Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Oct. 3, 2007
Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (Senate - October 03, 2007)

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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I thank my colleagues for their courtesy.

Mr. President amendment No. 3142 is very simple. It provides the $23.6 billion in funding needed to replace every Army up-armored HMMWV in Iraq with a mine resistant ambush protected, or MRAP, vehicle.

It is exactly the same thing we did on the authorization bill that was passed Monday night.

Our commanders in the field tell us that MRAPs will reduce casualties by 67 to 80 percent.

The lead commander on the ground in Iraq, LTG Ray Odierno told us months ago that he wanted to replace each of the Army's approximately 18,000 up-armored HMMWVs in Iraq with an MRAP.

Instead of adjusting the requirement immediately, the Pentagon has taken its time to study this issue. They originally agreed that the Army should get 380 MRAPs. That was in December 2006.

Then, in March of this year, they agreed to 2,500.

In August, they added a few more and agreed to 2,726 for the Army.

This month, they have agreed that the general needs a little over half of what he asked for--10,000. Slowly they are getting there.

We have seen this movie before with the body armor and with the up-armored HMMWVs. Until Congress insisted that the better protection be fielded to all those in Iraq, it was not.

So, today, we are insisting that the Army get all of the 18,000 MRAPs the commanders in the field have asked for.

To be honest, I cannot understand why it is taking so long to agree to replace them all. It makes no sense. We know how effective these vehicles can be.

Just last week, General Pace, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Appropriations Committee that MRAPs have been tested at Aberdeen with 300 pounds of explosives below them and they survived.

Are we only supposed to care about the tactical advice of our commanders in the field when it is cheap?

I don't think that is what the American people or our military men and women expect from us.

I know some will say that it is not possible to build a total of 23,000 MRAPs in 12 to 15 months. Why not? Why not?

This is basically a modified truck. With real leadership and a national level commitment, America can certainly make this happen. I believe in the ``can-do'' spirit and deep patriotism of our businesses. MRAP manufacturers want to make the 23,000 vehicles needed to save the lives of our men and women on the front line.

But I also know that we have to do our part. In Congress, the best thing we can do to make sure it happens is to fully fund every vehicle needed upfront.

Contractors and subcontractors can only expand their capacity if we are clear on what we need and that we will fully fund it.

This amendment allows us to do that.

It also ensures that any delays in dealing with the overall wartime supplemental funding bill do not cause the production lines that are only now getting up to speed to shut down.

Once we provide the full funding, American businesses must step up and get it done and the Pentagon must manage the program aggressively and attentively and the President must make it clear that this is a national priority.

But we have no chance of making all of the needed vehicles, as quickly as possible, if we fund the program bit by bit, in fits and starts. We must do our part.

Once again, I ask my colleagues to weigh their options.

Do we do our best to save American lives, knowing that the only downside is the possible need to reprogram funding at the end of the year? Or do we care more about some unknown total wartime funding limit than those lives?

We have an obligation to provide the best possible protection to each and every military man and woman while they are in the line of fire. If these vehicles can reduce American casualties by two-thirds or more, how can we do anything else? I agree with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, GEN James Conway when he said, ``Anything less is immoral.''

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I say to my good friends, Senator Inouye and Senator Stevens, there are no two more seasoned or devoted Senators to protecting the military and our fighting men and women. I know my amendment with regard to so-called MRAPs, mine-resistant vehicles, is an inconvenience, and I am not being facetious when I say that. I know that my friend--and I don't have a closer friend in the Senate than Senator Inouye--supports the essence of what I am proposing, but there has been an attempt, understandably, to have all amendments that could be related in any way to Iraq placed on the supplemental. This amendment will be placed on the supplemental. But the truth is, we are not likely to get to the supplemental until January.

I know one of the Democratic leaders, Senator Durbin, is in the Chamber. He may know better than I if that is accurate, but that is my understanding. In this place, you have to have, as they say, a horse to ride. You have to have a vehicle to be able to attach something important that you support so that it will get some consideration.

The amendment I am proposing today is one that calls for a significant increase in the production of mine-resistant vehicles. I know I sound like a broken record to many of my colleagues since I started raising it last spring. This amendment is very simple, and it is costly. It provides the $23.6 billion needed to replace every Army up-armored HMMWV vehicle in Iraq with a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, so-called MRAPs.

