JUNE 5, 1997
Political wrangling has held up much-needed disaster relief for the Midwest and other parts of the nation. In particular, the bill has been held up by amendments objectionable to President Clinton, who says Republicans are putting politics above people's lives. Kwame Holman reports. Editor's note: This report was prepared before Congress passed the disaster relief measure Thursday night -- with the amendments President Clinton objects to. He has vowed to veto the measure.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats from states recently hit by natural disasters returned from their 10-day Memorial Day recess this week all carrying the same message from their constituents.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 26, 1997:
Citizens of Grand Forks, N.D. start to rebuild amid frustration over red tape blocking relief funds.
May 5, 1997:
The Red River didn't stop when it left North Dakota. The smaller communities of Southern Manitoba, Canada, were also consumed.
April 30, 1997:
An anonymous donor announced that every household hurt by the recent floods in North Dakota would receive $2,000 check.
April 22, 1997:
One of the casualties of the flood and fire that demolished 11 downtown building in Grand Forks, N.D. was the local newspaper. But the staff of the paper was determined to prove that it, like the town, would survive.
April 21, 1997:
Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the flooding of Grand Forks, ND.
April 11, 1997:
Fred de Sam Lazaro reports in the flooding in the Upper Great Plains.
January 19, 1997 Throughout much of the West, Northwest and Midwest record floods, cold and snow have created havoc and caused well over a billion dollars in damage.
Browse the Online NewsHour's environmental and weather coverage.
Grand Forks Herald
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Minority Leader: The bottom line from South Dakotans, from Minnesotans, from North Dakotans, is that we need help. This is urgent. Congress needs to respond.
KWAME HOLMAN: Members of Congress had left Washington without finishing work on a five and a half billion dollar disaster relief bill. For North Dakota Democrat Earl Pomeroy that was hard to explain to the people of Grand Forks.
REP. EARL POMEROY, (D) North Dakota: At a neighborhood meeting in one of the flood-ravaged parts of town on Saturday morning, again and again I heard from individuals whose homes had been destroyed we are in the state of absolute limbo. How could Congress recess without doing anything?
KWAME HOLMAN: The disaster aid makes up a lion's share of a so-called supplemental appropriations bill, money Congress must approve before it can be spent this fiscal year. Almost $2 billion for peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia and the Middle East is in there as well. But that money has been held up for weeks over a political fight, specifically two non-appropriation provisions added to the bill by Republicans.
REP. DICK GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: There is absolutely no justification at all for putting into this bill irrelevant matters.
KWAME HOLMAN: One provision would ban the Commerce Department from using some sampling methods, rather than a head count to conduct the year 2000 census. Republicans fear the technique could overestimate Democratic voting strength in urban areas. The other is an automatic continuing resolution, which would prevent a government shutdown this fall if another impasse develops over spending issues. The measure could take away some of President Clinton's leverage in budget negotiations with the Congress, and the President has criticized Republicans for attaching the two provisions to the disaster aid.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Many members, led by lawmakers from the flooded states, worked hard to get a bill to me. But I'm sorry to say some members of the majority tried to use this important bill for different purposes. And without taking action, Congress left town. And our people were left in the lurch.
KWAME HOLMAN: In an attempt to show just how bad it is in General Ralston Earl Pomeroy borrowed a video camera from the University of North Dakota during the recess, interviewed dozens of his constituents, edited the tape, and gave copies of it to his colleagues.
REP. POMEROY: (on tape) It's difficult right now not having answers, not being able to, you know--
RESIDENT: It's real hard. You don't know which way to go. Should you be doing something, should you not? Why clean it up? You know, whatever.
RESIDENT: We were in hopes that it would be settled by now, in hopes that Congress would have done everything before the recess. But it just didn't happen, so now we're kind of in limbo for an extended period.
KWAME HOLMAN: All week long Republicans have kept a lower profile on the disaster aid issue, but Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott wanted to make clear some disaster relief money already is flowing.
REPORTER: Folks in Grand Forks have no place to live, no place to send their kids to school.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: Well, first of all, if they have no place to live, FEMA's not doing its job. Under the Federal Emergency Management Act, temporary housing is available and trailers. And if they need more, we'll make ‘em in Mississippi for ‘em real quick. We can turn out a bunch of ‘em in nothing flat, and--
REPORTER: Did you--though to scrap the pipeline, it's filled with cement, and it isn't getting there--
SEN. TRENT LOTT: I believe the record is very clear that it is getting there, and if it's not getting there, the problem is not here; it's there.
KWAME HOLMAN: Somewhat caught in the middle of all of this was House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, Chairman, Appropriations Committee: It's been my intention to move this bill two weeks ago at the latest, and I think it unfortunate that we've had to go this far.
KWAME HOLMAN: Before the Memorial Day recess Livingston tried to pass a clean spending bill, free of any non-appropriation elements, but his efforts were blocked by House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
KWAME HOLMAN: Is there anything to the charges that the leadership has miscalculated in the natural political process that--that these pieces of legislation involved?
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: Well, I think any time that you delay legislation either overtly or unintentionally, when people are screaming for assistance, you take the risk that--that the press will follow on, and that you will lose the political--or the public relations battle. I happen to think that this was a public relations issue, and that it would have been better go ahead before the break, rather than after.
KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday, selected members from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees did go ahead and work out minor differences between their respective bills. But Republicans were able to work their will and keep in the bill the provision banning census sampling. They also kept the automatic continuing resolution, which prompted a warning from Senate Democrat Robert Byrd.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD, (D) West Virginia: The President has indicated to me, as I stated during the debate on the Senate floor, that if that item stayed in the bill he would certainly veto the bill, so I have no doubt that he would veto it, which means a delay in the rendering of assistance to people who have been badly hurt by these disasters.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: In the event that the President chooses to veto it, I mean, first of all, he has to answer for his actions too. I mean, does he really want to veto a disaster relief bill over an attempt to keep the government from shutting down? Does he want to veto a disaster relief bill in the name of not counting every citizen in America as the Constitution requires? Well, then he has to explain himself then, if that's what he wishes to do.
KWAME HOLMAN: This evening, both the House and Senate were moving toward a vote on the supplemental appropriations bill. Should it pass and the President vetoes it, Chairman Livingston says he believes Congress and the White House will begin negotiating the terms of a new disaster relief bill almost immediately.