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Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 -- Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


CONSOLIDATED APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008--Continued -- (Senate - December 18, 2007)

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise to oppose the pending amendment by the Senator from Wisconsin, my friend. I strongly support the amendment that will be offered by the Republican leader that would deliver vital funding for our troops in Iraq.

The underlying House-passed bill is not only irresponsive to the facts on the ground in Iraq, it is simply irresponsible. It fails to provide any funding for our troops fighting in Iraq and actually contains an explicit prohibition against the use of funds for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The authors have compiled a bill of some 1,400 pages and an even larger joint explanatory statement chock-full of unnecessary spending, but they include not a dime for our troops in Iraq. They include not a dime for our troops in Iraq.

I would like our friends and colleagues and others to consider that the bill on the floor today contains $1.6 million for animal vaccines in Greenport, NY, but not a penny for our soldiers in Iraq; $477,000 for Barley Health Food Benefits but nothing for the troops in Iraq; $846,000 for the Father's Day Rally Committee of Philadelphia but not a dime for our sons and daughters who are fighting.

We are willing to spend $244,000 for bee research in Weslaco, TX, but not a dollar for our fighting men and women in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Anbar. It is a sad day--it is a sad day, indeed--when in the middle of a war this country must win, the Congress provides more funds for bee research than for the brave Americans risking their lives on our behalf.

For Congress to fail to provide the funds needed by our soldiers in the field is inexcusable under any circumstances, but it is especially disappointing right now at the very moment when General David Petraeus and his troops are achieving the kind of progress in Iraq that many dismissed as impossible a few months ago, including suspending disbelief in order to believe the surge was working. One has to suspend disbelief to believe it is not.

The bill's proponents seek, I suppose, a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq regardless of conditions on the ground or the views of our commanders in the field. If that sounds familiar, it should. It should sound familiar, my friends. The majority has thus far engaged in no less than 40 legislative attempts to achieve this misguided outcome.

The choice today is simple: Do we build upon the clear successes of our current strategy and give General Petraeus and the troops under his command the support they require to complete their mission or do we ignore the realities and legislate a premature end to our efforts in Iraq, accepting thereby all the terrible consequences that will ensue?

In case my colleagues missed it, a couple nights ago, there was a piece on the evening news of one of the major networks that pointed out that for the first time in a long time there was 24 hours in Baghdad without a single incident of violence. How you can ignore these facts on the ground is something I do not--will not--comprehend.

I had the privilege, along with my colleagues, Senator Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator Graham of South Carolina, of spending Thanksgiving with our troops in Iraq. On that trip, I saw and heard firsthand about the remarkable transformation these brave men and women in uniform have brought about this year. After nearly 4 years of mismanaged war, our military, in cooperation with the Iraqi security forces, has made significant gains under the new American counterinsurgency strategy, the so-called surge. Overall violence in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since the first year of the invasion. LTG Ray Odierno, the second in command in Iraq, said this week this improvement is due to the increase in American troops and better trained Iraqi forces--due to the increase in American troops and better trained Iraqi forces.

Now, you can believe LTG Ray Odierno or you can believe those on the other side of the aisle who want to bring to a halt the success we have achieved.

Improvised explosive device blasts, the foremost source of U.S. combat deaths, now occur at a rate lower than at any point since September 2004. This week, MG Joseph Fil, the commander for Baghdad, stated that attacks in Baghdad have fallen nearly 80 percent since November 2006, murders in Baghdad Province are down by some 90 percent over the same period, and vehicle- borne bombs have dropped by 70 percent.

So as Ronald Reagan used to say: Facts are stubborn things. Facts are stubborn things. These are the facts--not rhetoric but facts.

Major General Fil added that, today, there is no longer any part of Baghdad under al-Qaida control, though the terrorist group is ``still lurking in the shadows.'' I agree. They are on the run, but they are not defeated. They are on the run, but they are not defeated.

