I'm trying something new, giving more space and attention to letting our leaders share their positions in their own words, rather than filtered by me or a reporter somewhere. I think it might help give us all a better feeling for who these folks really are. Starting with U.S. Rep Jeff Duncan from Greenville, who got fired up in D.C. on the House floor yesterday in opposition to a Sandy relief bill, a topic we've written about recently. Specifically, Duncan was offering an amendment that would strip out $1 million from the bill that was designated for legal aid. But I'll let him say it in his own words:
Mr. DUNCAN of South Carolina: Madam Chair, this Nation's debt now stands in excess of $16 trillion. This is an amount of debt greater than our Nation's economy, exceeding our GDP, and yet, Madam Chair, we have on the floor today legislation which piles upon our children and grandchildren even greater burdens of debt.
Madam Chair, it's time to end the credit card economics. We simply cannot afford to continue to spend money that we're borrowing from countries like China on line items that we don't need and that Congress isn't constitutionally authorized to spend.
Madam Chair, my amendment strips one such line item out of this bill. This is really low hanging fruit. You see, this Sandy relief effort was plussed up, or increased, by $1 million to boost Legal Services Corporation, funding masquerading as disaster relief. And I thought we had a ban on earmarks in this Congress.
Why is a bailout for New York lawyers emergency hurricane relief? Even if you believe this is a legitimate government program--which I don't, by the way--but how can you argue with a straight face that spending on lawyers is legitimate emergency spending?
Madam Chair, let me say again, we're $16 trillion in debt. We're $16 trillion in debt, America. We simply cannot afford to continue like this. We cannot keep spending money that we don't have on things that we can't afford and all the while sending our children and our grandchildren the bill.
What part of $16 trillion in debt do you all not understand?
I sincerely hope that my colleagues will take this opportunity to start to get serious about reining in our spending addiction. This amendment is a tiny step in that direction. It's only $1 million. A million dollars is brushed off as not a lot of money to haggle over here in Congress, but let me tell you, $1 million is a lot of money to the average American. But in this House, that's barely a blip on the radar screen.
This amendment will cut 6 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent of the Federal debt. It isn't that much, but at least it's a start. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, Madam Chair, and we need to take that step today.
This is a program that should no longer exist with Federal dollars. This program hasn't been reauthorized by the U.S. Congress since 1980; 33 years--33 years--of unauthorized appropriations, Madam Chair. Are we going to continue like it's business as usual?
The GAO has criticized LSC over its internal controls and lack of accountability in their financial reporting processes and systems, yet, year after year, we keep throwing money at them. We cannot keep doing things the same way and expect anything other than the same result: deeper and deeper in debt, with a bill that my sons and their children and--hopefully--my grandchildren and maybe their children will get stuck with. Today, let's at least not throw more good money after bad by wasting another $1 million on an unauthorized giveaway to attorneys.
Please support my amendment. It will strip $1 million from this bill and prevent any ``emergency spending'' to pay for attorneys that should be paid for by private citizens in the private sector.
The reps from the Northeast promptly ganged up on him. This response by Jose Serrano of New York is a good example:
This is one of those amendments that simply strikes out at a government agency not realizing the harm it causes the people. The impact is particularly severe for low-income families, individuals who are unable to afford the kind of legal assistance they might need to help them recover.
Since Sandy, legal aid programs have been on the front lines of disaster assistance, and they will be providing legal assistance for Sandy victims for years to come. They've been dealing with FEMA assistance, with SNAP benefits, with unemployment benefits, along with legal issues related to evictions and housing problems; but the need for legal assistance will not end there.
In future months and perhaps even years, cases involving FEMA appeals, bankruptcy, fair housing, and public housing issues will arise. Contractor fraud scams will proliferate as Sandy victims start receiving cash payments from insurance proceeds and housing repair grants. Legal aid programs will be called on to provide help, and more than ever now we need this kind of assistance. What's interesting about this amendment is that it's not an amendment really directed at the funding as much as it is at the whole Legal Services Corporation. It is an attempt to attack an agency that stands up for those who can't defend themselves.
Interestingly enough, this was Richard Nixon's proudest program. He believed, at that time, as many have after him, that the poor needed a way to defend themselves in our courts. To go after this funding is not to go after a million dollars. Let's be honest. It's to go after the corporation. It is ill-timed, it is wrong, it is unfair; and we should reject it by a majority, if not by a unanimous vote.
The amendment did fail. You can read the whole transcript in the Congressional Record here.