MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007
(Senate - November 14, 2006)
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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise today to address the Senate concerning the legislation before us, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill for fiscal year 2007. This bill is particularly important in this time of ongoing war, structural changes in the force, and an aging veteran population. The committee has worked to produce a bill that, while imperfect, addresses many of the issues that challenge our armed services and veterans, and I thank them for their work.
America remains at war, a war that continues to unite Americans in pursuit of a common goal--to defeat terrorism. Americans have and will continue to make sacrifices for this war. Our service men and women in particular are truly on the front lines in this war, separated from their families, risking their lives, and working extraordinarily long hours under the most difficult conditions to accomplish the ambitious but necessary task their country has set for them.
It is important that we understand the context of this year's military construction legislation. Three processes are playing out simultaneously that require reasoned and appropriate congressional action on this bill. First, America's struggle for peace in Iraq continues. Second, our largest service, the Army, is undertaking significant structural changes and redeploying thousands of troops. Third, the recent round of base realignment and closure that streamlined the defense infrastructure is now being implemented. These three issues have defined the requirements of the legislation before us. The committee has recognized the challenges and outlined military construction spending that, in large part, meets them.
I am pleased to note that the Appropriations Committee has met the spending level requested by the administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is particularly important in light of the growing numbers of young veterans who look to the VA for care. To date more than 184,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have sought care through the VA. Of that number, 30,000 have been found to exhibit symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress or PTSD, and I applaud the committee's support for PTSD programs and funding. This legislation also provides $32.7 billion for the Veterans Health Administration for fiscal year 2007, nearly equivalent to the President's request.
I commend the distinguished chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies for her willingness to work with the Senate Armed Services Committee, SASC, to ensure this bill generally funds MILCON projects consistent with the authorizing committee's views. The chairman has always made a considerable effort to work with the authorizers to mitigate differences in the defense funding and authorizing bills.
In particular, I appreciate the chairman's efforts to remove an unrequested and unauthorized MILCON project for Lackland Air Force Base after I brought my concerns to her attention. That project was not requested by the administration, nor is it listed in the Air Force's Unfunded Priority List, UPL. It was added only after the Air Force Chief of Staff sought the funding outside the regular process, without the concurrence of DOD or OMB and without any notification to or feedback from the authorizing committees.
When the authoring committees finally learned about this project, we had already completed committee markups and passed Defense authorization bills in both chambers. The authorizing committees refused to add an out-of-scope provision into the final conference report to authorize this Air Force earmark, and as such, the chairman has since agreed to remove it from the pending bill in a manager's amendment on the Senate floor.
I wanted to spend time on the Senate floor to highlight this Air Force MILCON earmark because it demonstrates how authorizers and appropriators can and should work together. While ideally the provision would never have been included in the bill since it wasn't requested, the chairman was more than willing to listen to my concerns as an authorizer, and she acted most appropriately by agreeing to remove the earmark. Again, I thank Senator Hutchison for her steadfast leadership and accommodation of the authorization committees' wishes.
Unfortunately, the bill before us is not entirely free of earmarks. I am concerned that, while this bill is some $434 million below the administration's request, it nonetheless recommends almost $90 million in unrequested spending that is directed at unauthorized projects. While I recognize that many of the earmarks added to this legislation may sound worthwhile, they do not belong in the bill or its report. Needless to say, it is distressing that in this time of fiscal constraints, lawmakers continue to earmark military funds while underfunding the President's overall request.
Let me mention a few examples of money earmarked in the committee report for specific projects that were not requested by the Department of Defense: $1.5 million for a general instruction building in Fort Lewis, WA; $1.5 million for officer's quarters in Ravenna, OH; $1.5 million for a dining facility at Camp Roberts in San Miguel, CA; $3.4 million for an Aviation Readiness Center at Helena Regional Airport, MT; $1.4 million for an engine shop in Fort Worth, TX; $900,000 for an information technology complex at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH; and $2.0 million for a regional training institute in West Virginia.
Almost all the earmarked money will go to the States represented by members of the committee. These examples are only part of the nearly $60 million in unrequested earmarks that siphon funds away from important programs needed for enhancing our warfighting capability. This means that the armed services have come to us with urgent needs, and we have responded by giving them less than what they asked for while requiring that they spend it to suit our parochial needs rather than military necessity.
The problems facing our active and retired veterans, whether in the form of force structure or modernization or enhancing quality of life benefits, are properly addressed in a deliberative budget process. However, we should think twice before diverting money away from military necessities to fund home State projects. The American taxpayer expects more of us, as do our brave service men and women who are fighting this war on global terrorism on our behalf.