Congressional Quarterly Reports on IAFF Legislative Conference
March 17, 2005 – “If you’re against us, we’ll be the biggest pain in the ass you’ve ever encountered,” IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger told the more than 800 IAFF members assembled in Washington, DC this week for the union’s annual Legislative Conference. Congressional Quarterly captured highlights of the Conference in the article below.
Firefighters Assemble Forces for Budget Fight
By Sean Madigan, CQ Staff
March 14, 2005 - The head of the International Association of Fire Fighters stood before 800 of the group’s members Monday and delivered a warning to politicians, including President Bush.

“If you’re against us, we’ll be the biggest pain in the ass you’ve ever encountered,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the 267,000-member IAFF.

Thus began a three-day legislative conference in Washington for the powerful union, which is gearing up for a fight this budget cycle on Capitol Hill.

The Bush administration, in its proposed fiscal 2006 budget, has called on Congress to cut funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, often called the FIRE Act, by 30 percent, from $715 million in 2005 to $500 million.

The White House also plans to zero out funding for the SAFER Act, a seven-year program that authorizes $7.6 billion for the hiring of 75,000 new firefighters. Congress appropriated $65 million for the program this year.

This week, the IAFF is dispatching some of its members to the Capitol to urge Congress to resist the White House cuts. The union kicked off the lobbying blitz Monday with an endorsement from the new Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev.

“It’s long past time you get the equipment and support you need, you’ve earned and deserve,” Reid told the group in a hotel ballroom near Capitol Hill.

Reid said the budget should be a “moral document,” and criticized the administration for cutting the FIRE Act program.

“When this Bush budget gets placed in the Library of Congress, it should be filed under ‘Fiction,’ ” Reid said.

At a time when the White House and both chambers of Congress are controlled by the Republicans, Schaitberger was quick to emphasize, the only way the union will accomplish anything in Washington this year is through bipartisan legislation. He named Sens. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., as key allies.

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., along with Reps. Chris Chocola, R-Ind., and Frank A. LoBiondo, R-N.J., were scheduled to speak at the union’s meeting.

“Support us and we’ll support you. Period,” Schaitberger said. “We don’t care if you are a ‘D’ or an ‘R.’ ”

Schaitberger even greeted Matt Mayer, — acting director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness, who also addressed the group Monday — with a hug.

Mayer said his office is giving firefighters more than $700 million this year, and the administration has given them $1.7 billion since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“You have a lot of friends in the Bush administration,” Mayer said. “You’ve got a friend in me.”

The IAFF put its money on John Kerry in September 2003, long before the Massachusetts senator became the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

More than a dozen other unions had already thrown their support behind longtime union champion Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., or Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. The IAFF picked Kerry not because he was the smart money candidate, but because he had the best record of supporting firefighters. The IAFF’s backing gave Kerry’s sputtering campaign a much-needed boost.

Sean Madigan can be reached at .

Source: CQ Homeland Security web site (http://

© 2005 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved


Main Menu