MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (House of Representatives - June 15, 2007)
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Ms. PELOSI. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for his kind words and for his more than extraordinary leadership on behalf of America's veterans while they are in the service, in terms of the quality of their life which is addressed in this legislation, and when they become veterans, and how he has had the well-being of America's veterans as a priority for so long in his political year.
Mr. Chairman, today is probably one of the top three happiest days of my official life, because today is a day where, under the leadership of Mr. Edwards, Mr. Spratt, Mr. Obey, Mr. Skelton, Mr. Murtha, this Congress of the United States is able to keep its promises to America's veterans. It's a day of respect for them.
In the military, soldiers say, we will not leave any soldier on the battlefield. We say, when they come home, we will not leave any veteran behind. That is why, under the leadership of Mr. Edwards in his capacity as a leader on this issue, and I will add Mr. Filner's name to those I'm commending, but a person of the focus and values of Mr. Edwards kept this issue front and center.
For the past 4 1/2 , 5 years, we have met on a regular basis with the veterans organizations and representatives of veterans from across the country. We asked them what their priorities were, because their needs were so great; and frankly, their concerns were so neglected for the last few years that we said, we cannot try to do everything. What are your priorities? This was when we were in the minority.
Their first priority, the first couple of years there was the concurrent receipt issue, this veterans disability tax, which we made some progress on. And the next term, which was the last term, we were still in the minority. We still took a piece of what their agenda was, and that was survivors' benefits. All of these were important to the veterans, but there were many more concerns that we had.
So it wasn't until the Democrats assumed the majority that we could keep the promise of America to America's veterans. That's why it was so thrilling to be with the representatives of the veterans groups, some of them I will name, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, that's the American Veterans, then the Iraq and Afghan Veterans of America, to be with them and other representatives of veterans a couple of days ago when we stood in front of the Capitol and announced that today, with this vote, under Chairman Chet Edwards' leadership, we would be giving the largest increase in the history of our country and in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration.
Why is that necessary? Because there is a backlog of several hundred thousand cases at the VA. That's an injustice. That's an immorality. And there were needed more case workers to address a 2-year backlog, if you had an issue, you went there and you had to wait 2 years if you were a veteran.
Well, the veterans were there when they were needed. They heeded the call. They came to our defense, and now we're saying, wait 2 years for us to consider your case. Just not right. Just not right.
So in preparation for a possible Democratic majority where we could work in a bipartisan way, the veterans put together a budget, again emphasizing their priorities.
And when they did, we took that budget. Congress worked its will on it through the appropriations process to bring us to the floor today. Every one of us in the committee, it was a bipartisan unanimous vote, 56-0, in the Appropriations Committee.
I hope we will have a similar vote today because, as Mr. Edwards said, starting with the budget process under Mr. Spratt to the larger Appropriations Committee under Chairman Obey and now to this moment on the floor under Chairman Edwards' leadership, we were able to give the biggest possible bipartisan vote to this increase. And it is paid for.
When Democrats took control of the House, we instituted pay-as-you-go, no new deficit spending, no increase to the deficit. So that is why this is especially, especially, important because this says that even within the constraints, those budgetary constraints, veterans aren't the priority. In our budget the two leading priorities were America's children and America's veterans. In the appropriations process, we are able to honor that blueprint set forth in the budget again without adding to the deficit, without increasing the deficit. That makes it harder, but that signaled in a very important way that when we talk about our priorities and we say that veterans are in the forefront of them, they are in the lead in terms of the values that we have, a reflection of America's values that, even though there are difficult budgetary constraints, veterans come first.
This is an issue in urban America. It is a big issue in rural America. In rural America, 75 percent of the people know somebody closely who is serving or has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everybody in our country knows many people who have served in the military. Four of my brothers served in the military.
We all have a dedication to our veterans. It is more than, though, just talking about it. We had to act upon those words, act upon those values. And I thank Chairman Chet Edwards for giving us that opportunity today to reward our heroes with something that we are giving to them. It is something that they deserve, have been deprived of, but that has come to an end.
So I hope we have a unanimous vote on this to show the bipartisan support for veterans that I know exists in our Congress. I am just very, very proud that we were able to deliver on the promise once we took the majority of the House.
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