BLUE DOG COALITION DEFICITS AND DEBT BACKGROUND -- (House of Representatives - May 15, 2007)
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Mr. SCOTT of Georgia. Thank you very much, Mr. Ross. As always, it is indeed a pleasure to be with you on this occasion.
I want to talk about two areas, the debt, and, of course the big elephant in the room which all of America is concerned about, the situation in Iraq and Iraq accountability.
I happen to serve on the Financial Services Committee and on the Foreign Affairs Committee, so in terms of foreign policy and in terms of our finances, those are the two major critical cross-sections we are in at this point.
Concerning the debt, it is very important that we point out, Mr. Ross, that the fastest growing area in our budget is the interest that we are paying on this debt, which is more than what we are spending combined for education, the environment and for veterans affairs.
As we segue that into our international situation, when you look at the debt that we have gotten into as a result of the carelessness and the ineffective, inefficient foreign policy as it relates to our debt; for example, under this President and under this previous Republican-controlled Congress, this country has borrowed more money from foreign governments than all of the preceding past Presidents have done since 1789, since the foundation of this country. It has placed us in a very perilous position. And we are fighting this war in Iraq and Afghanistan on borrowed money that our children will have to pay back and the children of our soldiers will have to pay back.
Mr. Ross, what is on the minds of the American people is accountability in Iraq. It is very important that we mention two major bills that we are moving in that direction. First is our own troop readiness and Iraqi accountability bill that passed this House, the basic framework of which after the President vetoed the first go around is now in the bill we passed last week, and it is in the conference report that we hope we will be sending back. It is important that the American people understand what the Democrats have put forward in this measure.
Our other bill is the Accountability Act, in terms of financial accountability, that we in the Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats have put forward to bring some fiscal responsibility and soundness and transparency to the moneys that we are spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know about the Halliburtons, we know about all the war profiteering. We hear about that in the news accounts.
It is our bill that we are pushing forward that will give some transparency and accountability. Two important facts that I think the American people need to know about that bill is that, one, it will require that the Inspector General from both the Defense Department over at the Pentagon, will have to come before this Congress quarterly to explain and to account for the moneys that are spent on that basis, as well as the Inspector General from the rebuilding program in Iraq, where so much loss of funds, unaccountability, outright stealing and theft is going on of the taxpayers' money. So we are bringing accountability to that.
But we also have got to do more, and that is what is contained in the conference report that we are sending to the President. Not only do we have benchmarks, but there must be accountability to the Iraqi people. They have this opportunity and they must step up to the plate to assume their end of the bargain. There is a government in place, and the benchmarks we have put in, there is no better way to do that.
Now, Mr. Ross, I think much has been said about Congress and the role that we have to play in foreign policy. Unfortunately, this President has said time and time again that he is in control of foreign policy; that he is the Commander in Chief, and that the Congress is just here to do pretty much as he wants us to do. And for 5 years, for the first 5 years, that happened, where this Congress just rolled over and gave the President everything that he wants.
When we had that change in November and the people went to the polls to put Democrats in charge, they wanted to see a change in direction, and the Democrats are giving the change in direction in the bills that we have sent forward to the President.
You talk about fiscal accountability. Yes, indeed, we have that in there. We have put more money in this budget for our troops, $4 billion more, than the President has asked for. But it is so important also that we have accountability when the money gets over, to make sure that the Iraqi people understand, we don't have an endless supply of money to go down over into Iraq, and most certainly we do not have an endless supply of the precious blood and the lives of our soldiers to continually be going down the pike in the Iraqi situation. The American people are saying this situation has to end. We must get our men and women in uniform out of the middle of the crosshairs of what is a civil war.
Madam Speaker, we realize that we are in this because of mistakes. More importantly, Mr. Ross, when you talk about accountability, it is important that we realize now that not only have mistakes been made, but we got into Iraq based on not just bad intelligence, but warped intelligence, and we got in there on deceit and lies. All of that is there now.
It is very important for us if we want to effectively be able to determine how to get out of Iraq, we must be honest about how we got into Iraq. So it is very important that we do that.
The American patience is running out on those two measures of Iraqi accountability, in terms of the money we are spending, in terms of the benchmarks we have put into this effort, and for the transparency that we put in our bill. We, as Democrats, are being very responsive.
We do have security in that region. We are not going to abandon our troops, but we are going to get them out of the crosshairs of this civil war and get into a position of containment. That is the direction that we have to go in as we formulate a new, much more effective foreign policy in the Middle East.
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Mr. SCOTT of Georgia. Thank you, Mr. Ross.
I will try to sum up what we have done this evening. It is very important, as the American people have followed this process, have seen us with the legislative process at work, not only in terms of debating the issue, but they have also witnessed how we are putting this, hopefully, this final piece together that the President will sign.
First of all, just to wrap up, we have made concessions with the President on the issues that he was concerned about. The timelines, have, indeed, been removed. Those were his major objections on it. So we have compromised on that point.
But we also had, then, accountability, and that's what the American people want. They want to make sure that we have accountability in this. Mr. Thompson from California has played a very leading role in this, and it was so good to have him on the floor talking about it. Mr. Ike Skelton, who is the chairman of our Armed Services Committee, has incorporated all of the major points of financial accountability to get out fraud and waste, to bring in the Defense Department's investigators to report to us on each of these areas, on a 6-month basis, to show us how the money is being spent.
All of those things are now in this package, and the benchmarks are in, the benchmarks. So we can hold the Iraqi people to, and say, these are things that must be accomplished, as we go forward. If you don't hold their feet to the fire, if you don't put pressure there, there is no accountability. So we are going to have them on security.
We are going to have them where they are going to reach the deal of how, which is at the bottom of the whole situation, is oil, and how they are to divide the oil revenue between the Kurds, between the Sunnis and between the Shias. We have got this in there for benchmarks.
The other thing we have in there is funds for the troops, the Humvee protection, the body armor production. Never again will they go in Humvees and have to write back to mom and dad to give them the metals. They are over there fighting for the United States of America. It is our constitutional responsibility as the Congress of the United States to raise and support the military. That's in article 1, section 6 of the Constitution for our duty. This Congress is able to do that in this.
Finally, what is so important, we are having in this measure true emergency measures like the children's health program, in which we have $349 million now for that shortfall to help with the SCHIP program, for that lower-income program.
Many of those children, incidentally, Mr. Ross, are children of some of these servicemen who are serving in Iraq, because their income level falls too low for Medicaid, yet not high enough to be able to afford the regular practice. The money is in here for the veterans to make sure the Walter Reed situation doesn't happen again. That's what's so important. That's what the American people want.
In this measure we have got that, and then plus $2.4 billion more than what the President asks for the troops. But we have got the accountability in, and it's geared to moving us in a way to get us out of the crosshairs of this civil war and in this occupation in Iraq so that we can strengthen our military and put the resources in Afghanistan and Pakistan where we know al Qaeda is and allow the Iraqi people to manifest themselves and solve this civil war among themselves.
Thank you. It has been wonderful being with you and being a part of our Blue Dog coalition this evening.