It is exactly the same thing we did on the authorization bill that passed Monday night. Our commanders in the field told us as recently as 2 weeks ago--I met with some of those commanders, Marine commanders in Ramadi, and took a ride in a new mine-resistant vehicle. I also sat in an up-armored HMMWVs--so the Marines, from the two-star general to the sergeant who drove various vehicles, could make a point to me about how different they are.

They showed me a photograph of a roadside bomb having struck one of the new vehicles--that is a Cougar, which is one size of the up-armored mine-resistant vehicles and it showed where on, I believe, August 28, in that same city, a roadside bomb had exploded, 250 pounds of explosives.

And it literally blew this vehicle, which is many times the weight of the largest SUV any American drives in this country--I don't know the exact weight, but it is close to 38,000 pounds fully loaded--it blew it so high up in the air that it literally brought down the telephone wires. The wheels got caught in the telephone wires. A standard telephone pole, I don't know, are they 20, 25 feet, maybe more, maybe less? It blew the vehicle so high into the air it literally brought down the telephone wires. And when it hit, the vehicle, probably in an area the circumference of this Chamber, the pieces were spread all around the landscape. The engine would have been over by the Republican cloakroom, the drivetrain would have been over by the exit door on the Democratic side back toward the marble room, the axle would be sitting up by the Democratic cloakroom, and right in the middle of the Senate floor would be the cabin of the vehicle.

There were seven soldiers in that vehicle. Had that been an up-armored HMMWV, everyone would be dead. Not one of those soldiers died. Not one. They suffered severe concussions, four of them, but that was the worst of their injuries. And one of those young sergeants, as the brass went through showing me this and I got into vehicles and we drove and so on and so forth--we are now inside Ramadi--as I am getting out and leaving, one of those young soldiers was exuberant. First, he saluted me and said: Sir, as Senator Reed, a West Point graduate, is accustomed to having been done to him in the old days and even now--and then he became emotional in his thanks for that vehicle, thanking us for insisting on building them. It is truly a lifesaving vehicle.

Now, our commanders in the field tell us these Mine Resistant Ambush Protective vehicles are going to reduce casualties by 67 to 80 percent. That is the range, 67 to 80 percent. Put it another way, had they been riding around in these vehicles since we knew they were needed, we would have over a thousand fewer dead and over 10,000 fewer seriously wounded, literally, because over 70 percent of all the deaths and casualties are caused by IEDs, or roadside bombs. When I found out about how good these vehicles are last year in Iraq and then again in testimony the beginning of this calendar year, and then when a whistleblower came to me telling me commanders in the field had asked for these in February of 2005, I was dumbfounded as to why we weren't building them. With the great help of everyone on this floor, I think the vote was 97 to 0, we accelerated production by adding $1.5 billion to last year's wartime funding bill.

The lead commander on the ground in Iraq is Lieutenant General Odierno, and he told us 6 months ago that he wanted to replace the Army's approximately 18,000 up-armored HMMWVs with these new Mine Resistant vehicles. Instead of adjusting the requirement immediately, the Pentagon has taken time to study the issue. They originally agreed the Army should get 380--380--of these vehicles. That was in December of 2006. Then, in March of this year, after the Commandant of the Marine Corps said it was his highest moral priority to get his folks in 3,700 of these vehicles, they agreed to increase the number to 2,500 for the Army. In August, they added a few more and agreed to 2,726 for the Army. This month, they agreed that the general needs a little over half of what he asked for--10,000 of these vehicles.

Slowly we are getting there. But we have seen this movie before, Mr. President, with the body armor, with the up-armored HMMWVs. Until the Congress insisted that the better protection be fielded for all of those troops in Iraq, it was not. The catalyst came from here. We insisted. Remember just several years ago how many kids we were sending into battle without the proper body armor and how many National Guard units we were sending over who were not adequately equipped and how initially the military was threatening to discipline young women and men who were taking sheets of metal to put on the vehicles they drove on convoys ferrying equipment from the gulf all the way up into Baghdad? They were putting these sheets of steel on the sides of their doors and the bottom. They were threatened with being disciplined.

We have very short memories here. Very short memories. But in the meantime, a lot of people die. Some would have died inevitably, but a lot--a lot--would not have. So today we are insisting the Army get all of the 18,000 MRAPs the commanders in the field have asked for.

