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Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan Security and Reconstruction Act, 2004-Continued

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Location: Washington, DC

EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN SECURITY AND RECONSTRUCTION ACT, 2004—CONTINUED

AMENDMENT NO. 1823

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendments be set aside and I call up amendment No. 1823.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. That amendment is already pending.

Ms. STABENOW. I thank the Chair.

Mr. President, I rise today to speak about an amendment I am calling "A Month for America." This amendment will delay approximately $5 billion in Iraq reconstruction funds and put them into funding our high priorities at home, such as job creation, veterans health, health care for the uninsured, and education.

I thank the cosponsors of this amendment—Senators DURBIN, BOXER, JOHNSON, and SCHUMER—for their leadership and support.

Two weeks ago, I was meeting with a group of constituents in Michigan, and we started to talk about the President's request for $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. I shared with my constituents that we were spending about $5 billion a month now, in addition to the slightly over $20 billion in reconstruction funds contained in the bill in front of us.

My constituents in Michigan were startled at the enormity of this figure, as I believe our constituents are across the country, so much so that one gentleman who is on a local school board, sitting in the back, exclaimed: How about a month for America? This rang very true to me, and when I returned here, I decided to take this idea and draft an amendment focused on our needs at home called "A Month for America."

Before I fully explain the details of my amendment, I wish to go through what this amendment does not do. This is very important.

First, it does not cut 1 penny of funding for our troops.

Second, it does not cut any funds for security in Iraq. It specifically exempts the approximately $5 billion in police and security funds for Iraq. I believe this is very important. The sooner they are able to have their own police force, their own security force, the sooner we will be able to bring our troops home, and I support that effort.

Third, it does not cut any funds for reconstruction. It only delays them. Therefore, this money is fully offset.

We are asking for $5.03 billion for America in this amendment and ask that we simply take a portion—the equivalent of 1 month's spending, $5.03 billion—and delay it until next year.

Even the administration admits that it does not need much of the $20 billion in reconstruction until next year. So it is not an emergency. We do not need the full $20 billion right now, and yet we have real emergencies at home.

There will be plenty of opportunities to provide this $5 billion for Iraq in the next appropriations cycle. In fact, last Thursday's New York Times reported that a team of World Bank economists has concluded that, as a practical matter, Iraq can absorb only about $6 billion in aid next year for its infrastructure needs. We are being asked to allocate more than $20 billion on reconstruction, and yet we are told, as a practical matter, they will not be able to use or spend over $6 billion in the next year. One administration official was even quoted as saying:

Where the Iraq aid numbers are not so reasonable is the timeframe for how much can be spent. This money cannot be spent overnight.

They are admitting the fact this timeframe is not reasonable, and yet we know in ongoing debates in this Chamber with colleagues on every appropriations bill coming before us that we have critical needs for jobs and education, veterans health care, and those who are losing their insurance because of losing their job. We have many needs that are critical at home.

Specifically, the "A Month for America" amendment would take this $5.03 billion and allocate it in the following ways:
First, $1 billion for school construction; $1.8 billion for veterans health care; $103 million for full funding of community health centers; and finally, $2.1 billion for transportation projects and job creation, saving 90,000 jobs.

The United States is spending a little over $1 billion a week right now in Iraq, not counting the $87 billion. However, when an amendment was recently offered to the 2004 Labor-HHS appropriations bill to increase funding for school construction at home by $1 billion, it was defeated on a party-line vote with only one of our Republican colleagues supporting the increased funding. This is very unfortunate because investing in our schools and in education should not be a partisan issue.

The "A Month for America" amendment will increase funding for school construction for the next year by $1 billion so that we can place more dollars into investing in our children walking into a quality school building with the technology and the infrastructure they need. Shame on us if we have even one classroom in America where there is a bucket in the corner to catch the water coming in. We have too many of those right now.

This amendment will help eliminate those buckets of water and create the modern school buildings our children need now in America.

Our schools are definitely in a state of emergency. According to a GAO report entitled "School Facilities: America's School Report, Differing Conditions," at least one-third of schools are in need of extensive repair or replacement. This is not in Afghanistan or Iraq. This is in the United States of America. One-third of the schools are in need of extensive repair or replacement and at least two-thirds have unhealthy environmental conditions. So two out of three schools in the United States of America have unsafe environmental conditions. I argue this is an emergency equal to anything that is in front of us that relates to Iraq.

An estimated 14 million American children attend deteriorating schools. According to the National Education Association's 2000 survey, Michigan schools need at least $9.9 billion in building improvements. That is just in my State, given all of the needs we have from one end of Michigan to the other. Many Michigan educators believe that estimate in fact is too low, considering the Detroit public schools alone need an estimated $5 billion to fix leaky roofs, replace boilers, wire computers, and other repairs. This is truly an emergency.

