U.S. TROOP READINESS, VETERANS' CARE, KATRINA RECOVERY, AND IRAQ ACCOUNTABILITY APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007 -- (House of Representatives - May 24, 2007)
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Ms. PELOSI. I thank the gentleman for yielding, the distinguished chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Thank you, Mr. Obey, for your brilliance in bringing the legislation to the floor that we have today so we can express ourselves on the direction of this war, and at the same time, we have the opportunity to meet the emergency needs of the people of America, the Hurricane Katrina survivors, our farmers suffering from natural disasters, children without health insurance, our veterans. Thank you for the strong commitment you and Mr. Murtha and others have made to military health, to veterans health and to BRAC. After 10 years of indifference, we are raising the minimum wage for millions of our hardest-working Americans. And with the passage of the provisions in the first piece of this bill, the first amendment, we strengthen our country and address the health and well-being of millions of Americans who have been ignored again for too long. The new direction of Congress is keeping its promise to them.
Mr. Speaker, we have two amendments before us, and I just spoke about one of them. The other resolution, the other amendment about the war, the President's request plus the Warner resolution, is really an inkblot. We are all familiar with the Rorschach test; you look at it and you see what you see. Some will see one thing; some will see others. Some will see an opportunity, for the first time, for the Republicans to say that accountability is needed on the part of the President of the United States and on the part of the government of Iraq. And so there are these benchmarks. But these benchmarks by no means meet the obligation that we have to our men and women in uniform if they can be as easily waived as they can be in this resolution.
The resolution that the Republicans put forth, I am really glad that they finally admitted that there is a need for accountability. But what they haven't done is met that need with something appropriate. This is like a fig leaf. This is a token. This is a small step forward. Instead, we should have a giant step forward into a new direction. So when I look at this inkblot, I see something that does not have adequate guidelines and timetables; something that does not have adequate consequences; and something that does not have my support. Democrats are proposing something much better.
Instead of a missed opportunity, we had hoped that the President would have accepted our proposals, which we sent to him over and over again, over and over again, meeting his request, and even doing more for our troops, for our veterans, and for strengthening our military in ways beyond the President's request.
We now have our troops engaged in a civil war. There are reports that the Department of Defense has declared what is happening in Iraq to be a civil war. The American people do not think that it is necessary for us to be refereeing a civil war in Iraq. They want our focus to be on fighting terrorism, retraining the Iraqis, protecting our diplomats and our forces there, and that is exactly what Democrats have proposed. Instead, we have a situation where, in refereeing and engaging in combat in the civil war in Iraq, as the President has us doing there, we have lost thousands of Americans. The number is hard to measure, but everyone agrees, easily over 100,000 Iraqis. The cost to our reputation and our military readiness is incalculable, but it is huge.
We think there should be a new direction. We think what we should be talking about here today is a different vision for stability in the Middle East and how our role in Iraq contributes to that. The generals, including General Odierno, recently stated that any strategy for success in Iraq must begin with the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq. That is a general, a retired general, and his voice is echoed by other generals as well. That, again, is what we are proposing, a change of mission, a redeployment for a different purpose, fighting terrorism, which is the threat to our national security.
The focus on Afghanistan must be reemphasized as that situation becomes more tenuous.
If we went down the path that General Odierno suggests and which Democrats have proposed over and over again, we would have a drastically reduced need for American troops in Iraq. Our troops have performed their duties excellently, excellently. Every opportunity we get, we must honor them for their patriotism, their courage and the sacrifices they and their families are willing to make. Time and again, we do this. And as we go into Memorial Day Weekend, we do it again. And we convey our condolences to those who have lost a family member in Iraq, in Afghanistan or any of the other wars we have been engaged in.
And we have honored our veterans not just with words but with actions. In the last couple of weeks, under the leadership of Chairman IKE SKELTON, Democrats put forth our Department of Defense Authorization bill. And in that bill, it was dedicated to troop readiness, with training and equipping our troops so that we don't send them into harm's way at a disadvantage.
Mr. Skelton's bill also calls for a 3.5 percent raise in military pay and a $40 survivor benefit to survivors of those who were lost in battle. Do you know what the President said about that in his statement of administrative policy? That that increase was unnecessary.
While yesterday, we had representatives of the veterans' organizations, especially the survivors, telling us that a $40 increase doesn't nearly go far enough to be commensurate with the sacrifice. We could never match the sacrifice, but we should at least make a respectable attempt at it. And for the White House to say a $40-per-month increase for survivors of those who gave their life in battle is unnecessary, unnecessary to whom? So if you want to talk about supporting the troops, how about supporting the troops, our veterans and their families?
Around the same time, Chairman Spratt brought to the floor the Democratic budget. This budget has a $6.7 billion increase for our veterans; $6.7 billion more than the previous budget; historic in its increase, making veterans a priority, an investment in those who sacrifice so much for us, an investment in honoring our commitment to our veterans. And just this week, Chairman CHET EDWARDS of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs put forth the largest increase in the VA in the history of the Veterans' Administration, 77 years. This is to make up for some promises not kept, but it is also to say, in our spending priorities, even within the context of PAYGO, no new deficit spending, no increases in the deficit; we put veterans at the top of the list and our military at the top of our list.
This isn't about whether we support our troops. Of course, we support our troops. We all demonstrated that over and over again.
But it is about opposing this war.
This is not the end of the debate. We have to be here to bring this bill to the floor so we can go forward. But this debate will go on. There will be legislation on the floor in the next several months to change the mission once again from combat to fighting terrorism, training and diplomatic and force protection. Again, that would require a greatly reduced U.S. force in Iraq, and coalition force as well.
We will have legislation to repeal the President's authority for the war in Iraq, to repeal the authority that the President has for the war in Iraq. We will have that vote.
We will have votes on Mr. Murtha's defense appropriations bills: one of them the regular order defense appropriation bill; another one, the supplemental that has been requested by the administration.
Mr. Speaker, I come to the floor today sad that the opportunity we have has been missed. There is a recognition that we need accountability, because the American people are demanding it. At least 70 percent of the American people say we have to have accountability. So instead of putting accountability into the bill, we make a gesture at it. We could have taken a giant step in a new direction. Instead, we are taking a baby step. But, as I said, this is not the end of the debate.
As we think about all of this, I would like to recall the words of a philosopher. Hannah Arendt once observed that nations are driven by the endless flywheel of violence, believing that one last, one final gesture will bring peace. But each time they sow the seeds for more violence.
That is what President Bush is doing in Iraq. That has been the deeply flawed policy of President Bush.
Again, Democrats are proposing a new direction. I urge my colleagues as we go forward, however you see the inkblot, however you decide your vote, to join in listening to the American people in the coming days, weeks and months, and bring this war to an end.
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