Lieberman Stands With Fire Fighters On Need For More Federal Resources

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Monday, in an appearance before hundreds of fire fighters in Washington to lobby members of Congress, said first responders need additional emergency funding this year. In an address to the International Association of Fire Fighter’s 2003 legislative conference, Lieberman reiterated his call for an additional $7.5 billion for first responders in FY2004, beyond President Bush’s $3.5 billion proposal, including $1 billion to hire fire fighters around the nation – particularly in fiscally bound communities where fire fighters are being laid off. Lieberman also said an additional $5 billion was needed in emergency funding this year.

“Enough delays, enough finger pointing, enough politics,” Lieberman said during an address marked by five standing ovations. “Let’s put the siren on, run the red lights, and get the money to the firehouses.”

Following is the speech, as prepared for delivery:

Thanks, Harold.

It’s been said that the measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. By that standard, this man is a giant. I’ll tell you today there is not a more respected and effective labor leader in America today than your own Harold Schaitberger. It’s good to see Vinny Bollon , Pete Carozza , and so many other friends…

First, I want to start with a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all here who are Irish, and to all who claim to be Irish here today. And remember the Yogi Berra story. When he heard a Jewish man, Robert Briscoe, was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin, Yogi said, “Only in America.” There’s some truth, as always, in Yogi’s simple wisdom. Regardless of religion, nationality, race, politics or anything else, we are all Americans, tied together not just by common borders but by shared values. And a shared love of our nation will be needed dearly in the weeks and months ahead. As we meet here, more than 200,000 men and women of our military are massed in the Persian Gulf. They are ready to separate Saddam Hussein from the weapons of mass destruction with which he threatens the world.

It appears that the United Nations won’t enforce its own mandates, so for the sake of world security, we and our allies must. I could spend time today blaming the foreign policy mistakes of the Bush Administration for the fact that we are about to go to war for a just and necessary cause with fewer allies than we should. Or I could spend time criticizing some of our allies for not failing to stand behind the resolution they voted for at the U.N. last November. But now is not the time for that. Now is the time for us to pull together behind the American military and give them the strength and support they deserve. I know that many of the brave men and women who are now ready to fight for our safety, and for the safety of the world, are your friends and your family, as well as your fellow firefighters serving in the Guard and Reserves. We stand together with them today and pray for their swift victory and safe return. We do so not as Democrats or Republicans or Independents, but as Americans. We must never forget that there’s no “D” or “R” on the uniforms of our soldiers. Nothing about their religion, nationality, or color. Only the letters “U.S.A.” Only the red, white and blue. May God bless them in the days and weeks ahead. We will be with them until they win and come home.

Though war always carries grave risks, I am confident today. Our soldiers’ courage, their talent, the high tech weapons systems we give them, and the justice of our cause will overthrow this brutal dictator and overwhelm his military. And when we do, we will take the world’s worst weapons out of the hands of one of the world’s worst tyrants. We and our families will be able to sleep a lot better knowing that Saddam is history. And the people of Iraq will be able to live a lot better knowing their oppressor is gone. The war against terror and tyranny is being fought on two fronts today. Though our minds and hearts are turned to those in uniform outside our borders, I want to talk with you about the other frontline soldiers in uniform. They are the soldiers we call firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and public health professionals. They are all of you—our first responders, our first preventers, our first protectors.

I’ll never forget the firefighters of East Hartford, Connecticut, who I met on the Monday after September 11th. They had been so moved by the sacrifice of their New York brothers and sisters, they offered to send down some volunteers and trucks. They were told that these weren’t needed—so the East Hartford firefighters asked if there was anything else they could do. It turned out the rescue workers needed extra socks. Fair enough. So the firefighters fanned out throughout their community and in the space of four days rounded up… a half a million pairs of socks. So many came in it was hard to find them at stores in the area.

I tell that story because it demonstrates the service and unity of our firefighters. And because it demonstrates the bond between you who risk your lives for our safety and the American people you protect. That bond has always been strong. But after September 11th, it is unbreakable. These days Americans understand your job is more dangerous, more demanding—and more important—than ever. You don’t ask for much in return. Not fame and certainly not fortune. Just fairness, and the real support you need to get your job done for us. Sometimes the federal government helps and sometimes it doesn’t.

In 2000, I was proud to join my colleague Chris Dodd in cosponsoring the FIRE Act. Over the last two years, that law has invested nearly half a billion dollars in better firefighting equipment, training and personnel—and will provide another $750 million more this year. But in other ways, the federal government and the people currently running it have let you down. As you’ve been rising to the new challenges thrust upon you since September 11th, you and your fellow firefighters have been left holding the ladder, with little or no financial support from this Administration. That’s not fair. That’s not smart. That’s not good for the safety of the American people, and that must end.

