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Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008--Conference Report

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008--Conference Report

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Mr. McCAIN. President, I wish to discuss the appropriations package before this Chamber today. We find ourselves, once again, dealing with the bulk of our Nation's spending bills at the end of the year, behind schedule, devoid of the careful consideration these important measures warrant. It is distressing that year after year, the Congress fails to produce legislation on time and free of unrequested, unauthorized, and wasteful spending. It is unfortunate that this year is no different.

In hopes of avoiding a veto from the President on a bloated Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill, the majority has decided to lump the bill together with the popular Military Construction-Veterans Administration appropriations bill. Instead of allowing this body to consider each bill on its own merits through robust and transparent debate, the majority and its members of the appropriations committees have attempted to shield their wasteful ways with the treatment and well-being of our servicemen, women, and veterans covered under the MilCon-VA bill. Not only is this an unconscionable tactic, it also is a violation of Senate rules, specifically rule XXVIII and represents the continued devolution of our annual budgeting process. I am confident that there will be enough collective wisdom mustered today to uphold the Senate rules and send this conference report back to the House.

Let us address briefly the reasoning behind the President's threatened veto of the underlying bill. The Labor-HHS bill currently stands $9.8 billion above the President's request, and $841 million over the Senate-passed level. Not only is this an unacceptable inflation of the original funding request, but it also highlights the egregious practice of earmarking funds. During conference, behind closed doors, there were at least 117 earmarks added to the Labor-HHS portion of the bill, and an additional 109 earmarks inserted into the MilCon-VA portion. Overall, the package before us today contains an eye-popping total of nearly 2,200 earmarks. I am ashamed of this graphic display of waste. It is disconcerting that in this time of necessity for our men and women returning from service overseas, lawmakers have attempted to hijack a bill vital to ensuring their proper care and treatment.

As usual, the majority of earmarked funds in this bill will go to the States represented by members who serve on the appropriations committee. I have long stressed the necessity of reforming the excessive and irresponsible ways of earmarking, and the state of the bill before us today only reinforces that need. And to think, less than months ago, most Members heralded the enactment of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, believing it would change business as usual. Well, it hasn't.

Allow me to take a moment to highlight a few earmarks of particular note: $350,000 to study the relationship between residential floor coverings and distributive patterns of airborne particulates in Smyrna, GA; $320,000 for the American Jazz Museum, Kansas City, MO; $400,000 for a study of the feasibility of establishing a graduate school in the medical sciences at Radford University in Radford, VA; $130,000 for the First Ladies Museum in Canton, OH; $325,000 for the South Florida Science Museum, West Palm Beach, FL; $150,000 for the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa in Des Moines, IA; $150,000 for the American Ballet Theatre in New York, NY; $1.42 million for the virtual colonoscopy outreach program at Marshall University in West Virginia; $100,000 for the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum; $250,000 for exhibit preparation at the James K. Polk Presidential Hall TN; $75,000 for the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California; $211,900 for exhibit preparation at Utah Art and History Museum.

While some in this body may feel that it is in our vital national interest to spend $350,000 of the American taxpayers' money to study the spread of dust on residential floor coverings, I simply disagree. The above,mentioned projects are only a small snapshot of the many, many other wasteful items tucked away in the 853 pages of this bill.

Our Nation remains at war, and as a result we continue to see our brave service men and women in uniform returning home in need of comprehensive and effective care from our VA system. It is our responsibility as Members of Congress to address the needs of those who have born so valiantly the sacrifices of armed conflict by providing our VA system with the resources needed to accomplish its mission. The President has stated publicly his intention to sign a clean version of the MilCon-VA bill when it reaches his desk. However, rather than addressing the needs of our veterans in a timely fashion, the majority has chosen to unnecessarily delay passage of this vital bill. The American taxpayer expects more of us, as do our brave service men and women who are fighting abroad on our behalf. We must stop these Washington games and return to placing our Nation's interests before our own.

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