Now, to be honest, I can't understand why it is taking so long to agree to replace all these vehicles. It makes no sense. We know how effective these vehicles are. We surely can't be making an economic argument. Surely there is no one here who is going to say we can't afford to protect these troops with the technology we know--we know--we know--will protect these troops. Surely no one is going to make that argument.

Last week, General Pace, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Appropriations Committee that MRAPs have been tested in Aberdeen with 300 pounds of explosives below them--300 pounds--and they survive. Are we only supposed to care about the tactical judgement of the commanders in the field when it is cheap? I don't think that is what the American people think we are doing for our military. Our military men and women have a right to expect a lot more from us.

I know some say it is not possible to build a total of 23,000 MRAPs in 12 to 15 months. Why not? Why not? Imagine President Roosevelt, in the middle of World War II--and this war has lasted longer than World War II--having said: You know, we need to get X number more fighter aircraft over in theater. We need to have more landing craft for D-Day. But you know what. The present system just won't be able to build them all. We just can't do it. Can you imagine that being said? Can you fathom that being said?

I don't get it. I don't get it. Are we saying that we cannot mobilize, through the President of the United States and the weight of the United States Congress, the construction of vehicles that we know will save lives; that we know will reduce critical injuries? You are as dead in Baghdad as you were on Normandy Beach. You are as dead in Baghdad as you were on Normandy Beach. And the pain of the family of that fallen angel is not one bit different than the heroism we celebrate today in the Ken Burns documentary series on the Greatest Generation from World War II. There is no difference. There is no distinction. The pain is as searing. So I ask you all a question: Can you imagine during that war the Congress and the President saying: I don't think we can get this done?

Mr. President, this is basically a modified truck. With real leadership and a national level commitment, America can certainly make this happen. I believe that the can-do spirit and deep patriotism of our business men and women is as profound as it was back in the year 1942 or 1945. MRAP manufacturers want to make the 23,000 vehicles needed to save the lives of our men and women on the frontline. But we have to do our part.

In Congress, the best thing we can do to make sure it happens is to fully fund every vehicle needed up front. Contractors and subcontractors can only expand their capacity if we are clear on what we need and what we are prepared to fund. This amendment allows us to do that. It also ensures that any delays in dealing with the overall wartime supplemental funding bill do not cause the production lines that are only now getting up to speed to shut down. Said another way, we are finally getting these production lines up and running. There are five companies, some relatively small, that, based on contracts, have gone out and hired 200, 500, 1,000 more people. They have expanded their facilities to build these vehicles alone. But they can only expand to the degree to which they know they have a contract.

We funded these MRAPs in the last supplemental and the Continuing Resolution to the point that we are not going to be able to build any more of them by the time March comes along if we do not have money in this bill. We are not going to be able to build any more. If we wait until the supplemental to let these contracts, we will have a hiatus of 2 to 4 to 6 months where they shut down these lines. These are not mom-and-pop operations, but they are also not General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, or any other major automobile manufacturer. So this is about how many more months in delay getting these vehicles are we going to cause by not putting all of the funding in this appropriations bill. My amendment provides all of the funding needed. That is what my amendment will do.

It also ensures that any delays in dealing with the overall wartime supplemental funding bill will not cause production to shut down. Once we provide the full funding, American business must step up and get the job done, the Pentagon must manage the program aggressively and attentively, and the President is going to have to make it clear this is a national priority. But we have no chance of making all these needed vehicles as quickly as possible if we fund that program bit by bit, in fits and starts.

Once again, I ask my colleagues to weigh their options. Do we do our best to save American lives, knowing the only downside is the possible need to reprogram funding at the end of the year; or do we care more about the unknown total wartime funding limit than we care about these lives? I know every one of my colleagues would do anything in their power to increase the possibility that we reduce casualties. Well, here is the way to do it.

It seems to me that certain things are a matter of sacred honor and exceed anything having to do with budgets. We can argue the national interest is better protected and our physical security is better protected by building X, Y, or Z weapon system, and we can argue whether our failing to build it is going to affect the lives of the American people. That is a very fundamentally different issue than knowing you have something, that if you physically place an American soldier in that vehicle, you will increase by 60 to 80 percent the chance of that man or woman living, and yet not doing it. That is a different deal. This is not your ordinary appropriations program. It is a little bit like the ultimate body armor.