And I’m here to promise you I’ll do everything I can to make sure we give every one of you the support you need to protect the homeland security of every American. We have the best military in the history of the world today, and we have it because generations of Americans, including Congress and Presidents, have paid for it. They’ve overcome political differences to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense. That’s also the only way we’re going to get the best homeland defense in the world—by coming together across party lines and spending the money we need to get it. But the current national administration hasn’t risen to the need. They have spent—and they want to continue spending—our national treasure on a tax plan that has done nothing to restore economic growth, stop the loss of jobs, or get middle-class families back on track… but has done everything to create huge and growing deficits, and to leave very little for homeland security. That must end. Security isn’t cheap. Progress isn’t easy. It takes real money and hard work—but it is critically necessary. It is our government’s first responsibility. I’ve studied this and I conclude that next year we need to spend at least $16 billion more than the President proposes to meet our homeland security needs. And that includes $7.5 billion more than he wants to spend on our local first responders. That money will provide the people, the training, the talent, and the technology you need to keep us safe.

I don’t accept that more terrorist attacks like September 11th are inevitable—not if we come together and invest in better security now. I’m going to be on the Senate floor this week as we debate the budget resolution for next year and I will be one of those leading the effort to dramatically increase homeland security funding. This will be a test of whether we can put our dollars where the danger is. We had better pass it.

We are fortunate that all of you are in Washington this week. We need your help. We need your voices to be heard on Capitol Hill. Let me today make a few suggestions about what you should ask your Senators and Congressmen to support. First, at least $5 billion in emergency funding this fiscal year for first responders. And I will fight hard for a higher number. Enough delays, enough finger pointing, enough politics. Let’s put the siren on, run the red lights, and get the money to the firehouses.

The first thing more money must fund is more firefighters. Robots won’t protect against chemical weapons or rescue families trapped in buildings. Only firefighters can. But in some cities and states today, when we need you most, firefighters are actually being laid off because of budget cutbacks. That’s crazy. It must stop. And with states and cities in a terrible bind, only more money from Washington can make it stop. And I’ll tell you how to do it. Ask your Senators and Congressmen to support the SAFER Act (S. 544), which the IAFF has championed so well. I’m proud to be a cosponsor. It will provide more than $7.5 billion over seven years to hire thousands of additional firefighters—starting with $1 billion next year. It’s a good and necessary bill, a fair and bipartisan bill, and a bill that should pass in this Congress. And the good men and women who are hired as firefighters will need the skills to take on the new threats. The federal government must pay for that. You are local first responders—but when you protect us from terrorism, you’re performing a national responsibility. You need far more help with equipment, too. On September 11th, we lost firefighters because their communications equipment wasn’t what it should have been. We can fix similar problems for departments around the country if we make the urgent investment I’ve called for. But too many in Washington have been out of radio range when it comes to fixing this problem.

That can change—if we stand together now and make it change. You’ve gotten our backs for years. It’s time we returned the favor. Over the years, I’ve told firefighters that they’re heroes, and they always say they’re just doing their job. Just following their training. Just trying to live up to the code of your profession. But that job, that training, and that code are the purest expression of the American spirit of responsibility and community I can imagine. You run toward danger because people need you to. No matter how tall the building, no matter how big the fire, no matter how unfamiliar the threat. Our leaders in Washington need to learn from your example. We need to get together and run aggressively toward the danger that’s facing our nation to fight it as a team, not stand alone on the sidewalk and watch the smoke rise.

We lost 343 firefighters on that terrible day in September—the worst day firefighters have ever known. In their names, we must do more than mourn their loss. We must make certain that they have not died in vain. In their names, we must do everything in our power to give you—the firefighters their memories inspire—every ounce of support we have.

These aren’t ordinary times—and they can’t be met by ordinary politics. The American Dream is threatened, by a weak economy at home and by tyrants and terrorists abroad. To overcome these foes we need unity and not division. Partnership and not partisanship. Responsibility—not blame. We need to rise above politics and put our country first. We need to rise above ideology and put homeland security first. That’s the best way, the only way that America can meet and beat the threats we face and build a safer and stronger nation. A nation in which our children can live with as much confidence as we grew up with. That’s the America they deserve. That’s the America we must demand for them.

So, on this St. Patrick’s Day, allow me to close with an Irish prayer that I learned long ago from friends back home in Connecticut. It speaks to this moment in our proud history and your part in it. May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back; May the sun shine warmly on your face, and The rain fall gently on your fields; And most of all, to those brave Americans in uniform in the Middle East today and you in uniform here at home every day, Until we meet again, May God hold you safely in the palm of his hand.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.