be prepared.
"We would not send our military men and women into Iraq without the necessary protection and training. Local police and fire personnel deserve the same support. They are being well trained. But localities and municipalities and states are spending resources with the anticipation that there would be federal funding to meet the federal rhetoric on the subject. That money is very long overdue and inadequate.
"However, these same leaders who have told us to be prepared have repeatedly rejected efforts to actually enact that commitment and have attempted to use budget shell games to paper over their broken promises. In its new budget request, the Bush Administration actually proposed reducing existing grants to state and local fire departments by at least $1.2 billion to pay for this so-called 'new' initiative that is in the appropriations bill.
"And while Republicans claim that the omnibus spending bill the House passed last night is $3.5 billion in new money for first responders, the fact is they are counting previously existing law enforcement and firefighting grants, as well as the new first responder initiative.
"In reality, the omnibus bill contained just $1.2 billion in new money, billions short of what non-partisan experts agree is needed to fully fund first responders.
"All of us heard the Presidents eloquent words after September 11, when he climbed on the rubble of what had been the World Trade Center towers and told the firefighters there: 'I can hear you. All of America can hear you.' We all associated ourselves with what the President said at that time. We all associated ourselves with the promises the President made to the firefighters. We want the policy to embrace the firefighters as well by adequately funding their needs.
"Mr. President, we ask you now to hear the pleas of the firefighters with us today - 'We must fund our first responders.'
"A new study by the National Fire Protection Association found that only 13 percent of the nation's fire departments were prepared to deal by themselves with a chemical or biological attack involving 10 or more injuries. The study also found that only about a quarter of the departments had equipment for easy communication with state and federal emergency-response agencies. We must do better.
"Our local policemen and women, local firefighters and rescue workers, Coast Guard and border patrols all are part of the homeland security workforce. Instead of paying for a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, the President must provide full funding so these brave men and women can do their jobs properly.
"As Senator Daschle has said: If were given the choice between cutting taxes for the wealthy and ensuring our nations security, Democrats have a four-word answer: fund homeland security first."
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