We’re All in This Together

By:  By Bernie Sanders
Rutland Herald

The state of Vermont has been hit with one of the worst natural disasters in its history. Lives have been lost. Vermonters throughout the state have seen their homes, businesses and farms suffer terrible damage. Hundreds of roads, bridges and schools have been damaged or destroyed. The state office complex in Waterbury, which housed 1,600 workers, is unusable. We're looking at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild.


As I visited communities affected by the flooding, I was deeply moved by the compassion and good will that Vermonters are extending to their neighbors in need. Let me thank everyone who has lent a hand to help friends and neighbors stricken by this disaster. I especially would like to commend and thank the state's emergency responders, the Vermont National Guard, and local officials for the remarkable job they are doing to assist communities and individuals in getting back on their feet. The people rebuilding roads have been amazing. I also want to pay special tribute to Michael Garofano, a long-time employee of the Rutland City Department of Public Works who, along with his son Mike, lost their lives as they worked to protect their fellow citizens.

While the men and women at the local level, in both the public and private sector, are making an extraordinary effort, the federal government also has an important role to play in disaster relief and recovery. The simple truth is that we are one nation. That's why we are called the United States of America. When disaster strikes, we stick together and help our communities address the crises they face. When our fellow citizens in Louisiana suffered the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, people in Vermont were there for them. When the citizens of Joplin, Mo., were hit by a deadly tornado, people on the West Coast were there for them. When terrorists attacked on 9/ 11, we were all there for New York.

And that is why Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Peter Welch and I are working with Gov. Peter Shumlin to do everything we can to ensure that Vermont receives the resources from the federal government that we will need to rebuild our communities as quickly and successfully as possible. Disaster relief, funded on an emergency basis, is what Congress has done for decades and what we need to do now.

Unfortunately, some in Congress have threatened to block urgently needed emergency assistance unless the cost of that help is offset by cuts in other needed programs. They want to use Tropical Storm as another excuse for a budget fight. Yes, we must continue to address our deficit problem, but not on the backs of communities in Vermont and other states that have been devastated by Tropical Storm Irene. For those states and communities, we must get them the emergency help they need as soon as possible.

Amazingly, this talk about budget offsets for disaster relief comes from some of the same people who repeatedly and conveniently ignore their own actions when it suits them. Congress provided $800 billion to bail out the largest Wall Street banks. No offsets. Congress extended tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthiest people in this country and for the largest corporations. No offsets. The United States spends $160 billion a year on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including billions to rebuild those countries. You guessed it. No offsets.

We became a great nation, we are a great nation, because we support one another. In fact, that's what being a nation is all about. When our country calls, men and women from every state in the union come together and are prepared to risk their lives in combat. When Americans are injured or have a heart attack, teams of doctors and nurses work to save their lives and make them well. When we have children, we entrust them to local schools, where teachers, administrators and other personnel help them successfully mature into adults. It has always been, and should continue to be, the same with natural disasters.

Today, our hearts go out to those Vermonters who have lost their homes and their businesses. I have met with a number of them. They are hurting. As Vermonters, our communities will come together to support those in need. We should have every reason to expect that our national community, the United States of America, will be there as well.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is an independent.