How do we tell our children to stay in school, do not go on drugs, do not drop out of school and move to a life of crime, stay with it because education is so important, and then they walk into a building that is falling down, they walk into a building that does not have the computers they need in this day and age to be successful? What message are we sending to our children? This is an emergency.

These poor conditions also affect how well our children learn. A recent study showed students learning in substandard classrooms have test scores that are anywhere from 5 to 17 percent lower than their peers who are in good buildings. So when we are talking about leave no child behind and raising test scores and standards, the quality of the building, the science labs, the math labs, the technology that is available, makes a difference in a child's ability to learn. In addition, without this additional $1 billion in funding and with the significant State cuts in education funding, Americans will have to pay more in property taxes just to maintain the current level of services. Schools will not have the resources to make the necessary repairs. I argue this is an emergency for America.

Now on to veterans health care, which is of deep concern to me as well. The administration's budget for veterans health care falls far short of needs. We all know this. Despite the current crisis in veterans health care, some 130,000 are waiting 6 months or more for appointments at VA hospitals or clinics. President Bush submitted a budget for next year that is $1.8 billion below what is needed, according to the independent budget produced by AMVETS, Disabled Americans, Paralyzed
Veterans of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

In this legislation, we are funding efforts to support the men and women who are fighting overseas on our behalf, who are on active duty. They come home, they become veterans, and they have to wait 6 months to see a doctor. What sense does this make? If we cannot keep basic promises to our veterans to make sure they have the health care they need, deserve, and we said they would receive, how in the world are we going to be credible in meeting other commitments?

Unfortunately, the House bill included the same shortfall, which is $1.8 billion lower than the budget resolution promise of a $3.4 billion increase over last year's level. The VA health care system is strained. Its budget has consistently been underfunded and does not address the health needs of our service men and women.

I am pleased to support Senator Johnson's bill to make health care spending for our veterans mandatory. This needs to happen, instead of being slighted by the administration and the Congress year after year. Right now, over 130,000 veterans wait 6 months or more for their primary care appointments. The system is so underfunded that category 8 veterans, nonservice-connected veterans who make above a certain income threshold, are prohibited from enrolling for benefits.

In my State, veterans officials are talking about losing another hospital, Saginaw VA facility, which means that some veterans in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan will have to drive over 200 miles to Ann Arbor or Detroit for inpatient care. I am extremely hopeful they will not proceed with this proposal.

This amendment commits Congress to keeping our promises to our veterans who have earned the right to access to health care that was created to serve their needs. Our veterans deserve better than a chronically underfunded system, long waits for care, and a Nation that has asked them to pay the price for our freedom, only to be shortchanged at home.

Item 3 in Month for America, according to the recently released U.S. Census Report, the number of Americans without health care has jumped 5.7 percent to 43.6 million Americans. This is the largest single increase in the number of the uninsured in the last decade. According to Families USA, a health care consumer organization, there were 2.3 million people in my own State of Michigan under the age of 65 who went without health insurance some time in the past year. That means one in four people in Michigan under the age of 65 was uninsured. Think about that. In the greatest country in the world, those without insurance often delay or avoid needed services, which results in a direct increase in more costly emergency room care.

Who are these people? Seventy-five percent of them are working. They are working in small businesses that would provide health insurance but for the explosion in prices. These are people who work in every part of our economy. In recent studies, the sagging economy suggests these numbers are only going to increase if relief is not in sight. I tell folks we are going to be funding a Government-funded universal system in Iraq for every Iraqi to have health care and yet in my home State, and I would venture it is comparable across the country, one out of four people does not have health care. Last year, community health centers across the country served nearly 5 million uninsured Americans. Community health centers have a 30-year track record of success, and that is where these dollars would go. Study after study has shown that health centers effectively and efficiently improve our Nation's health.

In the last 3 years, they have served nearly 800,000 American citizens. We need to fully fund community health centers at the level necessary for them to do their work and serve working families who are not lucky enough to have health insurance from their employers.

The Month for America amendment would provide $103 million for full funding of federally qualified community health centers to help deal with the number of Americans who lack health insurance. This is such a small investment that obviously yields great rewards. For every $100 the Federal Government has been able to allocate to community health centers, these centers have been able to serve one additional new patient. Think about that. For $100, another child can be served, another mom, or another dad who has lost his job or lost his insurance.

The Month for America amendment would allow an additional 1.03 million Americans to receive access to primary care services; 1.03 million people could have access to a doctor and the health care they need.

We know this is not a complete solution to the issue of health care. I certainly have been very involved in a number of ways to bring down costs and to address the concerns of small and large businesses and those who do not have insurance, but it surely would help to be able to fully fund our health centers.

