SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS -- (Senate - May 21, 2008)
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about two items that are in the supplemental that has come from the House of Representatives. I find it difficult to speak about either one, but particularly the first one, without turning and looking behind me to see the great champion of the Senate, Senator TED KENNEDY, leading this debate and discussion.
The first item I want to talk about is how we help middle-class families, working families who have lost their jobs, to be able to keep their home, their dignity, and put food on the table while they look for that next job.
No one has been a greater champion--no one--in this body or anywhere in the country for working men and women, for folks who are working hard every day to meet the American dream, than our own Senator TED KENNEDY.
So as I speak today, I want to send my wishes, as my colleagues have--all of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle and every part of this building and this city--to say to TED that we miss you and we need you back and we are sending our love and our prayers to you and Vicki and the entire family because we need you. While we are very saddened about the news, we know--as you have championed and had such great courage in fighting for those who have needed a voice, who have needed a champion in the Senate--we know you will fight with the same vigor, and we will be right there with you to do everything we can to make sure you are back leading us, leading the charge.
I have stood on this floor many times with the great leader, the great Senator from Massachusetts, to talk about what is happening to families all across America. I represent a State with the highest unemployment rate in the country. Those in Michigan who are seeing their unemployment benefits expire, who are valiantly looking for work every day, have been looking to us to help them extend that insurance benefit until they can find a job.
We know there are 7.7 million people looking for work right now and competing for about 4 million jobs. So I am proud of the fact that our caucus, the Democratic caucus, has placed creating jobs at the top of the list of the budget resolution we will be discussing and voting on this week.
But in the meantime we have to do everything we can to support those families. In the supplemental that has come over from the House, I am very pleased they have included a greatly needed extension of unemployment insurance benefits because the reality is we have lost, since January, 260,000 good-paying American jobs, 260,000 middle-class jobs--the jobs that pay the mortgage, put food on the table, send the kids to college, buy clothing, pay for gas--which continues to grow outrageously higher every day.
Part of our responsibility is to make sure those families receive the insurance benefits they need while they pick up their lives, move in a new direction, find work, so they can continue to have the American dream.
Some of those families have members who are in Iraq or Afghanistan or around the world serving us right now.
Unfortunately, we have too many families where one person--while we are grateful--is serving us in our armed services and the other breadwinner in the family has, in fact, lost their job. So there is a direct relationship between what we are doing to support the unemployed to be able to continue to look for work and to be able to care for their families in the meantime and what we are doing on this supplemental.
Mr. President, there is another incredibly important piece of supporting our troops that is in this legislation coming over from the House of Representatives. Again, I hear the voice of Senator Kennedy championing this as well in terms of making sure we are doing everything possible for our troops, both when they are in harm's way and when they are coming home, putting on a veterans cap and continuing to live their lives in America.
I am very proud to have cosponsored the 21st century GI bill. Senator Webb has been our champion. This is bipartisan legislation. Today's veterans deserve the same opportunities and thanks that have been given to earlier generations.
This bipartisan bill has overwhelming support in both the Senate and in the House. Veterans service organizations and millions of veterans and Active servicemembers have raised their voices in support of this legislation.
I don't understand how anyone could fully support our troops by fully funding the needs of our troops and then oppose the GI bill. Full funding for our troops really does include the GI bill. That is what this is all about: making sure we are keeping our promises. The men and women who sign up, who are overseas now, who are in harm's way, who have lost limbs, who come home with post-traumatic stress syndrome, those who are willing to put their lives on the line for us expect us to keep our promises.
I am proud of the fact that our Senate Democratic majority made fully funding veterans health care a top priority when we came into the majority last year. We kept that promise. This is the first year since this war started that we have met the numbers the veterans organizations say are needed to be able to provide health care. This is the second piece we are committed to achieving and making sure we have a 21st century GI bill fit for the brave women and men who are serving us today.
Last week, as chair of our Steering and Outreach Committee, I was able to join 23 other members of our caucus, all of our leadership on the majority side, and we met with 21 members from veterans service organizations who were unanimous in supporting not only the GI bill that is included here, that has come from the House, that we so strongly support, but in saying this should not be a partisan issue, this should not be a political issue, this is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do. It needs to be done for the right reasons. We owe it to our veterans to pass this. It is a critical part of what is in front of us. It is essential we make sure that when we leave here, we can hold our heads high and say we have provided full funding for our troops by funding the GI bill and including it in this legislation.
This bill will pay for qualified veterans to attend any public university in the Nation. If a veteran chooses to attend a private school, the bill would also allow that to happen. It would pay tuition up to the amount of the most expensive public school in the State, so every choice would be available for our veterans. Under the bill, private contributions would be matched by the Federal Government. There would be sufficient funding for desperately needed books. The costs go up every year. I can attest to that, having put two children through college and seen the incredible expense for books alone, as well as living expenses. Those things would be covered as well. We need to do this because when our veterans get a good college education, all of society benefits. Their family benefits, the community benefits, the country benefits.
Providing a college education for veterans is very important for our economy. World War II provided a great example of how the GI bill made it possible for our greatest generation to get an education, find good jobs, buy a home, contribute to the American economy, and raise their families.
I can speak to that directly. My father was in World War II. He was in the Navy. He came home as a veteran. Because of the GI bill, he was able to get an education, to be a small business owner, to raise a family--which I was very proud to be a part of--to send his kids to college, and to make sure we had what we needed to be able to live our American dream. It was the GI bill after World War II that gave my dad a chance. And through him and through that commitment to my father and to our family, it gave me a chance to be here today as well.
Today's veterans have served our country with the same honor and the same courage as those in World War II. They deserve the same benefits. They deserve the same opportunities, the same chance to shape their futures, the future of their communities, and the future of the American economy.
I also support this bill because it treats our Active-Duty Guard and Reserve Forces the same way through their wartime service. This is especially important now, as we know, as the Guard and Reserve take on a greater and greater share of the combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is no less important that Guard and Reserve members often return home to communities that don't have the same resources as the Active-Duty servicemembers have on base. So making sure our Guard and Reserve can attend college, can get an education, the skills they need to be successful, will help ease their transition into civilian life.
I stand with those who are supporting our brave men and women in the armed services and those who have served in the global war on terror. This bill is long overdue and should be enacted right now. That is what 21 veterans service organizations have said to us, and millions of veterans across the country. We have a duty to give our veterans what they deserve. They have offered the greatest sacrifice and should be given a chance for a solid education in these competitive times to become successful after their military service is done.
So, like the rest of the supplemental, this is full funding for our troops. It is full funding for our troops. We need to make sure they have what they need, not just on the battlefield but when they return home. We have kept the promise on health care, and our Senate Democratic majority is committed to continue to do that every year.
We have also been committed and are very pleased that the House sent to us a GI bill that we have been working on with leaders in our caucus, including Senator Webb and certainly our leader, Senator Reid, and many others, to make sure we keep the rest of the promise. We need a modern GI bill that fits what is happening for our veterans around the world, to make sure Guard and Reserve are treated with the same dignity and have the same opportunities as our Active-Duty personnel.
As we debate this supplemental, I sincerely hope we will not leave this Chamber without making sure that full funding for our troops includes the passage of this greatly needed GI bill.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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