NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009 -- (Senate - September 16, 2008)
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Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I would like now to address the Senate with regard to my interpretation of the many constructive efforts that have gone on with the chairman and myself and other colleagues to try to move this bill forward. As I speak for a few minutes, I urge my distinguished chairman to engage me in any questions or colloquy if he has views that could be at variance to what I express.
I have an amendment at the desk. It is No. 5569. I shall not call it up at this time. The history of that amendment is as follows:
As many of our Senate colleagues are aware, this past January 29, the President of the United States issued Executive Order No. 13457 instructing the executive branch that agency heads should not base funding decisions on language in a committee report or conference report or any other nonstatutory statement of the views of Congress. The President took this unprecedented step because he believes--and to some extent I share his concern--that it is necessary to reduce the number and cost of what we refer to as earmarks substantially; that is, to reduce them substantially and to make the origin and purpose of the earmark more transparent. To accomplish these objectives, the Executive order requires that henceforth earmarks, as well as any other funding direction from Congress in its exercise of the power of the purse, must be included in the text of the bill voted on by Congress and presented to the President.
In response to the Executive order, I offered an amendment during committee markup, on behalf of Senator McCain and myself and others, which would have put the committee's funding tables in the text of the bill. This was the most simple and direct way to comply with the Executive order. My amendment, after deliberation in committee, was defeated on a 12-to-12 vote. As a result, as reflected in section 1002 of the bill, the committee decided to incorporate our funding tables into the bill by reference; that is, by a provision that states that each funding table in the committee report is incorporated into the act and is made a requirement of law to the same extent as if the funding table was included in the text.
Once our bill reached the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate, a colleague, Senator DeMint, filed amendment No. 5405 which, again, takes up the same issue.
Senator DeMint's amendment would strike section 1002 in its entirety from the bill, thereby removing the funding tables from the bill. The result, as I interpret it, of adoption of the amendment would be that our funding tables would remain only in the committee and conference report, setting up a conflict with the Executive order. Direction by Congress on the specific funding levels throughout the defense budget would be advisory only.
The President's Executive order, on the other hand, would continue to require agency heads to ignore congressional funding directions unless it is in the text of bills enacted into law.
While I appreciate the efforts by our distinguished colleague from South Carolina and his concern about the use of the incorporation-by-reference technique which I opposed during committee markup, I am just as concerned about striking the reference to the funding tables in the bill and leaving them only in the committee and conference report, given the President's Executive order. While the DeMint amendment would have the positive impact of making earmarks advisory only, it would also undercut the legal authority of every other congressional funding decision which differed from the President's budget. In short, the DeMint amendment would seriously impair the ability of the Senate and Congress to meaningfully exercise the power of the purse. The Armed Services Committee and the Senate and Congress as a whole would lose the ability to direct and enforce cuts in funding, additions to funding that were, in our discretion, required in the President's budget, or to restructure programs that are part of the defense budget.
The amendment I have offered and wish to offer as an alternative to Senator DeMint is No. 5569. My amendment takes the same approach which I argued during the committee markup. It takes the funding tables from our committee report and puts them directly into the bill text. The amendment is extraordinarily long. It goes on for 225 pages, but it complies with the Executive order in the most direct way possible. As a result, all of our funding decisions are transparent, and each item of funding is subject to further debate and amendment by the full Senate. If the funding decisions are adopted by the Senate and sustained through the conference between the two Houses, they will be included in the text of the bill as passed by Congress and presented to the President. Changes to the funding decisions recommended by the committee are subject to the normal process of amending a bill under the Senate rules and procedures.
I am aware if my amendment was adopted, it would increase the burden of producing our bill and conference report by several days. Many people would be involved in that rather arduous process. We are informed that the best estimate is that about 4 additional days would be required for the committee staff, the Government Printing Office, and supporting House and Senate staff offices to process the detailed data that appears in the funding tables, if they were incorporated into the bill, assuming the Government Printing Office could prioritize its attention and resources on our bill. By ``prioritize,'' I mean what other work from other committees of the Congress, House and Senate, would be before those various administrative sections.
