AMERICA COMPETES ACT--Continued -- (Senate - April 24, 2007)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank my friend from New Mexico, who is doing such a wonderful job on the legislation that is in front of us. I wish to compliment everyone who is involved with this legislation for working so hard, including Senator Alexander and Senator Bingaman. This is a wonderful bill. So we congratulate them for that.
I wish to speak this evening about the supplemental appropriations bill the Senate will vote on later this week. I also wish to rise with great concern and, frankly--I am not sure what the word is; ``disappointment'' is not strong enough for how I feel about what the Vice President has said today about our leader, our great leader in the Senate, who has spoken so passionately and cares so deeply about the troops who are serving us overseas, their families who are here at home, who wants to make sure the strategy is right for them.
We all know--and our military experts have told us time and again--that a military victory is not going to happen, that it has to be a political victory, a political strategy of the Iraqis stepping up and taking control and making the tough decisions they need to make to take control of their own security. We have heard that from many experts within the military and without. Yet today the Vice President was here, not far from this Chamber, unleashing his wrath, as only he seems to be able to, about our leader, calling him names and mischaracterizing his positions. That is extremely unfortunate because while the men and women are serving us right now in Iraq, over there doing their best to focus on the mission, they expect us to be at home focusing on the strategy, the resources, and the equipment they need.
I had an opportunity to talk to a young man not long ago who had come home from Iraq. I asked him how he felt about the debate going on about the strategy, the debate we were having in the Senate and the House. He said, frankly, he would expect us to be doing that because that is our job. That is our job. They are doing their job. As my husband, who was in the Air Force and Air National Guard, reminds me continually, their job is to implement the mission. They are doing it. Our job is to get it right, to have the right strategy, and to back them up and give them the resources they need.
The name calling coming from the Vice President is not going to get the job done. What is going to get the job done is our ability to work together and look at the facts, not some stubborn sense of unwillingness to change or to do more of the same which, unfortunately, is what is happening now with this surge. It is more of the same. Instead of doing that, we need to be joining together to say: Let's look at the reality of what is going on on the ground. More and more Americans and Iraqis are being killed every day. Let's look at the reality of what we need to do to be successful, to bring our troops home safely, to address the success we all would like to see happen in terms of a democracy that works, the Iraqi Government being able to step up and to govern their country, which is an incredibly difficult and complicated thing to do, obviously.
I find it very disappointing. I work with our leader, as we all do every day. There is no one who has spent more time thinking and focusing and discussing and listening on these issues around the war than he has--no one who is more thoughtful or more caring, no one who is more concerned about our veterans coming home.
We welcome, certainly, the Vice President coming and meeting with us and joining in the discussion. But I certainly hope we are not going to see more of what we saw today. It was an effort to attack a great leader and, essentially, instead of moving the ball forward, make it more difficult for us to do what we need to do to come together.
On this particular bill, the supplemental appropriations bill, I certainly hope the President will sign this legislation, will reconsider the position that has been taken and sign this legislation. We are going to be sending a bill to the President that will fund the troops--in fact, it adds dollars to do that--as well as veterans, as well as addressing a number of other critical issues. The question before the President will be, Will he sign this bill? We are not trying to play games. We are sending him an emergency supplemental for the war and for other critical American needs--our communities, our families' needs, just as we do every year in an appropriations bill, in a supplemental. The question is whether the President will step up and do his duty and sign this bill so that those dollars can get to the troops.
This legislation represents the best opportunity for us to change the course in Iraq as well as protect our troops and our veterans and to give them what they need now. Unfortunately, the President has put our troops in the middle of an endless Iraqi civil war. We know this to be true. People in my great State know this is true.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation where our troops are in an endless civil war. The American people are paying a huge price for this war, most importantly, in lives, not only family members lost but people coming home with permanent disabilities, with head injuries, with mental health problems. There is a huge price being paid by Americans for what is occurring and has been occurring.
We are also paying a huge price in dollars, $10 billion a month, and then we look at the fact that we could fund a program to cover every child with health care in America for $10 billion a year. We know while lives are the most important issue, resources for Americans to address our needs at home is also a critical issue.
We also know we are paying a huge price as it relates to our own security interests. The majority of Americans, a bipartisan majority in Congress, military experts, and the Iraq Study Group believe this war cannot be won militarily and that the current path is not sustainable. The supplemental appropriations bill recognizes it is long past time to change course. The American people know that. That is really what last November was about. People want a change. They know this isn't working. It is not sustainable. They expect us to step up together and make that change.
This bill fully funds our troops. We are passing a bill agreed to by the House and Senate that fully funds our troops and provides a plan to responsibly end the war and bring them home safely. I don't know what more we could ask of the proposal. We are providing the resources and also putting in place a responsible way to provide benchmarks and measurements and bring a responsible end to the war.
Our bill holds the Iraqis accountable for securing their own Nation and forging political reconciliation. We know more of the same--more surges, more efforts that have been tried and tried time after time--is not working. I don't believe they can work. But what can work is holding the Iraqis accountable for securing their own nation and making the tough decisions that one has to make when they want to have a democracy. It is not easy. We know that. They are in a very difficult situation. But it is their country, and they need to step up and make those decisions and bring all parties together and find some way to live together.