As my colleagues know, in the final item in the Month for America, the TEA-21 transportation bill expired at the end of September, but Congress has not passed a new 6-year bill which is critical to the needs of communities, to jobs, and to the economy. A new 6-year bill would provide hundreds of thousands of jobs to help the economy and improve the safety of our Nation's roads and bridges. Instead, Congress passed a short-term, 5-month extension of TEA-21. According to the
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a short-term extension rather than passage of the 6-year bill will compound State budget problems and result in delayed projects, added project costs, and lost jobs. They indicate that a delay in passing a new 6-year bill would mean the loss of more than 90,000 jobs and $2.1 billion in project delays.

This is about jobs. We need those jobs for American citizens. A 6-year bill would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. We know that passing a 6-year $311 billion highway bill would create more than 650,000 jobs in America and almost 23,000 jobs in Michigan alone.

Our Nation's transportation infrastructure needs our help now. This really is an emergency.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute's 2003 Urban Mobility Study, the cost of congestion continues to skyrocket, and in 2001 traffic congestion cost the Nation $69.5 billion—$4.1 billion more than in the year 2000—5.7 billion gallons of wasted fuel, and 3.5 billion hours of lost productivity sitting in our cars on those roads. We each understand that. Traffic congestion cost southeastern Michigan over $2.1 billion in 2001 and cost the average Detroiter $523 per person.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mrs. DOLE). The Senator's time has expired.

Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent for 5 additional minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Mr. STEVENS. Madam President, I yield the Senator 5 minutes of my time.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, the Senator is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. STABENOW. I thank the chairman very much for his graciousness.

The Month for America amendment will provide $2.1 billion in highway and transit funds to high-priority projects that can begin within 90 days. This will create immediate jobs. Not only will this prevent the project delays resulting from the lack of a 6-year transportation bill, but it will, again, create over 90,000 jobs. We all know we need more jobs in America, and we need them now. This is an emergency for every single individual and every family who finds themselves in a situation now where there has been a job loss in the family.

Some people will say that modernizing our schools, providing health care to veterans and those without insurance, and creating jobs is not an emergency. I completely disagree. These are crises in America that need immediate attention.

At the same time, when I looked through Ambassador Bremer's report entitled "The Coalition Provisional Authority Request to Rehabilitate and Reconstruct Iraq," I found billions of dollars for projects which neither I nor the American people believe are emergencies. They may be worthy, but they are not as much of an emergency as these needs here at home. I want to point out just a few to my colleagues.

The first item I found was $161 million for wireless networks, computer training, and equipment. We would love to have this in Michigan. I have many businesses that would love to have wireless networks. There is no question that this is a laudable goal. But is it an emergency? I don't think so. Couldn't this wait until next year while we try to establish security and basic services in Iraq?

The second item is $20 million for business training for Iraqis. This money will provide 4 weeks of business courses to Iraqis for a whopping $10,000 a person. If I might plug my alma mater, this is more than it would cost for a full year at the Michigan State University Business School. We welcome people coming to Michigan State.

The third item is $43 million for job training and 22 new Iraqi job employment centers. Iraq may have a problem with unemployment, but we also have a problem with unemployment here at home. Since 2001, we have lost 2.5 million manufacturing jobs in this country, many of them in my home State—162,300 of them, in fact, in Michigan. This is a loss of 18 percent of Michigan's manufacturing employment—one out of six of our manufacturing jobs.

Other items include $9 million to establish ZIP Codes in Iraq—a nice thing to do, but I think it could wait—and $50 million for marshes. I am anxious to go see them since I thought this was a desert.

These do not seem to be emergencies. We are saying, can these please wait until next year so that health care for our families and jobs for our families will not have to wait and veterans will not have to wait a month to see a doctor.

School construction and jobs are certainly a high priority. Why should these Iraqi projects get special treatment in an emergency supplemental bill while funds for our infrastructure and our needs have to wait and compete with other priorities next year? It seems to me the money for our roads and schools should get special budgetary treatment and Iraq projects can wait.

We are not asking for all of them to wait. The administration has indicated they can use about $6 billion in the coming year.
I am suggesting they get the $15 billion. We are just asking for $5 billion—1 month for America. I think these so-called emergency items for Iraq can wait and we can involve ourselves in the normal budget process to determine whether they are needed.

We need to act now here at home. We need jobs now. We need health care now. We need to rebuild our schools now and we need to support our troops when they come home and put on their veterans hats when they will need health care.

Some people say we can't do both. I believe we can. Let us send a message today that while we support our troops unanimously, we want to have 1 month of funding for America here at home. If we agree to this amendment, we can do both. I ask my colleagues before they vote on this amendment to think about those who would be impacted by this.

I urge support for this amendment.

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