Given the time constraints we face, these 4 additional days add significantly to the challenges of completing a conference between the House and Senate and passing a conference report in both Chambers before the target date for adjournment. While I acknowledge these challenges, I believe my amendment will best comply with the Executive order and its laudatory purposes. We must not simply ignore the Executive order and trust the executive branch to follow congressional funding directions, when the President has emphatically said the Congress must express its direction in the text of bills enacted into law.
When Congress exercises its constitutional power of the purse, it should do so in a transparent, open way subject to full debate and amendment. When Congress speaks on its funding priorities, it should do so decisively, and its pronouncement should have the binding force of law subject only to the President's veto.
The current posture is, this is an important issue. The distinguished chairman and I, together with our staffs, have worked on it. We have recognized the precarious nature of the bill in terms of its ability to be put together, brought to the desk of Senators, and then, subsequently, the conference report, and likewise that being properly put together to comply with this amendment and others. It is a challenge. I have discussed it with the chairman. I guess perhaps being an optimist, I believe if my amendment were adopted, it would reach the result of many colleagues, and we could go forward and do our very best to shorten the time normally in the history of these bills that is used by the conference.
This is our 30th bill. Senator Levin is chairman of the conference this year. I would try in every way to support him, if he so desired to try to move, subject to the adoption of this amendment, this bill through the conference. This bill is so important to our country. It is so important to so many Members of our body. We have pending a managers' amendment which Senator Levin and our staffs have been working on for the last 4 or 5 days. It is close to 100 amendments which we have reconciled in such a way that, subject to UC, they could be adopted and immediately become a part of the bill prior to any cloture action that will take place as scheduled at 3 o'clock today. That embraces the work and the desires and the objectives of so many Members.
I am not here to fault the fact that a hold or objection is put on a UC to move that package; it is to state the fact. But that objection largely emanates from the issue which I have tried to describe in a very pragmatic and forthright way to help colleagues better understand the current procedural dilemma that faces the body with regard to the bill.
The committee and my distinguished colleagues will work as hard as we can to get this bill through. This is one roadmap; there may be a better one.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I am looking at a memorandum prepared by our staff, and I presume it has been shared with the chairman's staff. We should state to colleagues that what we learned by virtue of a long process that many people were involved in over the weekend is as follows:
In summary, incorporation of the funding tables into the bill would add about 4 days to the process: About a half day for committee staff to prepare the files for the GPO, although much could be done during the conference; 3 days for the GPO to convert the files and proofread them; and about half a day for the committee staff to proofread them when GPO returns the bill in printed form.
Let's sort of chart out a calendar. Today, we are, at the present time, scheduled to have a cloture vote, and if cloture comes about, there is an entirely different scenario, if it is voted in, by which we continue to address the bill. But if by any chance we could reconcile our differences--and we would want Members to know that last night the majority presented to the minority a draft UC that is now being reviewed by my leadership. I am at this moment unable to give the details of what decisions will be made or what options, other than what was presented to us, may be returned back by way of compromise. That is to take place in the coming hours, before 3 o'clock. But there is still the possibility that we could get a UC through that would resolve much of this problem. Then, if we took final passage, say, even late tonight--I mean if we can get the managers' package through, we will have close to 100 amendments in addition to those already handled, and that package is basically equally divided with Republican and Democratic amendments--let's say we have final passage tonight or tomorrow. How does the chairman then plot the timetable by which he used pretty strong language, that this amendment of mine jeopardizes the bill not being passed? Would the chairman give us his basic schedule?
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Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, if I might ask my colleague for 30 seconds. I listened carefully to the Senator's thoughts on the Iraqi funding issue. I commend the Senator for that. We have amendments that address it. In the managers' package are certain amendments that the Senator from Maine put in. That is a very important issue. We owe no less responsibility to the American taxpayers but to assure that every single dollar going into that area at this time is absolutely essential for the purpose of the mission of our troops and otherwise, and that the Iraqi Government be made aware that they are a sovereign government now and such expenses as can be should be borne by that Government.