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Mrs. HUTCHISON. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in favor of the Defense appropriations bill, in favor of Katrina and Rita supplemental help. This is such an important piece of legislation. This is a bill that has already passed the House. It only lacks Senate approval to go to the President and give the Defense Department the appropriations it needs to do the job we are asking them to do. It will also help the people on the gulf coast who have been waiting for the signal that they will have some relief.
I start by talking about the defense part of this bill and say that it would be unthinkable not to pass the Defense appropriations that we must have to stay in an orderly way, going into the next year, with the priorities we have set for this fiscal year. Continuing resolutions are last year's priorities. So it is essential for Congress to act.
I have heard some on the floor say: ANWR is a big surprise. ANWR is hiding the ball. Putting ANWR in this bill is somehow thwarting the will of the Senate. The opposite is true. The Senate has voted in favor of ANWR. The House and the Senate have voted in favor of ANWR.
If we were putting something in a conference report that had never passed the Senate, that would be one thing. ANWR has been adopted by the Senate. Those who would hold up this bill are thwarting the will of the majority. I do believe we have a national security issue and an economic viability issue for our country if we put our heads in the sand and say, well, we know there is a shortage of energy, we know the price of gasoline has gone up almost a dollar--it went up almost $2 after the hurricanes hit for a short period of time, but thanks to the leadership of the President, who took very swift action opening the reserves, we were able to bring the price back down, but we know there is an energy shortage in the world. We know there are various reasons for that because there are more consumers now, because the economies of China and India and other places are now using more energy.
So if we are a country that is looking out toward the future, if we are a country that is going to make sure we have economic viability, we must take the steps to assure that we have energy supplies from our own resources in order to meet this challenge, and that means that we look for new sources of energy. It means we do research for renewable sources of energy. It means we highlight conservation and give tax credits for all of these items that would add to our energy stability, and yes, it also means we provide more opportunity to drill for the basic energy providers for our country, and that is oil and gas.
For some of those whom I have heard debating, to say, Oh, yes, we have an energy crisis in this country, but we should not drill on the east coast and we should not drill on the west coast and now we should not drill within 200 miles of Florida and we should not open up ANWR, is irresponsible. We should be looking to open up our own resources so that we are not dependent on foreign countries for our energy needs, and we should do it by opening up ANWR, which is the largest domestic resource we have. Approval for this has been passed by a majority of the Senate and a majority of the House time and time again. The will of the majority is being thwarted again, because we are looking to the future.
Let us take another argument that could be made. Maybe the people who live around ANWR or in whose State ANWR is do not want it. Are we forcing something on them by allowing this drilling? Oh, no. The people of Alaska have said time and time again they do want to drill in ANWR. They want to drill in ANWR because they know it will be done in an environmentally safe way. They know that the area which would be drilled is an area about the size of Washington National Airport in ANWR, which is an area the size of the State of South Carolina. The people of Alaska know that. They know it will not hurt the environment of their own State. They know it will provide jobs for their people. They know it will provide quality education for their children and small business opportunities for the people who live there and would come there to add to the economy of Alaska. So the people of Alaska who would feel the direct impact of drilling in this very small area want ANWR to be drilled because they know what it will do for the economy of their home State of Alaska. So we have the capability to drill in a very small area.
By the way, it is grassland. There are no trees in this part of ANWR. Sometimes I see the pictures on television against drilling in ANWR, and it looks like a pristine forest. There are no trees in this area. It is a grassland. In fact, there will be drilling when everything is iced over anyway. The roads will be ice roads that will melt in the summer, when there will not be drilling, so there will be no footprint. So I cannot think of anything more environmentally safe, and I think it is very important for the future of the economy of Alaska and more importantly for the future security of our country because economic security is national security.
Can one imagine an economic downturn when we have had so many crises in our country in the last 5 years, starting with 9/11, a war on terror, an insurgency in Iraq, Afghanistan, which is on its way to self-governance, and then there is Katrina and Rita, a tsunami and an earthquake in Pakistan, and we are trying to help all of the people affected by these tragedies? An economic downturn--it would be irresponsible for us to allow it to happen if we have any control, and ANWR is part of establishing our economic security by assuring that we will have energy no matter what else happens, whether it is a hurricane or whether it is a foreign country that provides a good source for us of oil and gas that all of a sudden says: Well, we are not going to provide that anymore, or if we do, it is going to be at such a price that it will affect your economy.
We are over 50 percent dependent on foreign sources for our energy needs today in America, and that is not a sign of the strongest Nation on Earth. So to say that ANWR is a surprise is wrong. To say that it has blind-sided the minority in this body is wrong. The Senate has passed ANWR before. We have passed it this year, and it is time that we get this bill to the President.
In the supplemental appropriations for the victims of Katrina and Rita, it is so important that we have accomplished the first real help that goes not only directly to the people but also to begin the infrastructure improvements where the gulf coast has been ravaged. One of the things I have tried to do in this bill is to ensure that where the evacuees have gone, the money will also go. This is hurricane assistance like we have never seen before.
