Media Stakeout with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY); Senator Trent Lott (R-MS); and Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) Following Senate Policy Committee Luncheon Subjects: Including SCHIP, Defense Bills, Iran
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SEN. MCCONNELL: Okay. Good afternoon, everyone. Obviously, we're at the last week of the fiscal year. We have a lot to do this week. We have to do a continuing resolution. We have to do an extension of SCHIP. And of course, after some 15 days on the defense authorization bill, it would be a good idea for us to begin to move toward wrapping it up. I don't know how many other Iraq amendments we could have on this bill, but there have been a number of them already. And I hope we can begin to wrap the DOD authorization bill up.
The majority leader has indicated we would then turn to the defense appropriations bill, which I think is a good idea. We're certainly going to be working with the majority to try to move that through the process as rapidly as possible in the hopes that we don't have to redo everything we just did on the defense authorizing bill on the appropriations bill.
Clearly, not having gotten a single appropriation bill down to the president for signature by the end of the fiscal year is not a good sign. It could well be a very long year, at this rate. But getting on the defense appropriation bill next week and trying to get that out of the Senate would be a step in the right direction.
I'm going to call on Senator Lott to talk about the state of play on SCHIP, and then Senator Kyl has an amendment with regard to Iran that we expect to be voting on in the very near future on the floor. So, Trent?
SEN. LOTT: Thank you very much, Leader. We do expect later on today, or certainly by morning, that we would receive the so-called SCHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, to come over from the House, and the leader will -- Harry Reid will file cloture on it and the Senate will vote on that. And it will to go the president and he's going to veto it, and the House, I believe, will sustain the veto.
Now, the correct thing for us to do is to work very quickly with the president to make sure this program is done in a proper way. This is a program we created in 1997 when I was involved in the leadership that produced this legislation to provide insurance for low-income children. That's what it's about, low-income children. But over the years, it has been moving up to include, you know, income from families up to as much as 72,000 (dollars), to include adults. That was not the intent. This is a program for children. We should quickly find a way to get an agreement on that and keep this program moving forward in a way that helps the low-income children have insurance. We can do that by making sure that we just have a straight, short-term extension or a longer-term extension at a level that will do the job. So I hope we would do that.
I also hope that at some point, as we've talked about over the years, that we will have automatic extension, continuing resolutions, rather than having to go through a series of votes and trying to bluff each other out.
We shouldn't have departments or children or people or -- trying to figure out whether they're going to have the funds they need or not. Sometimes there are very legitimate reasons for not getting our work done, but when you don't pass a single appropriations bill, you need to find a way to keep the government operating while we work out the disagreements.
SEN. KYL: Thank you. Let me speak to one amendment that I'm hoping we can get up for a vote. It actually relates to our efforts to stop the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, from its dangerous activities, training and supplying dangerous equipment, including the dangerous IEDs that have killed so many Americans and wounded others in Iraq -- to prevent them from continuing to oppose our forces in Iraq by naming them as a terrorist organization.
The reason this could be effective with regard to this group is that they have financial dealings around the world to help pay for what they do. They don't get all of their money just from the Iranian government. They operate in a somewhat autonomous way. And so the kind of economic sanctions that can be imposed on them could have a dramatic impact in reducing their ability to directly harm Americans in Iraq and to indirectly and through other surrogates spread terrorism around the world. Senator Lieberman and I have had this amendment pending for a long time. We're hoping to be able to get a vote on it and move the Defense bill forward.
As the leader said, this is now the end of the second week, 14 days of debate on the bill, almost all of which has been devoted to different Iraqi resolutions. Remember, this is the second time through. But there's important material in this bill, like a pay raise for the troops and the wounded warrior provisions and others that we've got to get passed, and it would be nice to do it before the beginning of the fiscal year. The majority leader's determination just before lunch to now add another extraneous matter, a nongermane matter to the bill, a second-degree amendment to an amendment that Senator Graham and I had that related directly to a provision of the bill -- but this totally nongermane, second-degree amendment, and file cloture on it may suggest that we're toward the end of debating Iraq resolutions, but it certainly doesn't suggest we're ready to let this bill go so that we can take care of our troops.
We need to move on with this legislation and quit using it as a forum for everything in the Democratic outbasket that has political ramifications but ignore the needs of our troops.
MR. : I just want to add to what Senator Kyl said and emphasize what the leader said. The Defense Authorization Bill is important because this is what provides the authority for the Department of Defense and for our men and women in uniform to do what they do day in and day out. It's wrong in my judgment to add things like hate crimes, immigration provisions, which the Democrat leader knows is going to be controversial, which is likely to bog down this bill.
And as Senator Kyl said, some very important provisions are in this bill that need to pass and need to pass soon. We need to make sure that the pay raise for our troops is authorized. We need to make sure that the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act, which was a bipartisan way to try to address the concerns raised at Walter Reed, is passed on a timely basis. And finally we need to make sure that the MRAPs, the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, to protect our troops from the IEDs in Iraq, that that is also authorized in a way that gets that equipment to them as soon as possible.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Take a couple of questions if there are any.
Q (Cross talk.)
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, how we end the Defense bill is not clear yet. It would be my preference that we not do all of these non- germane amendments on this bill, given the fact that we've spent an awful lot of time on the bill. We ought to really finish it, for all the reasons Senator Kyl and Senator Cornyn have pointed out.
You were up.
Q You mentioned -- yesterday, you talked about the CR -- (off mike) -- status of the negotiations. Specifically have you heard from the Defense Department -- (off mike)?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, I'm optimistic that -- I don't know this for sure. But I'm optimistic that there will be a number in the continuing resolution that does meet the Defense Department's needs for the next 45 days. I can't tell you that with total certainty yet. But we're optimistic that we will not end up having to offer an amendment on the CR to make sure that the defense needs of our country are met over the next 45 days.
Q Senator McConnell, tomorrow is the hearing with Senator Larry Craig. He has said that he still has not filed his formal letter of resignation to the governor of Idaho. And he also said that he still wasn't sure when or if he will resign, but that's still pending what happens tomorrow. What is your current thinking in terms of what you want Senator Craig to do, even if this legal proceeding is not concluded by September 30th?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, I really don't have anything to add on that issue to what I said a couple of weeks ago.
Q Which is?
SEN. MCCONNELL: To what I said a couple of weeks ago.
Q We don't remember. (Cross talk, laughter.)
SEN. MCCONNELL: You have great memories.
Q (Off mike) -- resign?
SEN. MCCONNELL: As I indicated a couple of weeks ago, you know, my remarks at that point I stand by today.
Anybody on another subject?
Okay. Thank you.
Q Do you see any movement or a so-called resolution on Iraq that would get enough support, get 90 votes by modifying the existing proposal? Both your side and the other side so-called centrist, they didn't want to do it, but they say their leadership isn't helping them in that. What's the state of play here?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, we've had a lot of Iraq votes over the course of the year. I think most people think that that's all we do here is have Iraq votes. I'm sure there could be more, but we've had plenty already.
SEN. LOTT: Could I add one other point on this SCHIP issue? It has now come to my attention there's another an illegal immigration aspect of the SCHIP, the child's health insurance provisions. I think it's referred to as express lanes, where, as a matter of fact, you know, children who are here with illegal immigrants would be able to take advantage of this children's health insurance program. And as people find out about this language, I think you're going to find there's going to be even more resistance to the way this legislation is currently written.
Q Thank you, Senator.