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Japan Earthquake

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu

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What I really wish to talk about is to give my heartfelt condolences to the people of Japan. We have watched all weekend, my family and I, in horror, watching the scene unfold with the terrible catastrophe that struck Japan on Friday afternoon, following the earthquake, 9.0 on the Richter scale, followed by a terrible tsunami, a wave of water in some places 30 feet high that devastated coastal communities. Some of the pictures are reminiscent of what happened to us on the gulf coast about 5\1/2\ years ago when a 30-foot wave came ashore right into Gulfport and Biloxi and the catastrophe of manmade proportion, in our case, when the Federal levy system broke and 1,800 people lost their lives. But this situation in Japan is the worst crisis, according to their Prime Minister, since the Second World War.

It is going to take all of our best efforts, governments around the world, individuals, corporations, and businesses, to be generous. I hope the people of Louisiana and our cities and communities will be generous because we were so benefited by the warm generosity of the people of Japan and many volunteers who came from all over the country and the world.

I hope, as this week of search and rescue comes to a close, there will be time for debris cleanup and rebuilding and mental health counseling--all of the things that go into helping an area of the country survive and grow back. I know the people of Japan were as prepared as any country could be for a situation such as this, but the events of that day have overwhelmed one of the best and most organized governments in the world.

I am heartbroken to hear that thousands of people are yet unaccounted for. Our hearts go out to them. I hope our Nation will be generous in this time, not only from a charitable and moral standpoint, but Japan is one of the strongest economies in the world.

From the State I represent, Louisiana, we are their second largest trading partner as a State. The people of Louisiana and all of our States have a vested interest in Japan getting back on its feet, getting better and stronger. We are still in the process of rebuilding New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward. New Orleans East, Gulfport, and Waveland are still struggling to come back--an important economic center for the country. But most certainly this coastal and industrial community around Sendai and other coastal communities are very important, not just to Japan but to the world.

I hope, with this 9.0 earthquake that hit, I hope people know this is 1,000 times worse than an 8 point on the Richter scale. It is not slightly worse; it is 1,000 times worse. This is a huge earthquake and shift in the Earth's plates--and then the subsequent tsunami.

On behalf of the people of Louisiana, we send special condolences and best wishes to the people of Japan as they recover and bury their dead, heal their injured, and begin to rebuild their cities and communities stronger than they were before. I hope we will all be as generous as we can.

One final point. This is a wake-up call to our country. As chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, this is a wake-up call because we have not funded adequately our disaster response fund, the DRF. We are actually about $1.6 billion below where we should be. This is not a wise policy given what happened over the weekend. Catastrophes can strike without warning at any time. If we leave just the amount of money that is in the DRF and something like Katrina or this event were to happen, that money would be used up in 3 days. We have not replenished that fund.

I have called on the President to send a supplemental emergency bill. We can't pay for current disasters out of future preparedness money. That is what the continuing resolution in the House basically does. I strongly object to taking money we have set aside in the event that catastrophes happen to pay for past disasters. That is another reason I voted against the House concurrent resolution.

Now with the visual of this horrific tragedy unfolding in Japan, with the tsunami, the destruction of the cities, the two nuclear powerplants under extraordinary pressure, it does no good to take money out of paying for current disasters, paying for the past damage.

I have sent a letter to the President asking him to send up an emergency bill. It would be wise for us to pay for past emergencies off-budget and then to use our homeland security bill to budget as effectively and as appropriately as we can for disasters that may occur.

I am proud to say that the Democratic leadership has doubled the amount of money we are setting aside in case these things happen. It used to be only $800 million a year. Now we are budgeting close to 1.8 or 1.9, thinking that in the event that something happens, we want to be prepared.

In 48 States, disasters have been declared in the last 2 years, not just along the gulf coast. We have had flooding up in the Northeast. We have had flooding in the Midwest. We could potentially have--we had some flooding this weekend. I am not sure how widespread it was, but in New Jersey, there were scenes throughout the weekend about rivers overflowing as the spring approaches.

So let us, as we mourn for Japan and are in solidarity with them through this crisis, use this as a reminder to get our business straight, to get our budget straight and not mess around with our disaster relief fund. Let's pay for past disasters we owe the communities--we have pledged to help them rebuild--and set aside the appropriate money in the regular budget to take care of things that might happen this year as we advance.

Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

The clerk will call the roll.

The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. John McCain

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Without objection, it is so ordered.

Sen. John McCain

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to proceed in morning business for 20 minutes instead of 10.

Without objection, it is so ordered.

Sen. John McCain

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And, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that after my opening statement, my colleague from Connecticut be allowed to give his statement, and then I ask unanimous consent that the Senator from Connecticut and I be allowed to engage in a colloquy. And I understand the Senator from Connecticut may be using his 10 minutes. Is that correct?

Without objection, it is so ordered.

Sen. John McCain

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Thank you, Mr. President.