DISASTER RELIEF BILL VETOED
JUNE 9, 1997
President Clinton vetoed a $5.6 billion bill to give 35 states disaster relief because of two amendments involving shutting down the federal government and census taking. A background report is followed by a panel discussion.
KWAME HOLMAN: Last Thursday evening both the House and Senate approved a bill containing $5 ½ billion in disaster relief money. Naturally, Democrat Collin Peterson from the flood-ravaged state of Minnesota cast his vote in favor of the legislation.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
June 5, 1997:
A report on the political wrangling that continues to stall disaster relief for the Midwest and other parts of the nation.
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
REP. COLLIN PETERSON, (D) Minnesota: I represent the city of East Grand Forks and some other communities that have been damaged by this flood, and, believe it or not, we have, I think, more damage to homes and more damage to businesses in our community than they've had in Grand Forks. We're a smaller community, a community of 9,000 people. We don't have the resources of some of the bigger communities, and we really need this legislation to help us put this community back together.
KWAME HOLMAN: The disaster aid makes up the lion's share of a so-called supplemental appropriations bill, money both Congress and the President 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's not all.
REP. COLLIN PETERSON: We're getting partisan political issues added to this bill that have no business being included.
KWAME HOLMAN: Those issues include a provision that would ban the Commerce Department from using some sampling methods, rather than a head count, to conduct the year 2000 census, and an automatic continuing resolution, which would prevent a government shutdown this fall if another impasse develops over spending issues. Even before the vote, members knew those two provisions would invite a presidential veto.
REP. DAVID BONIOR, Minority Whip: The Republican leadership should send the President a clean disaster relief bill that deals with just that--disaster relief. This whole process, Mr. Speaker, reminds me of how the Republicans shut down the government not once but twice, but twice, in an attempt to force their agenda on the American people. That was wrong, and this is wrong.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, Chairman, Appropriations Committee: Yes, there are two extraneous provisions. There's been some criticism from this--the other side of the aisle that those extraneous provisions are in there. As recently as 1993, the other side put extraneous provisions on supplemental disaster bills. This is not new. It's always happened. Throughout the history of Congress it's happened.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the future of those provisions and the disaster relief money was thrown into doubt this afternoon with the announcement that the President, as promised, had vetoed the bill.
MICHAEL McCURRY, White House Press Secretary: We just got the veto message in. The President--the White House received HR-169, the flood relief supplemental appropriations bill at 1:50. The President vetoed it at 2:09, and the car left to take it back up to the Hill at 2:18 PM.
KWAME HOLMAN: It appears Congress has little chance of reversing the President's decision. In passing the bill last Thursday, the House fell far short of the 2/3 majority needed to override a presidential veto.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner takes the story from there.
MARGARET WARNER: Now for Capitol Hill reaction to the President's veto we have Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, whose state was hard hit by the flood, and Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho; he's chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. Welcome, gentlemen. Senator Craig, your reaction to the President's veto.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG, (R) Idaho: Well, I'm saddened that the President would put politics over people on what should not now be called an emergency bill. It took the President three months to make his recommendations to Congress. It took us two months to respond. And now he vetoes it. I know there are issues in it that he doesn't agree with, but he got everything he wanted. Everything the President asked for this bipartisan Congress delivered, and I can tell you that it was a big bipartisan vote that sent the supplemental spending package down to the President.
So I am disappointed that now he's chosen the political route and my state, like Sen. Dorgan's state, was ravaged by floods. I had 23 of my 44 counties declared disaster areas. So Idaho and some of my constituents need the kind of money that the people of North Dakota need. So I hope the Congress can respond timely, and we can work with this President to resolve this standoff.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Dorgan, your reaction. Did the President do the right thing in vetoing this bill?
SEN. BYRON DORGAN, (D) North Dakota: Well, Margaret, this is a very unusual circumstance. It is usual for extraneous and unrelated amendments to be applied to pieces of legislation in Congress. It is not usual for that to happen on disaster bills. Republicans and Democrats generally have viewed disaster bills differently. This strategy of applying a couple of very controversial provisions to this bill was developed a couple of months ago, and some people said, well, we don't care that this is a disaster bill; we're going to apply some other political things to the bill and try and shove it down the President's throat. I mean, I'm very disappointed that people are playing politics with a disaster bill.
And let me just ask a North Dakotan to speak--Renee Stefan has strong words for members of Congress--the headline in this newspaper says, "You Are Playing Politics With Our Lives." This is a wife, mother of two, living in a camper trailer, out of work, out of her home. And she desperately wants to get on with her life. And we need to find a way to get through this and get a clean bill signed by the President. Let's not play politics with a disaster bill.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Craig, does he have a point, that to attach these riders to the disaster bill is a bit unusual?