Last week, the violence in Anbar Province was the lowest ever recorded. The British handed control of southern Basra to the Iraqi Government. And in Diyala, one of most dangerous regions in Iraq, al-Qaida militants tried to retake several villages around the town of Khalis, only to see U.S.-backed local volunteers drive the terrorists away. That is the success of a classic counterinsurgency strategy. Tens of thousands of volunteers have joined ``awakening councils'' that aim to combat al-Qaida, and al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has begun warning of ``traitors'' among the insurgents in Iraq.

As a result of the hard-won gains our troops have secured, General Petraeus has been able to initiate a drawdown of U.S. forces, a drawdown tied not to an artificial timetable but based on security gains in-country. This drawdown, beginning with the removal without replacement of some 5,000 American troops, has commenced following a dramatic drop in American casualty rates and enhanced security throughout the country.

Al-Qaida's leadership knows which side is winning in Iraq. It may not be known in some parts of America and in this body, but al-Qaida knows. Al-Qaida knows who is winning in Iraq. Our soldiers know they have seized the momentum in this fight. Does the majority party understand we are succeeding under the new strategy? The proponents of this bill cannot continue forever to deny or disparage the reality of progress in Iraq or reject its connection to our new counterinsurgency strategy.

As General Odierno explained, with the new counterinsurgency operations, ``we have been able to eliminate key safe havens, liberate portions of the population and hamper the enemy's ability to conduct coordinated attacks.'' General Odierno went on to add: ``We have experienced a consistent and steady trend of increased security. ......and I believe continued aggressive operations by both Iraqi and coalition forces are the most effective way to extend our gains and continue to protect the citizens of Iraq.''

Given these realities, some proponents of precipitous withdrawal from Iraq have shifted their focus. While conceding, finally, that there have been dramatic security gains, they have begun seizing on the lackluster performance of the Iraqi Government to insist that we should abandon the successful strategy and withdraw U.S. forces. This would be a terrible mistake. Of course, there is no question that Iraq's national leaders must do more to promote reconciliation and improve governance and that the reduction in violence has created a window for political and economic progress that Iraqi leaders must seize, but let's not close that window. The likelihood that they make this progress would be vastly decreased--not increased--by a precipitous U.S. withdrawal. Whatever the failings of the imperfect democracy in Baghdad, they do not justify--either in terms of national interests or simple morality--abandoning it to the al-Qaida terrorists and Iranian-backed militias trying to destroy it.

None of this is to argue that Iraq has become completely safe or that violence has come down to an acceptable level or that victory lies just around the corner. On the contrary, the road ahead remains as it always has been: long and hard. Violence is still at an unacceptable level in some parts of the country. Unemployment remains high in many areas. The Maliki government remains unwilling to function as it must. No one can guarantee success or be certain about its progress or its prospects. We can, however, be certain about the prospects for defeat if we fail to fund our troops.

Make no mistake; despite the progress I have outlined, there is no cause for complacency. Just as we have managed to turn failure into success in 2007, we can likewise turn success back into failure in 2008, if we are not careful. As Major General Fil recently put it, progress toward securing the city remains fragile and there is ``absolutely a risk of going too quickly'' in drawing down troops. ``An immediate pullout too quickly would be a real serious threat to the stability here in Baghdad,'' he said. Al-Qaida is off balance, but they will come back swinging at us if we give them the chance.

Imagine for a moment if 1 of those 40 attempts to force a withdrawal from Iraq had been successful earlier this year. Rather than hearing from our commanders and troops in the field about the enormous progress, the decline in violence, the Iraqis seeking to return home, the decrease in al-Qaida influence, we would hear instead a very different story--a darker one--with terrible implications for the people of Iraq, the wider Middle East, and the security of the United States of America.

Some of my colleagues would like to believe that should the bill we are currently considering become law, without funding our troops in Iraq, it would mark the end of this long effort. They are wrong. Should the Congress force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, it would mark a new beginning, the start of a new, more dangerous effort to contain the forces unleashed by our disengagement. If we leave, we will be back. If we leave, we will be back in Iraq and elsewhere in many more desperate fights to protect our security and at an even greater cost in American lives and treasure. Now is not the time for us to lose our resolve.

