In shadow of shutdown, Colorado Sens Udall, Bennet move disaster relief bill

As Washington descends into absurdity, shutting itself down and sending people home in a recovering economy, Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall managed to move along the $450 million Disaster Relief Act, which they drafted in the wake of last month’s historic floods in Colorado.

The bill enjoyed strong backing in the Senate and now moves to the House where, although the future of most any bill is always uncertain, support seems also to be lining up.

“There are a lot of times when people wonder whether anyone in this place is listening to them at home and whether we’re doing something other than just playing politics with each other,” Bennet said on the floor between speeches where members excoriated each other for the House-Senate standoff that led the government to shutdown at midnight. “This is a clear case where people here have listened to the people in Colorado, who generously from time to time have helped people in other states confronting disasters. Now it’s our turn to ask for help, and that help has been granted.”

Udall took the lead on the bill, and he spoke at length this morning, thanking the fractious chamber for in this case coming together.

“Both sides have cleared the bill after a lot of pushing by me and Senator Bennet and a lot of other Coloradans, including the governor,” he said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to get this bill signed into law as as soon as possible, so we don’t have to wait years for relief.

“It’s critically important in helping us begin to rebuild our bridges and roads that have been battered… Many communities in Colorado are just now beginning to comprehend how serious the damage is and to see how many hundreds of miles of highways, roads, bridges and other parts of our infrastructure are ruined. In some cases washed away entirely…

“It’s the same all over the northern Front Range. I was in Jamestown over the weekend. It was one of the worst hit towns in Boulder Canyon. It’s almost beyond description… The homes were washed off their foundations. Cars are embedded in the ground, buried. Families were left with two to three feet of mud and silt, river cobbles, and debris in the houses…

“Without this help it’s a fact that communities won’t be able to rebuild. So by passing the [Act] we’ve lifted the statutory cap of $100 million to a limit of $450 million and that money applies to highway relief, so it will be enough to help us rebuild swiftly.

“I want to make it clear, this isn’t new money. The Act simply allows us to access an already appropriated fund… The cap has been seen as an unwise impediment… and has been raised for nearly every natural disaster in recent years….

“So I’m truly appreciative and grateful that our colleagues have come together to recognize the floods in Colorado are no exception. We’re all in this together when it comes to natural disaster responses, and I’m glad that today we can say to Coloradans that members of Congress from all across the nation have come stood with us in our recovery efforts in the face of this natural disaster. We will stand with them.”