SEN. LARRY CRAIG: No. I don't think that's a strong point. In 1993, a Democrat Congress did some of that type of effort. It is a spending bill. It is a supplemental appropriations bill. As is typical in appropriation bills, additional items get put in. Sometimes the President disagrees. Here's the thing that's most important: This President got everything he asked for in this bill. Now, he has to work with Congress. It isn't that he gets everything he asks for and nothing more than that. I don't dispute that the President doesn't like this. You know, I'm amazed that the President would argue that he'll veto a bill that has a shutdown provision in it that would block shutdowns.
In North Dakota, as in Idaho, by this--by September of this year--many of those people will be right in the middle of negotiations with federal agencies as to contracts for reconstruction and replacement of homes and buildings and businesses that have been lost. We would not want to shut down at that time, and yet, the President wants to play politics. He wants the leverage to be able to manipulate the appropriations process. And this Republican Congress--most importantly--a bipartisan Congress--said Mr. President, we don't want to do that anymore; we want to make sure that you get the money, that the people in North Dakota and Idaho get their disaster relief, and there won't be any shutdowns. But the President chose to make another decision.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: But this is what's making people sick of all this process. I mean, you've got thousands and thousands of people this morning who woke up not in their own homes in Grand Forks, out of work, out of their home, need disaster relief, and my colleague, Larry Craig, is simply not right when he says this happens all the time. It happens a lot on other bills, but in most cases, on disaster bills, members of Congress have not plotted strategy to try to develop a political game over a disaster bill. And that's exactly what this is.
You can go back to the press accounts a couple of months ago in which the Republican leadership said we're going to force this President on this disaster bill to accept some very controversial provisions. Now I would simply say this: I don't object to having a separate debate at any time on any of these provisions, but let's--for the sake of flood victims--back away a step and start talking about he said and she said and he's wrong and they're wrong. Let's pass disaster relief and give people who need some help some real help now.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Craig, how do you think this is playing out in the country? Most of the editorials I read from the weekend seem to say it's business as usual in Washington. Both sides are playing politics here with something that's really of importance to people's daily lives.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG: Well, I'm terribly disappointed that the citizens in Idaho that have been just as badly damaged as the folks in North Dakota with the flood are not going to get maybe quite as timely, but I will tell you FEMA is in North Dakota at this moment.
MARGARET WARNER: The Federal Emergency Management Agency.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG: That's right. Thank you, Margaret. Signing contracts, getting right on with bringing the money on-line. The Congress of the United States and the President will pass a disaster relief supplemental appropriation. And my guess is it could happen within the next week or two, if the President doesn't want to shut down the government but wants to walk away from that issue. Now, I can't--
MARGARET WARNER: I want to get to where this is headed but let me just ask you again about the public reaction. I mean, I've read the Republicans are running ads, for instance, out in the Midwest, blaming this on the President. What do you think is the political fallout from this?
SEN. LARRY CRAIG: I'm not quite sure there is any political fallout. There are 29 states that need help. There are 29 states that are getting help as we speak. Now, that I don't want it to be said that this money isn't necessary for the long-term to get the people back in their homes in Idaho and to get the people back in their homes in North Dakota. What I am saying is that this President today vetoed a bill that he could have signed that would have sent the disaster relief money flowing within the next week or two.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Margaret--
SEN. LARRY CRAIG: The Congress did not veto the bill. The President of the United States vetoed the bill, even though--
MARGARET WARNER: Okay.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG: --he got everything he wanted.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Sen. Dorgan back in here.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: I just can't let this argument stand. They've been spinning this yarn now. This bill has already been delayed nearly three weeks. And they say money's in the pipeline; nothing that needs to be done isn't being done. That is simply false, just false on its face. Yes, FEMA does have some money for some short-term emergency issues. There's no housing money available. You have 600 families just in one part of Grand Forks alone who are not in their homes and the buyouts can't continue. They don't have answers about their future until this bill passes. So it is just false to keep insisting that money's in the pipeline, and no one is disadvantaged.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Dorgan, do you see any way out of this, any compromise possible?
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: All I want is to get both sides to step back and--you know, the fact that this weekend--and right now the Republican National Committee is running political radio ads in North Dakota on this issue demonstrates what this is. It's a political issue. This ought to be a disaster issue and only that. So I would hope that all of us would step back, say here's the disaster portion of this bill, let's pass that, and do it now.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And Sen. Craig, is there any prospect--you just came out of a Republican leadership meeting--do you have a game plan for this? Is it possible to strip these provisions out?
SEN. LARRY CRAIG: I think the Congress is here and ready to act. I hope the President sends along with his veto message a phone call to the leaders to begin to work on a process that we always said we were willing to work on. Remember, this is a bill that went to the President with a big bipartisan vote--over 60 votes here in the Senate. It is something that the whole Congress wants to happen. It is something that we gave the President everything he asked for. It is something that we need to move on a very timely basis to resolve the differences between the White House and the Congress, and certainly the people of Idaho, the people of North Dakota, the people of California, 29 plus states--
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG: --included--need to resolve this issue and get their disaster relief. I agree with Sen. Dorgan.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you, Senators both, very much.