That is why the Senate must adopt the McConnell amendment. The funding contained in this amendment is not as some have characterized it: ``The President's money.'' It is money for the troops. It is money for the brave Americans who are in harm's way as we speak. This funding is to provide them with the equipment and proper training they require to fulfill their mission; funding to protect our men and women from roadside bombs and other attacks; funding to enable them to bring this war to a successful and honorable end. If the funding is not included, the President will very rightly veto this omnibus measure.

I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle that I understand the frustration many feel after nearly 4 years of mismanaged war. I share their frustration and sorrow. But we must remember to whom we owe our allegiance--not to short-term political gain but to the security of America, to those brave men and women who risk all to ensure it, and to the ideals upon which our Nation was founded. That responsibility is our dearest privilege, and to be judged by history to have discharged it honorably will in the end matter so much more to all of us than any fleeting glory of popular acclaim, electoral advantage, or office. Let us not sacrifice the remarkable gains our service men and women have made by engaging in a game of political brinkmanship. There is far, far too much at stake.

I urge my colleagues to support the McConnell amendment and to reject this amendment. I urge my colleagues to fund our troops and to support them so that when they do return to us, they return with the honor and success their valiant efforts have earned. They and the American people whom they are entrusted to protect deserve nothing less.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, fiscal year 2008 began 79 days ago. And yet here we are at the end of the calendar year--with Christmas one week away--and everyone scrambling to finally get our work done and get out of town. This process, and the monstrosity it has produced, is the height of irresponsibility. We owe the taxpayer more than this.

In the past, I have stood here on the Senate floor to speak about how our economic situation and our vital national security concerns require us to take greater effort in prioritizing our Federal spending and that we could no longer afford, literally, ``business as usual.'' Actually, Mr. President, what we have before us is even worse than business as usual because the bill we received from the House provides not a single penny to fund our ongoing mission in Iraq. We are at war and our men and women serving in Iraq today continue to face a fierce and determined enemy--and this bill does not fund their mission. The omission of Iraq funding is no more than a political stunt--and we all know it. What kind of message does this send to those brave men and women in the field?

Unfortunately, little has changed over the years. Here we are again, nearly 3 full months into fiscal year 2008, and we have before us another appropriations monster. Let me remind my colleagues that, because of our inability to get much done around here under the regular order, we have been forced to consider huge omnibus appropriations bills and one long-term continuing resolution in 5 of the last 6 fiscal years.

The bill before us today is more than 1,400 pages long and is accompanied by a joint explanatory statement that was so big they couldn't even number the pages. This bill consolidates 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills with a price tag of nearly $475 billion. Amazingly, this bill contains 9,170 earmarks. Add those to the 2,161 earmarks that were contained in the Defense appropriations bill and the grand total for fiscal year 2008 earmarks stands at 11,331 unnecessary, wasteful, run-of-the-mill pork barrel projects. And that is just for the House and Senate-passed bill. I can only imagine what this will look like when it comes out of conference.

A New York Times/CBS News poll that was released today shows that the approval rating of Congress stands at 21 percent. Can we blame the American people for holding us in such low esteem? Let's look at how we are spending their hard earned tax dollars.