In a normal hurricane, there are maybe 2 or 3 months of significant displacement, and there is a lot of cleanup and a lot of rebuilding, but most people are back in their area after a few weeks. Katrina so devastated Louisiana and Mississippi that people have had to flee with absolutely nothing, and they have had to stay in other States, get jobs if they can, get housing where they can, and educate their children. So that has meant that States such as Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Tennessee have paid a large part of the expense of the taking care of the people displaced by this hurricane, rather than the burden being on those States actually hit by the hurricane.
So we have had to rethink the model for how to provide this assistance and how we meet the needs of today. My home State of Texas, I think it is well known, has taken in the range of 400,000 evacuees.
We have in the range of more than 40,000 in our school systems. We have had almost no reimbursement for the education of these children. We have had to repair schools that were closed so they can reopen. We have had to add temporary facilities. We have had to hire teachers and also try to welcome these children in so they would be able to function in the classroom. This has taken huge resources, tens of millions of dollars from our State.
I passed a bill in September that would have allowed the per-pupil cost of educating these students to be reimbursed, which would have especially helped these States which have taken large numbers. Texas has taken the most, but other States, relative to their populations, are in much the same situation. These are hits on education systems that they cannot absorb. Yet the bill I passed in the Senate in September never passed the House. Finally, last night, in this supplemental appropriations bill we have addressed the needs of these children in the way I had asked in September that they be helped. We are giving the help to these school systems that have taken in these children.
Our school districts and our States have been footing the bill for these added education expenses since the children came over--in desolation, frankly--right after that level-5 hurricane hit the gulf coast of America.
To think this bill would be held up because there are people on the other side who want to thwart the majority that has passed ANWR and would hold up our Defense Appropriations bill and our supplemental appropriation for the victims of Katrina and Rita. I hope those who would thwart this bill would reconsider.
In this bill, we have money for the education of the students, which has been a priority for me. It also includes money for repairs and dredging of waterways in the hurricane-affected States; plus, of course, money to start rebuilding the levees in New Orleans; grants for the Department of Labor for displaced workers; social services block grants; Head Start money for children displaced by the hurricanes; community development block grants in the hurricane-affected States, which includes Texas. Texas has spent just about all of its community development block grant money, much of it for hurricane assistance, so we will look forward to replenishing some of that which was needed before the hurricane. It has money for highway, road, and bridge repairs, and for State and local law enforcement assistance. I can tell you, having toured in Houston, Austin, and Dallas, the convention centers where evacuees were being held, there was a lot of overtime money for the law enforcement personnel, and that needs to be reimbursed because those police departments and sheriffs departments are not able to absorb that. There is money from the Small Business Administration for disaster loans and money for manufacturing extension centers.
There is an offset for all of this added money because there are many people in our country who believe that spending more money and adding to our deficit is not the responsible thing to do. So there is a 1-percent across-the-board cut in discretionary spending. Veterans are exempt from this. Obviously exempt from this would be salaries of our military and civilian personnel. There will be no cuts in veterans health care. That is something I talked to Senator Cochran about on Sunday, to make sure we did not cut into the veterans health benefits, because we had just put in an added $1.2 billion because there were more calls on the veterans health care programs. I certainly didn't want to get into a hole in that department.
We have offset this supplemental expenditure with an across-the-board cut in the discretionary spending and other areas so we do not add to the deficit.
In addition, in this conference report, we have ensured that avian flu vaccines will be available in this country. Again, we are looking out for something that we see happening in another part of the world and are trying to protect our citizens if somehow avian flu does come to our shores.
The LIHEAP money we have passed on this floor has an added amount of $2 billion for home heating assistance. That is very important in certain places in our country where heating assistance is needed. We all know the cost of energy is going to be very high this winter.
There are border security improvements. I come from a State that is very concerned about the security of our borders. I went with the majority leader just 2 months ago on a helicopter tour of the border, where we saw the footprints that were very fresh in the fields in Mexico, that walk right into the Rio Grande River, knowing those were illegal aliens who had just come into our country. We went to one of the border stations where we saw illegal aliens being processed. They were not from Mexico, they were from other countries. So the funds for increased border security are in this bill. This is something that is important to the security of our country.
I hope we will be able to pass this bill without being thwarted by the minority. We will have more than a majority if we are forced to cloture. I do not know if we will have 60 votes, but it will be the majority of the Senate speaking on these important issues: the Department of Defense appropriations and the Katrina and Rita supplemental appropriation which will get people the help they need in important areas such as education, debris cleanup, medical treatment, and reimbursement. It has provided for other areas of emergency needs such as the avian flu vaccine, LIHEAP assistance, border security improvements--things that we have worked on all year in the Senate and which have the support of a majority of this body.
This is not the time to be held up on procedural motions that would require 60 votes when the majority should be able to go forward on policies that have been set in the Senate all year. The Senate has passed ANWR. The Senate has passed Katrina- and Rita-related supplemental appropriations. The Senate always passes the Department of Defense appropriations. It would be unthinkable not to be able to do that before we leave for the year, to fulfill our responsibility. I hope we can come together at a time when we should show our country this unity.
I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.