DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS -- (Senate - October 04, 2007)
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, Republicans and Democrats have been debating all year long about the troops. This has not been a debate about who wants to bring them home. Frankly, all of us want to bring them home. It has been a debate about whom do you trust to decide when these troops come home, about who has the authority and judgment to make decisions about how to protect our national security interests in the Persian Gulf. Republicans think it should be the Commander in Chief in consultation with his commanders on the ground. We don't think our foreign policy should be drafted by MoveOn.org or CODEPINK.
However, on one thing we have almost all agreed: When we have forces in the field, we ought to fund them. Once they are over there, you do not leave them guessing about whether they are going to eat or be clothed or have the equipment they need to do their jobs, and you don't leave their replacement units wondering whether they will be trained or equipped.
In the heat of the first Iraq debate, we passed by a strong bipartisan vote of 82 to 16 the Gregg resolution expressing the sense of Congress that no funds should be cut off or even reduced for troops in the field which would result in undermining their safety or their ability to complete their mission. We passed, by an overwhelming 96-to-2 vote, the Murray resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that no action should be taken to undermine the safety of the Armed Forces of the United States or impact their ability to complete their missions. And we repeatedly rejected the Feingold amendment as recently as yesterday, once again, that would cut off funds for the troops after a date certain next June regardless of whether they have completed their mission.
Under the Feingold amendment, which forbids U.S. troops from fighting anyone but al-Qaida and its affiliates, we would have to deploy a brigade of lawyers to interview the enemy, and we would lose the ability to gather the kind of intelligence from Iraqis themselves--intelligence that has been an invaluable component of the Petraeus plan so far. The Iraqi people are talking to us now because they feel safer having U.S. troops around. Pulling those troops out of the neighborhoods and replacing them with snipers in helicopters would cut us off from the very people who are helping us find the targets in the first place.
This Senate has argued for months about Iraq, but on this one point almost all of us have agreed again and again and again: You don't cut funds to troops who are already in the field. Yet now it seems even that may be about to change.
All last year, the Democrats complained that the President was hiding his spending requests for the war by leaving them out of the Defense spending bill and putting them into a supplemental instead. So earlier this year, he responded to those criticisms in good faith by making his request in concert with the DOD appropriations bill. He said we would need about $150 billion for 2008.
The majority has been sitting on this request for 8 months, and now they have made a conscious decision to leave it out of the Defense spending bill altogether. Some of them are arguing that the Defense Department has the legal authority to sustain the war on its own. That is right, they could do that, but what the Defense Department cannot do is plan ahead without a future spending commitment from this Congress. They cannot plan for training, equipment, feeding, or protecting our troops until they know the money will be there beyond the immediate future, and they cannot plan to be ready for any other operations that might arise outside of the current conflicts. This is no way to run a Defense Department, it is no way to treat the troops, and it is entirely inconsistent with the expressions of support for the troops that we registered with the
Gregg and Murray resolutions and which we reaffirmed repeatedly, including yesterday, by rejecting the Feingold amendment.
All summer, America and its allies waited for GEN David Petraeus to come to the Hill and tell us about the prospects in Iraq. We were encouraged when he told us the military objectives of his strategy were in large measure being met. We were proud when he told us that in the face of tough enemies and the brutal summer heat, coalition and Iraqi security forces had achieved real progress toward achieving their goals, in large part because they dealt what he described as a ``significant blow''--a significant blow--to al-Qaida.
General Petraeus recommended that as a result of these early successes, we can begin to draw down our troops beginning this year. That drawdown has already begun. Last month, the Marine Expeditionary Unit that was deployed as part of the surge left Iraq after a job well done. A combat brigade team will leave in mid-December, with four others and two surge marine battalions to follow in the first half of next year. This was General Petraeus's cautious but expert plan for building on the successes we have made in Iraq. The President accepted that plan, and a majority of Americans, including a majority of Democrats, if we are to believe the polls, think it is a good idea.
We have a new strategy in Iraq, according to the general in charge. It is working, and we owe it to the men and women in the field, first of all, to keep a commitment we have already made to fund them while they are carrying out that strategy. We cannot, we must not close this session without providing the funding these troops need.
We also owe it to them to bring them home in a way that reflects the best judgment of their commanders. General Petraeus gave us a rare and valuable glimpse into the minds of our soldiers and marines when he testified on Capitol Hill last month. General Petraeus said:
None of us want to stay in Iraq forever. We all want to come home. We all have days of frustration and all the rest of that. But what we want to do is come home the right way, having added to the heritage of our services, accomplished the mission that our country has laid out for us.
That is what General Petraeus had to say. Then he gave us an idea of the caliber of the men and women who are serving our country in Iraq. Talking more about the commitment they have to their task, here is what General Petraeus said:
I think that that's a very important factor in what our soldiers are doing, in addition to the fact that, frankly, they also just respect the individuals with whom they are carrying out this important mission, the men and women on their right and left who share very important values, among them selfless service and devotion to duty. And that, indeed, is a huge factor in why many of us continue to serve and to stay in uniform, because the privilege of serving with such individuals is truly enormous.
The Defense Department is currently revising its spending requests for the current fiscal year, but that is no reason to deny the funds it already said it needs to get through the spring. The fact that we are waiting on a request for more is not an excuse to deliver nothing.
The men and women who are serving our country deserve better. Let's not pass up the chance to acknowledge their ``selfless service and devotion to duty'' by giving them exactly what they need--before we conclude this session of Congress.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.