Here is just a sampling of some of the earmarks contained in this bill: $150,000 for the STEEED, Soaring Toward Educational Enrichment via Equine Discovery, Youth Program in Washington, DC. Basically this is an earmark of $150,000 so that disadvantaged kids can ride horses; $50,000 for the construction of a National Mule and Packers Museum in Bishop, CA; $100,000 for Cooters Pond Park in Prattville, AL; $625,000 for the Historic Congressional Cemetery right here on Capitol Hill; $1.95 million for the City College of NY for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service; $975,000 for the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, AR; $1.628 million for animal vaccines in Greenport, NY; $477,000 for Barley Health Food Benefits in Beltsville, MD; $244,000 for Bee Research in Weslaco, TX; $10 million to Nevada for the design and construction of the Derby Dam fish screen to allow passage of fish; $1.6 million for sensitivity training for law enforcement in Los Angeles; $1.786 million to develop an exhibit for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Michigan; $846,000 to the Father's Day Rally Committee in Philadelphia, PA; $125,000 for International Mother's Day Shrine in Grafton, WV; $470,000 for an Oyster Hatchery Economic Pilot Program, Morgan State University, MD; $446,500 for Horseshoe Crab Research, Virginia Tech, VA; $125,000 for the Polish American Cultural Center in Philadelphia, PA; $400,000 for the National Iron Worker's Training Program; $350,000 for leafy spurge control in North Dakota; $1.725 million for the Hudson Valley Welcome Center in Hyde Park, NY.

This omnibus was made available just yesterday, yet approved by the House last night. Imagine that--a 1,445 page bill, with a joint explanatory statement that is nine inches tall and costs $475 billion was made available and voted on by both chambers in less than 48 hours. Simply remarkable. It is impossible for us to know exactly what is in this thing, and we are expected to simply take the appropriators word that it is all okay. Well, I have been around here long enough to know that a bill of this size, put together behind closed doors and rammed through at the last minute, cannot be all good. And I know it will be a long time before all of the hidden provisions in this legislation are exposed.

I fully recognize that it isn't necessarily the fault of the appropriators that we are forced into this new pattern of adopting omnibus appropriations measures. Overly partisan politics has largely prevented us from following the regular legislative order, and that fact must change. But while it may not be the appropriators fault that we are forced to consider omnibus appropriations measures, it is their decision to continue to load them up with unauthorized earmarks and at a rate that seems only increases year after year.

When we ram through a gigantic bill, spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer's dollars with little or no debate because we want to go home for Christmas, we send the message to the American people that we are not serious enough about our jobs. We essentially accomplish little almost all year long because everything requires 60 votes, and then, at the very last minute, we scramble around and throw together a mammoth bill like the one before us today. We are sending the signal that it is more important for us to be able to issue press releases, and I am sure hundreds of them will be going out today, about how much pork we have been able to get for our States and districts, than we are about good government and fiscal responsibility. How can we, in good conscience, defend this behavior to the American people?

Among the most egregious aspects of this bill are the so-called ``economic development initiatives'' funded under the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This account is nothing more than a slush fund for the appropriators--plain and simple. Contained within this section of the joint explanatory statement are 741 locality-specific earmarks costing nearly $180 million. These pork barrel projects are spread out over 42 pages and fund everything from construction of coastal trails, nature education centers, public parks and renovations for museums and theaters.

On defense matters, the omnibus appropriations bill proposes funding $1.18 billion in military construction projects that were not requested by the President. Of that amount, $584 million was vetted by both the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees to ensure that the services' critical unfunded priorities requirements were met. On the Senate floor, those projects were further reviewed, and approved in the Senate versions of the authorization and appropriations bills.

However, this bloated omnibus appropriations bill also includes another $580 million--for 108 military ``airdropped'' construction projects, that is, funding for projects that were not included in any previous appropriations bill passed by the House or Senate. The House appropriators have once again waited until the last minute to present these new spending items to skirt responsibility for their pork spending. Mr. President, in the ethics reform law we passed with much fanfare earlier this year, we amended Senate rule 44 specifically to discourage such ``airdropping'' of projects in the dead of night. In an unprecedented and unfortunate act, the majority accepted $328 million of airdropped military construction authorizations into the recently passed national defense authorization bill. It was in part for this reason that I reluctantly decided not to sign the defense authorization conference report. I could not then, and cannot now, support the parachuting of new spending items into final reports that have not been transparently vetted on the floor of Congress. I am very disappointed that we in the Senate continue to condone this irresponsible practice in light of our efforts to prevent it with ethics reform.

