NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008--Continued -- (Senate - July 10, 2007)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, before my distinguished colleague from Rhode Island leaves, I thank him for the incredible contributions I know he made to this legislation that is in front of us. He, too, has had a distinguished career serving his country in the armed services as well as in the Senate, and we congratulate him for his service.
I also start by congratulating our Michigan senior Senator whom we are all so proud of for all of the important work he does, and none is more important for Michigan and for the country than serving as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
This National Defense Authorization Act and all that it brings in terms of additional tools for our troops, issues that directly relate to supporting the troops and their families, the equipment, the new technology, the new policies for the future that they need, all of these things are incredibly important, and Senator Levin has been the leader on these issues for us. We in Michigan are extremely proud of all he has done.
I specifically today raise my voice in support of the Webb amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Tonight in Iraq, 1,644 members of the Michigan National Guard will bed down after a long day of working and fighting. They work in 100-degree weather, sand blowing in their faces, facing dangers at every turn, in the harshest physical conditions imaginable. For every single one of those men and women, there is a family at home in Michigan who will go to bed tonight worried and saying a prayer for the safety of their loved one, for the safe return of their son, their daughter, father, mother, sister, brother.
The true cost of this war cannot be measured in dollars and cents, although there is a huge financial cost to what is happening. But the true cost is measured by the sacrifices of our troops and their families; every single day, day in and day out. The cost is more than just the possibility and the reality of physical danger; the cost includes the sacrifices that entire families are making, financial sacrifices, emotional sacrifices, sacrifices being made because they are apart day after day, month after month, and now year after year.
It is not right; it is not fair; it is not safe. We need to change this policy. That is what the Webb amendment does. In Michigan, 1,644 Guard members, 1,644 families, 1,644 missed birthdays, Father's Day, Mother's Day, missed high school graduations, baby's first steps, anniversaries, family funerals, Christmas, other holidays.
It is also 1,644 missed paychecks. It may be the only paycheck in the family--the paycheck that is paying the mortgage, the paycheck that is there to help send the kids to college, to pay the car payment, to be able to have the standard of living we all want for ourselves and our families--sidetracked careers, small businesses and farms put in economic danger, 1,644 lives that will never be the same, 1,644 sets of missed opportunities, missed moments that can never be replaced.
These members of the Michigan National Guard make up only a fraction of the 160,000 men and women in uniform currently serving in Iraq and countless others who have served. In too many cases, these men and women are back in Iraq for their second, third, and now fourth redeployment.
Our fighting men and women are the greatest resource we have. They make us proud every single day. But, unfortunately, this Government is abusing this resource, these people. America puts its trust in our military to defend us. When our sons and daughters join the military, they put their trust in us, in the Congress, in the President of the United States, to give them the tools and the resources they need and to treat them with the respect they have earned. Current administration policies on redeployment have violated that trust. These policies have let our troops down. They have let their families down.
I am proud to join with my colleague from Virginia in saying: Enough is enough--enough is enough--when it comes to abusing our Armed Forces by stretching them to the breaking point with redeployment after redeployment.
Our armed services have traveled a tough road since we invaded Iraq. They have shouldered a heavy burden with pride and confidence and honor. We have asked extraordinary things--extraordinary things--from them at every turn. And at every turn they have delivered. They have made us all proud. They have faced tough situations, made tough choices, and have done their duty.
Now we need to do our duty. We need to do what is right for them. It is our time to face the tough situations. It is our time to make the hard choices. It is our time to make them proud. That is what this amendment is about. That is what this bill is about. That is what further discussions we will have about how to end this war will be all about.
America's soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines are always there for us when they are called. The question is, Will we be there for them? Will we be there for them today and tomorrow and the next day?
This legislation Senator Webb has proposed is something that is simply the right thing to do and is a very important piece of supporting our troops.
First of all, for our regular forces, the amendment requires that if a unit or a member deploys for Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, they will have the same time at home--what is called ``dwell time''; down time, as I would say; our forces would call it dwell time--before being redeployed. So if someone is deployed for 6 months, they would have dwell time for 6 months, whether that is being home with the family, whether that is retraining, whether that is time to regroup. If they are deployed for 12 months, they would have 12 months at home; 15 months, 15 months.
