Thursday, March 22, 2007

Democrat silenced on House floor for Katrina remark

Michael Roston

Published: Thursday March 22, 2007

After questioning a Republican Congressmember's "decency" for seeking to restrict housing reconstruction funds for Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims, a Democratic Representative was banned Wednesday from the U.S. House. By a vote of the House's membership, his speaking privileges were quickly restored, and the Member apologized.

But in an interview with RAW STORY, the staff of Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi stood by the sentiment of his remarks.

Taylor was barred from speaking on the House floor around noon on Wednesday while criticizing an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).

"He wants to punish [towns affected by Katrina] for mistakes of the Bush administration," said Rep. Taylor. "Mr. Price, I wish you'd have the decency, if you're going to do that to the people of south Mississippi, that maybe you ought to come visit south Mississippi, and see what has happened, before you hold them to a standard you would never hold your own people to, and that you fail to hold the Bush administration to."

Price immediately asked that Taylor's remarks be stricken from the record, which the Chair at the time agreed to. Taylor was then barred from speaking on the House floor for the remainder of the day.

The remark came during debate on a bill granting housing assistance to low-income families affected by Hurricane Katrina. Rep. Price sponsored an amendment that would have barred states and localities from using community development block grants from the federal government as so-called "matching funds" in order to secure federal housing aid.

Price had tried to frame his amendment to the legislation in terms of fiscal responsibility.

"This amendment would ... maintain much needed local incentives to maximize federal assistance," he claimed.

He added, "This amendment would assist in providing that oversight and making sure that local and state individuals would have a greater responsibility, a greater incentive to make sure that programs and grants they receive, those monies are spent in a responsible way."

Courtney Littig, a spokeswoman for Rep. Taylor, echoed Taylor's criticisms of Price's amendment in an interview with RAW STORY.

"This is somebody with no idea what he's talking about, who hasn't visited Waveland, Mississippi," she said, referring to a town in Rep. Taylor's district. "He doesn't know that no one is living there, the City of Waveland has no tax base, they can't rely on regular police patrols, they're using volunteer firefighters, and there is no way for parts of south Mississippi to rebuild unless they're able to use community development block grants."

Littig explained that criticizing Price's "decency" on the House floor had gone too far according to the body's rules of procedure. But just as quickly as Taylor had been banned from speaking to the House for the day, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), succeeded in advancing a motion to restore Taylor's privileges, by a vote of 265-160.

She also repeated Taylor's apology to Price, that he should have used the word "courtesy" instead of "decency." But she also got in one last word on the Democratic Congressmember's behalf.

"He apologized to Price, and everybody lived happily ever after, except the people of southern Mississippi who are still living in travel trailers," Littig added.

Price's office did not respond to e-mailed questions about the incident on the House floor.

Rep. Taylor himself continues to live in his brother's home, as his house was also destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

Ultimately, Price's amendment was defeated by a 98-333 vote. The Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act, which was originally sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), was also successfully passed last night by a 302-125 vote, with 72 Republicans supporting the bill.

A transcript of Taylor's stricken remarks, as well as his apology, is included below this video clip from C-SPAN, which summarizes the exchange.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS): First, let me tell the gentleman from Georgia that I appreciate him trying to save some money. I think his efforts though are a year late.

If you want to look for Katrina fraud, look for the Katrina fraud that was perpetrated by the Bush administration.

In south Mississippi at one point we had 40,000 people living in FEMA trailers, we're grateful for every one of them. But those trailers were delivered by a friend of the president by the name of Riley Bechtel, a major contributor to Bush administration. He got $16,000 to haul a trailer the last 70 miles from Fergus, MS down to the Gulf Coast , hook it up to a garden hose, hook it up to a sewer tap, and plug it in, $16,000. So the gentleman never came to the floor once last year to talk about that fraud.

But now little towns like Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, that have no tax base because their stores were destroyed in the storm, a county like Hancock County, where 90% of the residents lost everything, or at least substantial damage to their home, he wants to punish Bay St. Louis, he wants to punish Waveland, he wants to punish Pass Christian for mistakes of the Bush administration.

Mr. Price, I wish you'd have the decency, if you're going to do that to the people of south Mississippi, that maybe you ought to come visit south Mississippi, and see what has happened, before you hold them to a standard you would never hold your own people to, and that you fail to hold the Bush administration to.


Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS): In the course of the debate, I encouraged with words that were a little bit too strong, my colleague from Georgia to come visit the south of Mississippi and see the aftermath of Katrina. I used the word decency when I should have said "the courtesy," and If I offended his decency, then I apologize for that, but the offer stands.

The gentleman was good enough to admit privately that he has not visited the south of Mississippi since the storm, he has not seen town of Waveland is virtually gone, that Bay St. Louis is virtually gone, that Pass Christian. To the point of his amendment, how does a town that is gone come up with matching funds to restore itself?

I appreciate the gentleman yielding, and I hope I have made my point to the membership.



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