The omnibus appropriations bill also earmarks over $41 million for the planning and design of pork military construction projects requested by Members of Congress. Congress normally authorizes funding annually for each military service to plan and design their critical future military construction priorities. This bill disregards the military's priorities and earmarks funds towards specific projects--without the Department being given the opportunity to determine whether or not those projects reflect actual military requirements.

Even more egregious is that we are proposing to pay for this airdropped pork by cutting over $900 million from the amount of $8.1 billion requested by the President to carry out the critical military construction activities related to the 2005 defense base closure and realignment round. The Department of Defense and the local communities affected by BRAC need enough funding to meet the statutory deadline of September 2011. To underfund BRAC in order to pay for earmarks is a sad reflection on the priorities of this Congress, which has again unabashedly put parochial interests above the needs of the Defense Department, our local communities and the American taxpayer.

We simply must start making some very tough decisions around here if we are serious about improving our fiscal future. We need to be thinking about the future of America and the future generations who are going to be paying the tab for our continued spending. It is simply not fiscally responsible for us to continue to load up appropriations bills with wasteful and unnecessary spending, and good deals for special interests and their lobbyists. We have had ample opportunities to tighten our belts in this town in recent years, and we have taken a pass each and every time. We can't put off the inevitable any longer.

In a report on our long-term budget outlook issued this month, the Congressional Budget Office states this: ``Significant uncertainty surrounds long-term fiscal projections, but under any plausible scenario, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path--that is, federal debt will grow much faster than the economy over the long run. In the absence of significant changes in policy, rising costs for health care and the aging of the U.S. population will cause federal spending to grow rapidly.''

The report goes on to say that: ``If outlays increased as projected and revenues did not grow at a corresponding rate, deficits would climb and federal debt would grow significantly. Substantial budget deficits would reduce national saving, which would lead to an increase in borrowing from abroad and lower levels of domestic investment that in turn would constrain income growth in the United States. In the extreme, deficits could seriously harm the economy. Such economic damage could be averted by putting the nation on a sustainable fiscal course, which would require some combination of less spending and more revenues than the amounts now projected. Making such changes sooner rather than later would lessen the risk that an unsustainable fiscal path poses to the economy.'' Again--this is not my dire prediction, it comes from our own CBO.

To underscore the urgency of the problem, in a speech at The National Press Club just yesterday, David Walker, the Comptroller General of the United States announced that--for the eleventh straight year--the Federal Government failed its financial audit. Mr. Walker said that ``the federal government's total liabilities and unfunded commitments for future benefits payments promised under the current Social Security and Medicare programs are now estimated at $53 trillion, in current dollar terms, up from about $20 trillion in 2000. This translates into a defacto mortgage of about $455,000 for every American household and there's no house to back this mortgage. In other words, our government has made a whole lot of promises that, in the long run, it cannot possibly keep without huge tax increases.''

The Comptroller General also highlighted a specific program that serves as an example of the serious problems we face. He said: ``The prescription drug benefit alone represents about $8 trillion of Medicare's $34 trillion gap. Incredibly, this number was not disclosed or discussed until after the Congress had voted on the bill and the President had signed it into law. Generations of Americans will be paying the price--with compound interest--for this new entitlement benefit.'' He went on to note that: ``Unfortunately, once federal programs or agencies are created, the tendency is to fund them in perpetuity. Washington rarely seems to question the wisdom of its existing commitments. Instead, it simply adds new programs and initiatives on top of the old ones. This continual layering is a key reason our government has grown so large, so expensive, so inefficient, and in some cases, so ineffective.''

Mr. Walker ended his speech by saying ``If all of us do our part, and if we start making tough choices sooner rather than later, we can keep America great, ensure that our future is better than the past, and ensure that our great nation is the first republic to stand the test of time. To me, that is a cause worth fighting for.'' I agree wholeheartedly. And I say to my colleagues: Let's start making those tough choices today. We have to face the facts, and one fact is that we can't continue to spend taxpayer's dollars on wasteful, unnecessary pork barrel projects or cater to wealthy corporate special interests any longer. The American people won't stand for it, and they shouldn't. They deserve better treatment from us.

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