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30-Something Working Group

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you, Madam Speaker, and good job on my name pronunciation. I have a hard time with it too.

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to begin the 30-Something Working Group's special order hour tonight. Speaker Pelosi has given us the privilege to come to the floor night after night to talk about the issues that are important to the American people, from our generation's perspective. And it is something that we have appreciated for a number of years because we've had an opportunity to engage the next generation of Americans, who clearly are yearning for their government to be responsive to them, to have their confidence in their government restored.

And tonight what we want to focus on, particularly because General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker came to Capitol Hill this week to talk about the so-called progress, or lack thereof, which is a better expression, in the war in Iraq, we felt it was important to highlight tonight the absolute cost of the war in Iraq and the toll that it is taking on, not just our military troops, but their families and on America as a whole.

And I think there is no more telling statement that could be made than the one that was made by General Petraeus himself in response to Senator Evan Bayh's question, or comment, that there was much ambiguity in Iraq. And General Petraeus conceded that point.

General Petraeus stated this week, in fact I believe it was today, that in Iraq we haven't turned any corners; we haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator, he said, referencing President Bush and former Vietnam-era General William Westmoreland's famous phrases.

It is clear that we have made virtually no progress, and that the only things that we are celebrating at this point is that there has been a reduction in violence. I wonder what that has brought us. What has that brought Americans?

Well, let's go through what the so-called progress in Iraq that was described by General Petraeus today and this week, what that's brought us.

We spend about $339 million in Iraq every single day, Madam Speaker. $339 million. And I'd like to go through the actual monetary costs of the war in a little bit. But let me just talk about what $339 million would get us and the investments that we could make in America, domestically, in the event that we were not hopelessly mired in this war in Iraq.

$339 million would get us 2,060 more Border Patrol agents that could be hired to protect our borders for a year.

18,000 more students could receive Pell Grants to help them attend college for a year with $339 million.

48,000 homeless veterans could be provided with a place to live for a year.

317,000 more children could receive every recommended vaccination for a year.

955,000 families could get help with their energy bills through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program, that's the LIHEAP program, for a year.

Nearly 480,000 women, infants and children could receive nutritional help with the WIC program for a year.

2.6 million Americans without adequate health insurance could have access to medical and dental care at community health centers for a year for $339 million.

More than 100 local communities could make improvements to their drinking water with help from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for a year.

I could continue on and on, Madam Speaker, listing all the important investments that we could and should be making, were we not spending $339 million in Iraq every day.

Now, let me just make that comparison again. I'm talking $339 million that we're spending in Iraq every day, and the list I just went through details what $339 million would buy for a year.

Now, I went home to my district a couple of weeks ago when we went into recess and talked to my constituents, had a lot of interaction with them. And you know, what was amazing was how top of mind the economy is.

We're less than a week from the April 15 tax deadline, and I'm sure that there are folks out there tonight that are sitting and doing their taxes while trying to figure out how they're going to write that check when they're done, and wondering how they're going to take their child to the doctor if they don't have health insurance, wondering how they're going to make sure that they can put food on the table and fill their gas tank, because now that gas is over $3 a gallon, really over $3.30 a gallon, it boggles the mind of my constituents and I know the constituents of virtually every Member, no matter what party we represent, that we are actually still, 5 years later, in Iraq, with an administration that just doesn't seem to get it; that doesn't seem to be willing to recognize that it is time to bring our troops home; that we have taken too great a toll.

The question that my constituents and that Americans are asking is, how much is too much? At what point do we say the cost is too great?

I think you have to take a look at the toll that this is taking on military families. If we're not going to say that the investments we can't make because we're spending so much money in Iraq are worth the cost, then let's look at what the military leadership is saying about the toll that this war is taking on our troops.

An Army study of mental health, and this is from an article a couple of days ago, April 6 in the New York Times, an Army study of mental health showed that 27 percent of noncommissioned officers, a critically important group, on their third or fourth tour, exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders. That figure is far higher than the roughly 12 percent who exhibit those symptoms after one tour, and the 18 1/2 percent who develop the disorders after a second deployment, according to the study which was conducted by the Army Surgeon General's mental health advisory team.

