CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2005
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Mr. President, we are all in a thanking mode, and I think it is appropriate that we try to do as much as we can, in a bipartisan fashion, when it comes to the military.
We will have our differences and funding and our differences about priorities in terms of what helps the economy and what helps to control the deficit. But I want to acknowledge the work of Chairman Nickles' staff and him personally for allowing this amendment to be accepted as part of the budget because working together, in a bipartisan fashion, we are going to carve out about $5.6 billion to be utilized to help alleviate the Guard and Reserve health care problems that currently exist. And Senator Bunning's measured, upgraded GI bill benefits will also be part of the budget. To me, that is a good priority to have made. We have promised to pay for this. I think that is a good statement to have made, too.
Once the authorizing committee gets to work with Senator Warner, and then, hopefully, Senator Stevens, who has been a big champion of this cause, they will appropriate what we do on the authorizing committee, that it will be paid for, and that we can bring this program in under the $5.6 billion amount. Senator McCain and others have ideas of how the employer community can contribute.
But I would like to inform those maybe listening in the Guard and Reserve community that your needs are well understood by this body, and there is a real bipartisan effort to meet those needs.
To those in the Active Forces, I think we have tried to upgrade your benefit package, tried to increase your pay. You have earned every penny of it, and then some. We are trying to improve the quality of life of those people stationed overseas and their families.
This is a team effort. Nothing about the Guard and Reserve takes away from the Active Forces. Forty percent of the people in Iraq, by the end of the year, will be Guard and Reserve members. When a guardsman or reservist is called to active duty, it has its own unique stress. God knows their is stress on our active-duty families who are serving in the military and have their family members in harm's way.
More times than not, when you are called to active duty, your pay goes down. There are provisions in our Federal law that will allow some renegotiating of loans but, at the end of the day, it is a very stressful event financially for families.
This one aspect, health care, is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. As I stated before, about one in four people called from the Reserve and Guard community to active duty are not able to be deployed immediately because of health care problems. The No. 1 disqualifying event is dental problems.
When you think about it, a lot of private plans do not have a dental component to it. So by allowing Guard and Reserve members to be part of the military health care system year round, whether they are deployed or not, I think readiness goes up dramatically.
When we look at writing this bill, that would be one of the selling points. I was in Iraq last summer with a delegation of Senators. The Presiding Officer was with us. It was a wonderful opportunity to understand how difficult service overseas can be and how stressful it is being in harm's way. You come away with a great sense of pride about all those serving our country. As the Presiding Officer will recall, we had nine C-130 flights in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eight of the nine crews were Guard crews. The last was a Reserve crew. All the 130 crews were from the Guard and Reserve community. That duplicates itself in many other areas-MPs, civil affairs. There is a heavy reliance on Guard and Reserves.
I remember on one of the flights the pilot and the copilot were going to be first-time dads. One person worked for Southwestern Bell. Southwestern Bell voluntarily extended health care coverage for the family, even though he was called back to duty, so that person's wife did not have to change doctors or hospitals. The copilot was a realtor and he didn't have such an opportunity. So his wife had to change doctors and hospitals late in the pregnancy, and it was a very stressful event.
One thing about providing full-time TRICARE eligibility to those who want to pay the premium, we are asking guardsmen and reservists to contribute to the cost. That is only fair, and it is a very good deal. They will be contributing out of their pocket, like their active-duty counterparts. One of the benefits is, your family doesn't have to bounce around from one health care provider to another, even when you change plans. Some people have been deployed already three times. The likelihood of their utilization in the future is greater, not less. Adopting this amendment as part of the budget allows us to take some money to meet those needs.
I need to say this about Senators DASCHLE and LEAHY and CLINTON, and our other Democratic sponsors: We wouldn't be here without Senator Daschle. I don't know how to say it any clearer. We would not have made it this far if he had not taken on this cause and pushed as hard as he could push. He has been around here a lot longer than I have. It really did matter. He and I may vote differently for the rest of the week, but I have great admiration for him as a person and we will vote together today. At the end of the week he may have a different view about what the budget does for the country, but we will have agreement on this, that the Guard and Reserve community is one step closer to getting the help they deserve. I publicly acknowledge that and thank him. It has been a very pleasurable, enjoyable experience. We are not there yet, but we are closer than when we began.
I am the only Member of the Senate who is in the Reserves. I recently got promoted and made a joke about that, showing how stressed out we are in the military if I am promoted. I am proud of my service. I have never been in harm's way.
The one thing I got from that experience, having been on Active Duty for 6½ years, serving overseas-I was in the Guard as a support person in Alaska, doing legal work for families and military members being deployed-I know how stressful it is for families left behind and how stressful it is for the pilots and their crews.
Here we are 10 years later plus, involved in another major operation to fight the enemies of this country who, if they had their way, little girls wouldn't to go school and there would be only one way to worship God. It would be their way. And if you differed, you would die.
This is a huge event we are undertaking, the war on terrorism. The Guard and Reserve community is playing a bigger role than ever.
The cold war dynamic with the Guard and Reserve has changed with the war on terrorism. They are indispensable. That will not change anytime soon. The stress on the forces is as great as it has ever been in my military career, and the benefit package has not been changed substantially in 30 years. Now is the time to come together, Republicans and Democrats, and put on the table new benefits for those serving their country in a very patriotic and unselfish way.
With that, I yield to the minority leader and my colleague on this effort, Senator Daschle.