Our bill ensures our troops are combat ready before being deployed to Iraq. I can't imagine that there is one individual in the armed services or one mom or dad or brother or sister or son or daughter of a combat troop that would not want us, and doesn't expect us already, to be making sure that our troops are combat ready before being deployed.
It provides them with all the resources needed on the battlefield and when they return. We are very committed and, in fact, I am very proud of the fact that in our budget resolution passed a few weeks ago, for the first time we meet the dollars needed for veterans health care and other critical veterans services identified by the veterans organizations themselves. For the first time ever, we put forth the dollars that are needed when our troops are coming home. A Presidential veto will deny our troops the resources and the strategy they need and send exactly the wrong message to the Iraqi political leaders. We hope the President will join us in giving our troops the resources and strategy they need and deserve. That is what this bill is about.
After more than 4 years of a failed policy, it is time for this Nation to change course and Iraq to take responsibility for its own future.
This is a good bill we will have before us. Overall, it provides more than $100 billion for the Department of Defense, primarily for continued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It includes a $1 billion increase for the National Guard and Reserves for equipment desperately needed and $1.1 billion for military housing. It provides $3 billion for the purchase of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, vehicles designed to withstand roadside bombs. Every day we pick up the paper and see where more lives have been lost, injuries have been sustained as a result of roadside bombs. It contains more than $5 billion to ensure that returning troops and veterans receive the health care they have earned with their service so that we don't ever have to have another Walter Reed incident.
It has $6.9 billion for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well. We know when we are doing an emergency supplemental, just as in every other year when our colleagues were in the majority, as well as when we are in the majority, there are a number of emergency needs for the country.
One thing in the supplemental has been funding the troops. We have added funding for our veterans and also understand there are some critical needs at home, critical needs that Americans have. Certainly, we all know the resources and the focus on those families who were hit by the hurricanes have been shamefully slow in going to that region to rebuild American communities, American homes, to support American families. Our bill does that.
It provides emergency funding also for the Children's Health Insurance Program because we have a number of places in the country where the resources are running out, and we want to make sure children can continue to get health care. That is an emergency at home.
Ask any family who is worried about whether their children are going to get sick tonight, say a little prayer: Please God, don't let the kids get sick because what are we going to do. Our bill addresses children's health care emergency funding.
It also includes homeland security investments totaling $2.25 billion for port security and mass transit security, for explosives detection equipment at airports, and for several initiatives in the 9/11 bill that recently passed the Senate. I am very proud of the fact that our new majority placed a priority on passing the 9/11 Commission recommendations. It was long overdue, but it was a priority for us in the first few weeks of our new majority, and we did it. Now we have the resources that go with that. It is not enough to pass the recommendations. We have to make sure the resources are there to keep us safe at home.
So, yes, this is a supplemental bill to support our troops abroad, to support their efforts while they are in theater in combat, but we also know we have folks on the front lines at home, our police officers and firefighters and others, and security needs here. We address that.
We also know there have been a group of folks waiting for way too long for some disaster assistance related to agriculture, including my home State of Michigan where apple and cherry growers have been waiting. In this legislation, $3.5 billion is provided to help relieve the enormous pressure on farmers and ranchers as a result of severe drought and agricultural disasters. Again, this is about helping people at home, putting Americans first when we know there is a disaster. Whether it is Hurricane Katrina or whether it is cherry growers in northern Michigan, our job is to also focus on our people here and their emergency needs.
The conference agreement also includes emergency funding for forest firefighting, low-income home energy assistance, and pandemic flu preparations, which we should all be concerned about--again, critical needs for Americans, American families.
Finally, there are other items in this bill that are good for workers and small business. The bill has an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, giving hard-working Americans a much deserved raise after 10 years--10 years. It provides almost $5 billion in tax cuts for small businesses as well. We know the majority of jobs come from small business. This supports their efforts as well.
So I would say to President Bush: Sign this bill. Sign this bill. This is a bill which funds our troops, which keeps our commitments to our veterans, and which addresses other American priorities for our communities and our families.
Mr. President, if you do, we will change course in Iraq, give our troops the equipment they need, the health care they deserve, and provide much needed investments here at home in America.
President Bush, if you veto this bill, you are denying funds to the troops in the field and going against the wishes of the majority of the American people.
It is time for the administration to stop saying no to troops and no to the American people. We need the President to say yes to working with us, to support our troops and what they need, which this legislation does, to support the American people, American families, and critical emergency needs here at home, and to put in place a strategy for success--a real strategy for success--by focusing on efforts that empower and send a message to the Iraqi Government to step up. While we are willing to support them, we will not continue to send our brave men and women into the middle of a civil war day after day after day and continually say it is OK, everything is going great. It is not going great.
It is time for a new strategy. We have put forward a strategy in a very responsible way in this legislation, along with meeting our obligations and responsibilities to our troops, our veterans, their families, and to America as a whole.
I hope when President Bush reads this bill--and I hope he will--I hope he will look at what is in here with an open mind, and agree with us that this is a bill which makes sense for America at home and abroad.
Thank you, Mr. President.