U. S. Troops Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007

Floor Speech

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: March 28, 2007
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. TROOP READINESS, VETERANS' HEALTH, AND IRAQ ACCOUNTABILITY ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - March 28, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, I apologize for my formal dress. Like many here, including, I suspect, the two Senators from Washington, I am supposed to be attending the correspondents dinner tonight.

I am informed that my amendment will actually be called up tomorrow as part of a series of votes. I would like to speak tonight as I have been told there will not be adequate time tomorrow.

For my colleagues' information, the amendment I will be discussing is No. 739. I ask unanimous consent to add as cosponsors Senator Byrd of West Virginia, Senator Bond, Senator Pryor, Senator Kennedy, Senator Durbin, and Senator Kerry.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, I wish to begin by stating very simply that this amendment is literally, not figuratively, a matter of life and death. I have been here for many years. I have never begun a discussion of an amendment--and I have sponsored some serious amendments and pieces of legislation--by saying something as graphic and drastic as this is literally a matter of life and death. But it is. This is not hyperbole. This is not an exaggeration.

What my amendment will do is allow the military to put 2,500 more mine resistant ambush protected vehicles--known in the military by its acronym, MRAP--in the field by the end of this year.

Now, let me explain what I am talking about. First, I want to point out that the committee acknowledged the need for these vehicles and included $2.5 billion in this bill. But what I propose in this amendment is forward-funding money from next year's 2008 budget into this supplemental. In that way, we can build more of these vehicles which have one purpose--the specific purpose of saving lives, American lives.

The fact is, as most of my colleagues know, 70 percent of American casualties in Iraq are caused by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Many of my colleagues, including the Presiding Officer, have been to Iraq. They have had the same experience I have in my seven trips--visiting field hospitals. There, you see amputees and people with serious head injuries who, because of the incredible skill and triage capability of our military doctors and nurses, are able to be kept alive. Most of those injured at Walter Reed and at Bethesda naval hospital are victims of these devices, sadly now familiar to all Americans from the nightly news. We have tried very hard--although this administration has done so belatedly--to better equip our troops to withstand IEDs. God forbid they find themselves victim of an IED attack, but if they do, we want them to be able to survive.

MRAP vehicles provide four to five times more protection to our troops than up-armored HMMWVs. That statement, that these MRAPs provide four to five times more protection than up-armored HMMWVs, is not my estimate. That is the judgment of our military leaders. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, GEN James Conway, with whom I spoke as recently as this afternoon, wrote on March 1 to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said:

Multi-National Forces--West [that is, the Marines in Iraq] estimates that the use of the MRAP could reduce the casualties in vehicles due to IED attack by as much as 80 percent.

He went on further and said that even though the MRAP is not expeditionary:

It is, however, the best available vehicle for force protection.

He concluded by saying:

Getting the MRAP into the Al Anbar Province is my number one unfilled warfighting requirement at this time.

Let me repeat that:

Getting the MRAP into the Al Anbar Province is my number one unfilled warfighting requirement at this time.

He went on to tell me today that although there is some disagreement in terms of priorities within this building, he was speaking to me from the Pentagon, he said, ``I believe this is a moral imperative.''

How many generals with four stars or three or two or one on their shoulders have you heard use that phrase? How often is something so fundamental it is called ``a moral imperative''? This is a man who is heading back out to Iraq soon. He is talking about protecting his kids, his troops.

On my last trip into Anbar Province last summer, I went to Fallujah. I met with the commanding Marine general and roughly 30 to 40 of his commanders and noncommissioned officers. I was taken outside a building to see what they were trying to do to diminish the casualty rate of American forces required to patrol Fallujah. They showed me what they called a rhino, a big vehicle, looks like a Caterpillar bulldozer with a great big proboscis on it, a great big arm that is used when an IED is identified, to disarm it. It was interesting. I observed for the first time--maybe others knew about it--the hull. The bottom of it looked like a ship out of water. It had a V-shaped bottom. A humvee, like your SUV or your automobile, has a flat bottom. In a humvee, even if it is reinforced, it is still flat. The rhino had a V-shaped bottom or floor. I asked why. They said it made them much more blast resistant and it could protect the troops inside. That is the first time I heard about this concept. They did not have MRAPs yet, but they had this rhino, a much bigger vehicle for a different purpose.

As I talked to them, I remember asking the question, why aren't we building more of these things? You know, the folks on the ground, these kids and many not so young women and men who are climbing into these coffins, know that even in an up-armored vehicle if they are struck, deadly force may be exerted, scrambling their brains or outright killing them. The number one requirement of the Commandant of the Marine Corps is to get more of these vehicles. I respectfully suggest to all who care--and every one of us cares about the fate of the troops--if there is any place we should not consider the cost--emphasize again, not consider the cost--it is when there is a consensus that what we are purchasing can save lives. We have made no sacrifice in this country to fight this war except for the families of those who have gone to the war. We should not hesitate to save the lives of those who are sacrificing because of cost.