For the National Guard and Reserve, no unit or member will be redeployed to Iraq or Afghanistan within 3 years of their previous deployment. Now, this is strictly a floor, but it will stabilize Guard and Reserve deployment cycles in a much more predictable way. It is good for them, it is good for us from a safety standpoint, preparedness standpoint, and it certainly is good for the families we are asking to make such sacrifices.
We understand this is a dangerous and unpredictable world we live in, so this amendment also includes an important provision, a provision enabling the President to waive these limitations if he certifies to Congress that deployment is necessary in response to a vital national security interest of the United States.
Now, why is this down time or dwell time so important? Longer and more predictable dwell time is needed for many reasons. Most importantly, it allows for members to readjust from combat and spend time with their families. It also allows troops the time they need to be ready for the next combat mission. We have to remember that when our people return from their deployments, the majority of their time is spent retraining, refurbishing, and reequipping prior to being redeployed.
The bottom line is that the Webb amendment will ensure that our men and women in uniform have a more predictable deployment schedule, with adequate time between tours. We have a responsibility to prevent further needless damage to our military, and the Webb amendment does that.
Five years ago, I was proud to stand on this floor as one of 23 Members who believed this war was the wrong choice. For the past 5 years, I have been proud to cast vote after vote supporting the troops, working to ensure they have the resources they need so they can get the job done as soon as possible and come home safely.
Today, I stand on the floor and once again say: Enough is enough. The American people are saying: Enough is enough.
This administration failed our troops by committing them to this war without a clear reason or goal. This administration failed our troops by not having a clear mission for our Armed Forces in Iraq. They failed our troops by not providing the proper equipment, body armor, or logistical support for our forces. They failed our troops with their poor planning for the invasion of Iraq and their total lack of planning for how to secure the country, despite the best efforts of our brave men and women. And they have failed our troops by sending them back into harm's way over and over and over again without the proper down time between redeployments. History will judge this administration on how they have handled this war. History will judge us now on what we do for the troops and what we do to end this war.
We need a new strategy for Iraq, a strategy that brings our troops home safely and responsibly. We need to treat our troops with respect--the respect they deserve, they have earned--while they are serving us. They put their lives on the line every day for us. The least we can do is to make sure they have what they need and they have the time they need between combat deployments to be with their families and to prepare for the future. And they need a strategy. They are asking us to be paying attention to what is going on.
So many of us have been to Iraq and have seen what is happening on the front lines. They are in the battle every day. They are focusing on their mission, on staying alive, keeping their buddies alive. They are counting on us to have their back. They are counting on the President to have their back. They are counting on people here getting it right, doing the right thing--whether it is making sure they have the time they need, which the Webb amendment does, to focus on their needs and their families' needs or whether it is to make sure there is a strategy that makes sense. That is what we are now debating on this floor.
I believe the American people have spoken very loudly and very clearly, and it is time for us to listen. It is our job to listen, to do the right thing for the troops, to do the right thing for their families, to do the right thing for communities and for our country.
When I look around the Senate, I am struck by the fact that we have all taken different paths to get here, to this debate right now. It has been a long 5 years. Some of us have stood up against this war since day one. Many have come to understand the tragedies of this war and the failures of this administration and have come at a different time. But no matter what path each of us has taken, no matter how we have gotten here today, now we have the opportunity to do the right thing. That is what this debate is about.
I am so grateful to our Senate leader, Harry Reid, for making sure we stay focused on what is clearly the most critical issue in front of us, what is happening in the war in Iraq and with our troops and our families, and what we need to do to focus on the real threats--the real threats--here at home, through his leadership, on the 9/11 Commission legislation, as well as focusing on the real threats abroad.
So we have seen leadership bringing us back to this issue, creating this opportunity now for us to do the right thing. We need to do the courageous thing. The Webb amendment is an opportunity to do the courageous thing for our troops. We cannot change the past, but we have to change the future, and that means acting now.
I urge all of my colleagues to vote for the Webb amendment for the brave men and women who are serving us and counting on us to understand what we are expecting of them as they do their duty, with the sacrifices they are making, their families are making. They are counting on us to do the right thing. They are counting on us to do the right thing on the overall strategy on this war.
This legislation, this time, this debate in the next few days is an opportunity for us to tell the American people: We hear you. We hear you. Enough is enough. Enough is enough. It is time to get this right and to bring our men and women home safely and responsibly.
Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.