Would anybody here, if we knew that by spending X dollars more we could increase the life expectancy of every soldier by providing the right body armor in the theater, would we not do it, no matter what it cost? Well, this is a form of body armor, a form of body armor that we know, if it is possessed, is going to reduce the cause of over 70 percent of the casualties in theater. If these vehicles can reduce American casualties by two-thirds or more, I don't know how we can do anything else.

I agree with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, GEN James Conway, when he said: ``Anything less is immoral.'' Let me say it again: ``Anything less is immoral.''

So I urge my colleagues to support this amendment, and I ask for the yeas and nays on this vote when the appropriate time comes. I ask for them now, so that we know when the amendment is called up we get a vote.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Is there a sufficient second? There appears to be.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I yield the floor.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Hawaii.

Mr. INOUYE. Mr. President, there is no question that these vehicles, the MRAPs, save lives. The committee is well aware of that, and we concur with that. That is why, Mr. President, to date, Congress has provided nearly $11 billion for the rapid production and fielding of 8,000 MRAP vehicles.

As a result, there are now 435 MRAPs fielded in the theater, and by Memorial Day 2008 we will have fielded 8,000 MRAPs.

Believe me, we are doing everything possible to ensure the Department has sufficient funds to continue this production of MRAPs. On Monday, this week, in the short-term continuing resolution, we provided another additional $5.2 billion exclusively for MRAPs. Providing a specific appropriation in a continuing resolution is extremely unusual and demonstrates the commitment of the Congress, and in particular the Appropriations Committee, to ensure that all the funding that is necessary for MRAPs will be provided to the Department of Defense.

The vehicles manufactured with these funds will be produced in March and April of 2008 and fielded in the theater by Memorial Day 2008.

We are aware there is a remaining fiscal year 2008 requirement for $11.5 billion for MRAPs, even though the administration has not yet requested any funding. The additional $11.5 billion would fully fund the new increased program requirement of 15,274 vehicles, including 10,000 MRAPs for the Army.

The Department of Defense is seeking this $11.5 billion by November 15 in order to avoid a break in production. This is very important. We anticipate addressing this in the upcoming supplemental. But if it is not completed by November 15, it will be in the next continuing resolution.

The vehicles produced and procured with these funds would be produced by May through September 2008, approximately at a rate of 1,200 vehicles a month. This additional $11.5 billion for MRAP fully funds the program requirement in fiscal year 2008 and saturates the industrial base through the end of 2008--September 2008. Any funding provided in addition to the requirement of $11.5 billion, would be for vehicles that would not be produced--and I repeat--would not be produced until fiscal year 2009, and many vehicles would not be fielded in the theater until that spring, summer, and fall of 2009.

I believe many of us believe our troop presence in Iraq will be significantly reduced by then.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, will the Senator yield? I may be able to step away from this if--I think I heard my friend correctly. Did I hear him say that if in fact it is not clear that we are going to be able to prevent this gap in the shutdown of the line, that by November the Senator is saying the committee would have a continuing resolution that included the specific money?

Mr. INOUYE. That is $11.5 billion.

Mr. BIDEN. Then, if I understand this correctly, I think my friend and the Senator from Alaska are doing exactly what I asked for. My only worry is that, A, we make a commitment to the total of 23,000 in the supplemental, a commitment that would get us to 23,000; and, B, we do not have to wait until January. Because if that is the case, these small operations will have needed a 3- to 6-month lead time, once they get a contract, to keep the line going. But what I hear my friend saying is that we would, in November, if it didn't look like the supplemental was going to happen, we in November would fill that gap so there would not be a shutdown in these lines. Is that what my friend is saying?

Mr. INOUYE. I will give you my word, sir.

Mr. BIDEN. That is good enough for me. I am happy to withdraw the amendment. I have never known the Senator from Hawaii or the Senator from Alaska, when they gave their word, to do anything--do anything but that. The supplemental we are going to revisit in January, that has the additional money to get us to 23,000. What my friend is saying here is that $11.48 billion would be in any continuing resolution if we did not get to that?

Mr. INOUYE. That is $11.5 billion.

Mr. BIDEN. It is $11.5 billion.

AMENDMENT NO. 3142 WITHDRAWN

Mr. President, I would obviously prefer that it be put here. But I tell you, if there has ever been appropriate use of the expression someone's word is ``as good as gold,'' it is about my friend from Hawaii. I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

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