Below is the text of Ted Kennedy’s Floor Speech today on Hurricane Katrina, Poverty, and the Government Response:
“Americans continue to be moved by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and its toll on our fellow Americans from New Orleans and in the Gulf Coast region – particularly in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama.
The human tragedy has brought out the generosity of the American spirit as people have opened their homes and pocketbooks to families uprooted by the storm.
This is a disaster of biblical proportions. The dimensions of this tragedy almost are beyond human comprehension. And the failures by our government to prepare and to respond run deep and wide.
Yesterday, the President and the White House spokesman proclaimed that the Administration would not play the blame game. Well Mr. President, this is not a game. This is not some school yard spat. It is about life and death. And most important, it’s about getting it right the next time.
We must be about the work of providing continuing relief to our citizens and rebuilding our communities. But we also cannot delay the important task of determining what went so gravely wrong, and holding accountable those responsible for the tragic failures that Americans have seen so clearly on their televisions and read in their newspapers.
The next disaster could be tomorrow. It could be a devastating earthquake. It could be a deadly terrorist attack. It could be another destructive storm.
We need an immediate and independent assessment of what went wrong and what we must do to fix it.
Any corporation faced with such devastation and incompetence by its leadership would have its board and its shareholders demanding an independent assessment of the failures and demanding accountability for its leadership. It would not be business as usual.
The same holds true for the people’s government. The people have a right to candor and honesty about the state of their government’s preparedness to protect them.
The new Department of Homeland Security created by this Administration was supposed to protect us. It was supposed to do a better job of keeping us safe. Well it failed. More than a million people have been displaced from their homes. A treasured American city is a wasteland. Thousands have lost their lives. An economy has been shattered with ripple effects all over America.
Candor. Honesty. Action. That’s what we need. The people have a right to know that they will be better protected the next time.
Another lesson of this tragedy is that America can ignore the disparities in our society no longer. The powerful winds of this storm have torn away the mask that has hidden from our debates the many Americans who are left out and left behind.
We see now in stark relief that so many Americans live every day on the brink of economic disaster. For them, any setback becomes a major obstacle to survival. And a hurricane of this force leaves their lives in the balance.
These disparities have emerged not out of malice, but out of indifference. But they are real, and we can neglect them no longer.
In August, the Census Bureau reported that the poverty rate in America is up, and has risen for four consecutive years. It’s now 12.7 percent with 37 million Americans surviving in poverty.
A quarter of all African-Americans live in poverty. For Latinos, it’s 22 percent.
One fifth of our children live in poverty and a tenth of our elderly.
36 million Americans are hungry or malnourished.
A third of our children are in families without health insurance. In fact, 45 million Americans have no health coverage at all.
And the disparity in incomes has never been greater, with the rich getting richer, and the rest of America – the poor and the middle class – falling behind.
And now people in the middle class are having a hard time, too. Already, they were struggling to cope with rising gasoline prices, rising college tuition, and the rising cost of health care. And now, those affected by Katrina have lost everything – their homes, their cars, their family photos – everything.
We cannot be an America of haves and have nots. We cannot be an America of 50 separate isolated states. As we rebuild the Gulf Coast, we must also come together to tackle these disparities. We must be a united America – one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. And when we say all, we mean all.
To address this challenge, our government must respond in ways that are as good and compassionate as the American people. We can’t just fix the hole in the roof. We need to rebuild the whole foundation.
I propose that we create a New Orleans and Gulf Coast Redevelopment Authority modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority in its heyday. We should invest at least $150 billion in its actions to work with governors and mayors and citizens and communities to plan, help fund, and coordinate for the reconstruction of that damaged region. And it should help hire workers to put people back to work rebuilding their own communities and help them get back on their feet again.
This is a national responsibility. The tragedy affects us all, not only in our hearts, but it affects the national economy and our national security.
That’s the America we stand for – an America where we treat each other with respect – where we address our mistakes and meet our challenges with honesty and candor and immediate action.
America deserves no less.”