So we're not talking about organizations conducting studies examining the mental health of our troops that are outside the military process. We're talking about military organizations that are saying that the strain on our troops mentally has really reached a breaking point.

We have combat troops that have been sent to Iraq for a third and fourth time, where more than one in four, more than one in four, show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of soldiers' mental health. There is an increasing alarm about the mental health of our troops and, at some point, something has to give.

Again, when do we say enough is enough? When do we say that we have to make sure that we can focus on the needs here in the United States of America?

We are struggling with an economy that is at its breaking point. Yet, the economy in Iraq seems to be thriving. The Iraqi government is actually dealing with a budget surplus, and we are facing a deficit. There's something wrong with that picture, Madam Speaker.

Let me just, I really want to turn, I think people should be given a really clear picture about the monetary cost that we are dealing with when it comes to this war, this ongoing and continuous war in Iraq.

This is from our nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report, the Cost of Iraq War Rising. Here's the breakdown of what we're spending in Iraq per year, per month, per week, per day, per hour, per minute and per second.

If you take a look at the number per year, the amount per year that we are spending in Iraq, we're spending $123.6 billion per year.

Now, that's a hard number to maybe get your mind around. Billions and millions of dollars are very big numbers that most people aren't dealing with every day in their daily life.

So let's go down to the monthly expenditure that we're making here. That amounts to $10.3 billion.

But if we want to drill down a little bit further and deal with the weekly and daily expenditures, weekly, we're spending $2,376,923,077. Per day we're spending almost $339 million, as I described a few minutes ago.

But hourly, this is really the number, Madam Speaker, that I think will hit home with virtually all Americans. We are spending, hourly, in Iraq, and this is, again, third-party validator, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report on the cost of the Iraq war and its rising cost. Per hour we are spending $14,109,589 in Iraq.

I don't think it's necessary for me to go down to the minute and the second. I think the point is well made. $14 million an hour. I mean, that is just unbelievable.

How many is too much? When do we say that the toll that this is taking on our troops is just beyond our capacity? Since the start of the war in Iraq, we have had 4,013 brave American men and women in uniform that have been killed. We have an estimated almost 30,000 servicemembers that have been wounded in Iraq, and as of March 1, more than 31,300 have been treated for noncombat injuries and illness.

According, again, to the Army's own mental health advisory team, soldiers who are on their second, third, and fourth deployments report low morale, more mental health problems, and more stress-related work problems.

Now, Madam Speaker, these numbers right here really sent chills down my spine. An estimated three-quarters of a million troops have been discharged since the war in Iraq began, many of whom have had compromised mental and physical health. An estimated 260,000 have been treated at veterans' health facilities, nearly 100,000 have been diagnosed as having mental health conditions, and an additional 200,000 have received some level of care from walk-in facilities. That is just unbelievable.

I can tell you that I have been to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit our wounded troops that have come back from Iraq. I've told this story during the 30-Something Working Group in the past. I will tell it again because really, as a mom with young kids, it was so disturbing to me.

I walked into this young soldier's room to talk to him about his injury and to talk to him about what he went through, and his wife and his 6-year-old little boy were in there with him. And I had a nice chance to chat with the little boy. He was very exuberant and excited. It was really a lovely conversation. He was so excited. His dad had just come back from his third tour in Iraq, each of a year. Now remember, this little boy was 6 years old, and the father was telling me he had a stress-related mental health injury, and the father was telling me about how he was supposed to be finished with his tour in August, was still hoping to go back, by the way, which is amazing because these troops that represent the United States of America are just absolutely so committed and so patriotic, and really, I just so admire their bravery.

But what the little boy said when I had a chance to talk to him, he said he was so excited, my daddy is coming home after August. And when he said that, it occurred to me that this little boy being 6 and his father having been through three 1-year deployments in Iraq, this father had missed half of his son's life. Half of his son's life. That just was mind-boggling to me being a mom of 8-year-old twins and a 4-year-old. I just can't even imagine. I have children close to that age, and I can't imagine having missed half their life. I mean, that just takes a toll on families. It takes a toll on marriage.