A couple of my colleagues off the floor, none of whom are on the floor at this moment, have told me it might not be cost effective because the military is working on a new vehicle. Give me a break. Cost effective? I wonder how many people asked, when we were talking about the invasion of Normandy in World War II: You know, we better be careful. We may build too many landing craft. We might have some left over. What are we going to do with them after the war?

We have no higher obligation than to protect those we send into battle. We have received a pretty good dose of this administration's willingness to send people into battle not prepared. Rumsfeld's famous comment: You go with the Army you have, not the Army you like or need. That is paraphrasing him from a couple of years ago. When we find a way to protect people better in battle, then it seems to me we have an overwhelming obligation to act.

Let me explain the specifics of the MRAP. Each vehicle can hold 4 to 12 troops. Like the rhino, these vehicles have raised steel, V-shaped hulls and chassis. The raised hull is valuable because it gives the blast more time to expand, lessening the impact. The V-shape pushes the blast up the sides of the vehicle and away from the occupants. With an up-armored HMMWV or any humvee, the flat bottom sends the blast through the floor right into the occupants. In addition, the vehicles have side armor and bulletproof glass, and they also have tires that can be driven when flat.

Ever since the military began using MRAPs in Iraq, the requirement has grown, as commanders realize how much better they are at protecting their personnel. In May of last year the requirement was only 185. By July, it had risen to 1,185. By November, it had risen to 4,060. By February of this year, after the supplemental request was submitted, it rose to 6,738. One month later, the requirement went up again to the current level of 7,774. At this point every one in the military agrees, we need 7,774 MRAPs.

The Marines are the executive agents for this program, meaning they are
managing it for themselves and the other services. Every service has a need for the vehicle for explosive ordinance units as well as regular patrols. The Marines need 3,700 of them. The Army needs 2,500. The Air Force needs 697. The Navy needs 544, and the Special Operations Command needs 333. The cost of 7,774 MRAPs is $8.4 billion. This administration's current plan is to spend $2.3 billion this year and $6.1 billion next year. But I believe we can and must do much better, and so do the Marines. If we simply put more funds up front, spend them in the supplemental rather than allocate them a year later in the 2008 budget, the same money that we are going to spend anyway next year, if we move it up, we can accelerate production drastically.

Some have said the extra production capacity does not exist. Again, speaking to the Commandant of the Marine Corps today, he indicated that there are eight companies they are dealing with and he has confidence that they can build all they can purchase, all they can afford. That is also what the Chief of Staff of the Army thinks.

On March 14, General Peter Schoomaker told the Appropriations Committee that with the MRAPs, ``We can build what we get the funds to build. It is strictly an issue of money.''

Let's assume the Commandant of the Marine Corps and General Schoomaker are wrong. Let's assume they have made a mistake. Let's assume we can't build as many as the money we give them. So what. So what. We are not talking about building a highway on time. We are talking about an informed judgment by the United States military, to build not a new weapons system, but to build a new protection system for their forces.

I respectfully suggest, if we are going to err on one side or the other, for God's sake, for a change, let's err on the side of doing something that will protect American fighting women and men.

Quite frankly, if the Marines believe we can do it, then my money is on the Marines getting it right. If General Schoomaker says he needs it, and more money will get the vehicles, then I take him at his word. I would rather take a chance, and I believe the American people would also, to protect more Americans under fire than not.

What does this mean specifically? Well, by adding $1.5 billion, which my amendment does, to the supplemental today, the Marines will have $4 billion to work with. Based on their estimates, that will mean 2,500 vehicles get to the field 6 months sooner than under the current plan. You may say: What is 6 months? Ten of thousands of lives is what 6 months is. Figure it out: Four to twelve people in 2,500 more vehicles. Add up the numbers. That's 10,000 to 30,000 Americans. Look at the casualty rates that come from IEDs striking up-armored HMMWVs. Do the math, and tell me if their lives are not worth taking a financial risk to protect.

If we move this money forward, on October 1 of this year, instead of having only 2,000 MRAPs, we would have 4,500 in the field. On January 1, 2008, instead of 3,500 MRAPs, we would have 6,000 in the field. By February, we would fulfill the entire requirement, instead of waiting until next July. We are still going to spend $8.4 billion, but spending it faster will make a major difference.

If you want to be callous about this, it would also save the American taxpayers a whole lot of money because for every one of those injured soldiers who comes back--to put it in Machiavellian terms--who needs a lifetime of medical care, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars committed per casualty.

I can find no logical argument for delaying this.

Let me end where I began. This is a matter of life and death. Madam President, 2,500 more vehicles means literally that 10,000 to 30,000 more Americans will have a four to five times greater chance of surviving a hit with an IED while on patrol than exists today if we do not act. Madam President, 10,000 to 30,000 Americans will not be added to the casualty and death numbers if we move this money up.

To use the phrase of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, at 3 or 4 o'clock today, on the phone with me:

This is a moral imperative.

I agree. It is a moral imperative that we protect these troops as soon as possible.

So tomorrow, when I have my 1 or 2 minutes to speak to this issue before we vote, I will urge all my colleagues to vote for this amendment.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.