Let's Not Hide Behind Compassion - Let's Talk About Action

05/25/2011 11:45 am ET

My heart is heavy after my trip to Houston last Friday to visit those who lost everything and are now living in shelters. The enormity of the Houston shelters cannot be captured with photographs, television or words. These self-contained cities are filled with those grieving, shocked and lonely, and complete with pharmacies, doctors' offices, indoor play grounds, cafeterias and disbursement centers. Thousands sit or stand in lines for everything from eye glasses to an extra blanket for a child.

One cannot fully understand this tragedy by just looking at the mass of people. You have to step into the crowd of survivors and see the individual faces; look down at one cot, out of thousands, and see a brown paper bag of belongings, a ragged blanket and a stuffed animal that are the few items a person has left.

I met one evacuee who was seven months pregnant. She lay on her cot and ignoring her pain, took my hand to tell me she would be fine. I played with a child who said he was sure he would be going home soon to New Orleans. After visiting some of the survivors and seeing their resolve firsthand, I am committed as ever to speak out for those who need a voice and a helping hand.

Democrats have a clear message to the people of the Gulf Coast: We stand with you and we are prepared to do whatever it takes to help to rebuild your communities.

Today I proposed a Marshall Plan for the Gulf States: a partnership with the people of the region to build new housing, revive farmland, repair infrastructure, construct schools to rebuild their communities, revive their economy, and restore lives. We have also proposed legislation to punish those who gouge consumers on gasoline and home heating fuel.

What have Republicans done? How do they respond to the Americans who were left behind as the waters rose? Despite their rhetoric, the Republican leadership has not proposed a bipartisan committee to conduct a national inquiry on the government response to Katrina. Instead, the Republican-led House this afternoon approved a Republican-controlled panel, where only the Republican majority has the power to issue subpoenas and it gives the Speaker sole authority to appoint the 20-member Select Committee. This morning, House Republicans voted against bringing up the House Democratic proposal to create an independent commission, modeled on the highly successful 9/11 Commission, to conduct the investigation.

The President will talk about compassion tonight. As I listen to him, I will be thinking about the little boy I met in Houston. I will be thinking about the City of Houston and Harris County, who when many of the pharmaceutical and basic supplies for the thousands of survivors had yet to arrive from FEMA, acquired all the medicines and supplies themselves. I will be thinking about all the people who 17 days ago had homes, jobs and communities, and whose only remaining belongings fit into a brown paper bag today. I will be thinking that only a week ago, after encouraging the President to fire "Brownie," he asked me why. " What didn't go right?" But mostly, I will be thinking about the people who are suffering, who need hope, who need answers and who need a comprehensive plan.

This ravaged region of our nation deserves our support, our cooperation and our sympathy. We are concerned by Bush Administration initiatives this week waiving wage protections, environmental safeguards, and safeguards for veterans, minorities, women and the disabled. The Gulf Coast region does not deserve to be treated as a laboratory for political opportunism or ideological experimentation.

It is a source of sorrow to our nation that so many were left behind as the waters rose. We must now commit that none will be left behind as the waters recede.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi