Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this afternoon in support of a resolution to express condolences to the people of Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake last week. Earlier today, the House passed legislation to accelerate the income tax benefits for charitable cash contributions for the relief of victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Below are the Speaker's remarks.
“Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I thank the gentlewoman, Congresswoman Lee, for her leadership in bringing this legislation to the floor as Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and as the leader on this issue as well. To Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member on the Foreign Relations Committee, once again, thank you for your leadership. Donald Payne -- my goodness, what a conscience he is and has been on this subject for a very long time -- not only for Haiti but for the alleviation of poverty and eradication of disease throughout the world.
“Obviously, the thoughts and prayers of this entire Congress are with the people of Haiti who are suffering from a devastating earthquake that hit their country on January 12. Members of Congress are committed to helping the Haitian people recover from this tragedy and to rebuild their homes, communities, and lives in the days, weeks and years to come.
“It is a source of pride to the Americans that when President Obama spoke about the subject, he said to the Haitian people: ‘You will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten.' That beautiful sentiment reflected the values of our country -- the concern of the President personally, that he had for the people of Haiti. The leadership that he provided as Commander in Chief to deploy the forces necessary to help bring order there. And as President of the United States to speak with heads of state from other countries to coordinate the effort of relief for Haiti.
“We're still learning the staggering extent of the devastation. The government of Haiti estimates the death toll close to 200,000 -- 200,000 souls. 200,000 people made in the image and likeness of God. 200,000 people whose families are devastated by this loss. Just such a staggering snuffing out of life. And more than 1.5 million people homeless.
“Anyone who's ever visited Haiti has seen the extreme poverty there -- the poorest country in this hemisphere. But with the poverty that they have economically and the hope that they have otherwise -- anyone who has visited there can testify to the fact that the sparkle in their eyes and their hopes for the future and their love of their children and their love of life is very special. It stands out. I've been to many countries to visit the poor and to see what our efforts are nationally and globally to alleviate poverty and eradicate disease. And in Haiti, you see a sparkle that is so special and that's why it seems so very, very sad. And we know for certain that too many Haitians are suffering right now. Far too many are injured and hungry. Far too many grieve the loss of loved ones.
“And, again, I'm proud of the swift, coordinated response that the President had. He extended TPS, at long last, Temporary Protected Status. We've been asking for that for a long time -- for Haitians, living in the U.S., long before President Obama was President. And it ensures and no one will be sent back against their will to the devastation.
“I talked earlier about the President's leadership in this regard. At this tragic time, we can take steps right away to ensure a brighter future for Haiti. I do believe, as one who comes from an earthquake country, I hope -- it's not just that -- but California -- where we experience earthquakes -- that there's a possibility that Haiti can leapfrog over all the physical devastation there to an economy and a future that is so very bright. That this can create a boom economy for the people there and make a big difference in their lives. This can only happen if we all help.
“Already today, the House has passed the bipartisan ‘Charitable Tax Deduction' legislation to encourage and incentivize assistance from the American people to the people of Haiti. I hope the Senate will soon follow and send this bill to the President's desk.
“Next, the international development banks should move forward with full debt cancellation for Haiti. International institutions should be removing obstacles to Haiti's enormous long-term reconstruction challenges including providing the new assistance in the form of grants and not loans.
“Third, I will be asking the appropriate committees to work together with the Administration and the Haitian government, to see how Congress can support long-term sustainable development plans for Haiti.
“A compassionate and generous response from the United States is essential to stabilizing Haiti. While there has been a strong initial response to the crisis, there must be an initiative to provide sustainable assistance that empowers Haiti's institutions and the Haitian people to build a future that is better than the past.
“We value the strong relationship between Haiti and the United States. Our countries share a long and often difficult history in some respects, but that binds us together.
“Wherever Haitian immigrants have settled, they have thrived and they have contributed to the welfare and the well-being of their new home country, never forgetting their Haitian legacy.
“We know about the artistic genius and entrepreneurial spirit of the Haitian people. Wyclef Jean, are you listening? And so many others. They will succeed if they are only given the opportunity.
“Today with this resolution, we are saying to the Haitian people: in your hour of greatest need, America stands with you.
“Again, I thank Congresswoman Lee for her leadership on this important issue and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen as well.”