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Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006 - Continued

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Location: Washington, DC

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, ENVIRONMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006--Continued -- (Senate - July 29, 2005)

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise in support of the Interior appropriations conference report and to speak about two key provisions: one to protect our veterans and one to protect our kids.

First, the conference report includes a much needed $1.5 billion supplemental spending package for veterans health care. This $1.5 billion will cover the massive budgetary shortfall that Congress only recently discovered, and I hope this will prevent the loss of some important veterans health care services.

Earlier this year, I, along with my Democratic colleagues on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, repeatedly asked the Department of Veterans Affairs if the President's budget provided sufficient funds for veterans health care. The response we received was yes, the funds are sufficient.

Unfortunately, that response was not consistent with what folks on the ground were saying about VA health care services. They complained of long waiting periods for doctor's appointments, reduced office hours at veterans clinics, an increased demand for services, and reduced access. These voices were too loud to ignore, so I joined my colleagues Senator Murray and Senator Akaka here on the floor of the Senate to ask for additional funding for VA health care. Those efforts were defeated, but we knew that a possible crisis was on its way.

That crisis became a reality when it was discovered that the VA was more than $1.5 billion in the hole on its health care funding. Like many of my colleagues in the Senate, I was shocked by that admission.

I was pleased to join Senator Murray in cosponsoring both a stand-alone bill and an amendment to the Interior appropriations bill to get veterans the funding they need so they can get the health care that they have earned and deserve.

The $1.5 billion appropriated by today's Interior appropriations conference report will help ensure that our Nation's veterans get that health care. With this funding, our veterans facilities also will get the maintenance they need, and I hope the VA will be able to keep its hands out of its rainy day fund.

I don't think there is sone person in this Senate who would want to tell a returning soldier who fought and bled for our country: Sorry, but when it comes to getting health care, you are on your own.

I was right. The inclusion of this provision in the conference report proves that we can work together to do what is necessary for our Nation's veterans.

I thank Senator Murray, Senator Craig, and Senator Akaka for their leadership on this issue. I hope we can work together--as we do today--to ensure that veterans are not shortchanged next year. They deserve better.

Second, I want to thank my colleagues for including an amendment in the conference report that is important to parents of small children all over the country but particularly in my hometown of Chicago. I am referring to my amendment prohibiting EPA from spending tax dollars to delay the promulgation of regulations that are now 9 years overdue. These regulations, when promulgated, would require contractors to reduce lead paint exposure during home renovation and remodeling.

I have raised this issue with EPA on numerous occasions and reminded them of the serious health dangers that high blood lead levels pose for children. Now, reluctantly, EPA officials have promised me these rules will be issued by the end of the year. I intend to use this amendment to hold them to their word. So today when we pass this funding bill, I can tell the youngest, poorest citizens of Illinois that Congress is doing its part to keep them safe from lead paint exposure.

I ask unanimous consent that my letter to EPA Administrator Johnson regarding this issue be printed into the RECORD.

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