Madam Speaker, even the time that myself and other parents serving in Congress here are away from our families, I know the toll that it takes on my husband when I'm here just working in Washington and not with him and leaving my kids with him to make sure that he gets them bathed and gets their dinner and the homework is done and all of the things that have to be done on a daily basis with families. It takes a toll that I am here and not with him to help him do that.

Add the stress of your family member being thousands of miles across the world in a war zone, in a war situation, not knowing whether they're going to ever come back, the not knowing when they're going to come back because the military keeps extending these tours of duty, keeps sending them back, does not give them enough rest in between the tours of duty. The Army, over the last several years, has extended the rest, extended the tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months, Madam Speaker, so now we are beyond a year for deployments. And General Petraeus said we may be able, by the end of the summer to pull back the length of the deployments from 15 months to 12 months, but we're still going to be at 140,000 troops once we draw down the amount of the surge. That means there is no difference, Madam Speaker, between where we are now and where we were before the start of the surge. How do you call that progress?

Someone is using a different dictionary than I am if that's progress. I mean, the dictionary that I use to define ``progress'' says that we see improvement, that the quality of life improves, that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, which General Petraeus clearly said we do not see right now.

I want to just quote, and in the 30-Something Working Group, we try to use third-party validators. So it is not just our words that we use to demonstrate the statements that we are making; we try to back up our words with evidence.

So let me talk about the cost to military families from military leaders' perspective.

General George Casey said recently on March 26 in the Wall Street Journal that 15-month-long deployments are impacting on their families, it's impacting on their mental health. We just can't keep going at the rate that we're going.

General Richard Cody, the Army vice chief of staff: Our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. Lengthy and repeated deployments with insufficient recovery time have placed incredible stress on our soldiers and our families, testing the resolve of our all-volunteer force like never before.

Let's go down to what retired Admiral William Fallon, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command said: I will certainly tell you that I think our troops are in need of a change in the deployment cycle. We've had too many, from my experience, of several of our key segments of the troop population, senior NCOs, mid- to junior officers, on multiple rotations. He said, I look at my commanders, and some of them have logged more months in Iraq in the last decade than they have at home by a significant amount.

Can you imagine? More months in Iraq over the last 10 years than they have at home. Imagine the cost, the toll that that takes on their families. Let us go beyond the toll on families.

It is pretty clear that we have had a dramatic increase in the cost of fuel and the cost of a barrel of oil just during our time in the last 5 years in the Middle East. We have gone from gas prices being a little more than $1, about $1.26 or so, to now gas prices being well over $3.30 and expected this summer to reach $4 or more.

I can tell you that I am a minivan mom, Madam Speaker, and I regularly drive my kids around our community and car pool with the best of them. The last time I filled up my tank, which was last week, it cost $65. Now, the last time I talked about how much it cost me to fill up my tank, and Mr. Ryan remembers this, I really feel like this is 30-Something redux. I mean, really. It's déja 2 vu all over again. You could roll back the tape to 2, 3 years ago when we were talking about the cost of the war in Iraq and the impact, and we are basically saying the exact same thing. It is just unbelievable.

But the last time I talked on the floor, spoke on the floor about how much it cost me to fill up my minivan, it was about $55. And that's really only been about a year since the last time we talked about the impact of oil prices. And what the leaders that look and examine this information have said is that any time we have extended involvement in the Middle East, you see a dramatic rise in oil prices that coincide with that.

The price of gas and the price of oil, in this environment and in this economy, is just devastating to American families.

So you have extensions of impact and extensions of costs beyond just the toll that it takes on the troops themselves, the toll that it takes on their families. There's a toll on America. There's a toll on society. I mean, it's so disconcerting and it's so disheartening to listen to our colleagues on the other side of the aisle who seem to just be in utter denial. I mean, they just keep saying the same thing over and over.

And we've been talking about the cost of this war, and I'm so glad to be joined by my good friend, Congressman Tim Ryan from the great State of Ohio who I have shared many an opportunity to speak on the floor about the things that Americans care about in the 30-Something Working Group.

It's just shocking that the administration is continuing to expect more of the same and to have there be more of the same and to expect a different result. There really is, and I would be happy to yield to the gentleman.

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