NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2005 -- (House of Representatives - May 20, 2004)
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Knollenberg). Pursuant to House Resolution 648 and rule XVIII, the Chair declares the House in the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union for the further consideration of the bill, H.R. 4200.
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Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Chairman, I have strong reservations about this bill, but I will support it.
We are three years into our war on terrorism and still engaged in military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no doubt
that we must continue to focus on defending our homeland against terrorism, we must support our military personnel, and we must give our military the training, equipment, and weapons it needs to beat terrorism around the world.
In particular, we must respond to the needs of our men and women in uniform in Iraq as they struggle against a persistent and dangerous insurgency with too few troops and inadequate supplies.
That's why I'm in favor of increasing protection for our troops in Iraq through funding provided in the bill for expedited production of armored Humvees, body armor, and armored trucks. And I'm also in favor of provisions in the bill authorizing the largest increase in military end-strength in decades-increasing active duty Army by 30,000 personnel and the Marine Corps by 9,000. Our army is overstretched, and we can't and shouldn't continue to rely on National Guard, reservists, and private contractors to fill in the gaps. I'm pleased also that the bill includes provisions-such as the continuing extension of TRICARE coverage-to ease the particular hardships that our campaign in Iraq has
The bill includes provisions authorizing $25 billion in response to the president's most recent supplemental budget request for the war in Iraq. The costs of our Iraq mission continue to skyrocket, adding to our ballooning federal deficit and shortchanging domestic programs. But these costs must be paid. So I am encouraged that this bill doesn't give the president a blank check. Instead, it breaks down the $25 billion and specifies that certain amounts be spent on operations and maintenance, personnel, and weapons procurement.
I support the BRAC provisions in the bill. BRAC is an important process that has the support of Members on both sides of the aisle. But no process should go forward blindly, without taking into account changing facts on the ground. In my view, given the uncertainty of the current wartime environment, it makes sense to give Congress time to consider what resources our military might need in the future. We are still making decisions regarding the number of troops needed in Europe and Asia and where they should be located. Many of them may return to the U.S. This bill itself increases troop strength by 39,000--and it isn't clear how this increased end-strength will figure in to the next BRAC round. The Department of Defense is still completing its global posture review, yet as reported by CongressDaily recently, DoD officials have no plans to share the review with Congress. Yet that review no doubt informs the BRAC process in ways that Congress needs to understand.
So I think it's important for Congress to have a year to review reports from DoD on its global basing strategy and its infrastructure needs.
I'm also in favor of provisions in the bill establishing new rules for the interrogation of prisoners and commending the actions of Joseph Darby, the brave soldier who first notified authorities of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.
The bill also provides for our men and women in uniform an across-the-board pay increase of 3.5 percent, boosts military special pay and extends bonuses, and funds programs to improve living and working facilities on military installations.
These are all necessary and important provisions that I support.
I do have a number of serious reservations about the bill.
I don't believe it addresses 21st century threats as well as it could. With the exception of the Crusader artillery system and the Comanche helicopter, the Administration and Congress have continued every major weapons system inherited from previous administrations. So although the bill brings overall defense spending to levels 18 percent higher than the average Cold War levels, it doesn't present a coherent vision of how to realign our defense priorities.
I am strongly opposed to the authorization of $10 billion to deploy a missile defense system that doesn't work and that wouldn't protect against the terrorist threats that we face today.
And I'm strongly opposed to the funding provided in the bill to study the feasibility of developing nuclear earth-penetrating weapons and to authorize previously prohibited research on low-yield nuclear weapons. Low-yield nuclear weapons have an explosive yield of five kilotons or less--"only" a third of the explosive yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Our obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) require the United States to work towards nuclear disarmament, rather than further increase the size and diversity of our arsenal. By continuing the development of new U.S. nuclear weapons at the same time that we are trying to convince other nations to forego obtaining such weapons, we undermine our credibility in the fight to stop nuclear proliferation.
I also was disappointed in the way the bill was handled here on the floor of the House.
Not only was inadequate time allowed for debating this important and far-reaching measure, the House was prevented from even considering amendments on some aspects of the bill-such as the missile defense system-or was able only to consider amendments that were too narrow in scope.
An example of the latter is the amendment by my friend from Tennessee, Mr. WAMP.
The Wamp amendment is well-intentioned, and by itself it would do no harm. So, it is not surprising that it was adopted by a voice vote. However, I am concerned that adoption of the amendment may send the wrong signal to the Administration and to the Cold War warriors it is supposed to help.
The amendment would change one small part of the compensation program established by the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).
Originally enacted as part of the Fiscal Year 2001 Defense Authorization Act, that compensation program is split into two parts.
One is administered by the Department of Labor for workers exposed to radiation, beryllium and silica. It has worked fairly well-something that can't be said about the second part.
The second part, commonly referred to as Subtitle D, is administered by the Department of Energy and covers workers exposed to radiation, and other toxic hazards.
Under Subtitle D, DOE is required to use physicians panels to evaluate whether an illness is work related, and relies upon state workers' compensation programs to assure payments for wage loss and medical benefits.
The Wamp amendment would fine-tune the way the physicians' panels work and smooth the linkage to state workers' compensation programs.
But these are marginal changes at best-and they would do nothing to fix the most serious problem with Subpart D.
That problem is that, by DOE's own admission, for too many people Subpart D simply will not work.
In fact, as many as 50 percent of claimants may find that even if a physicians panel finds their illness is covered, there is no "willing payer" that will follow through by providing compensation. Colorado is one of the states where this can happen, along with Ohio, Iowa, Alaska, Kentucky, Missouri, and other states.
The GAO recognizes this "willing payer" issue is one that cannot be ignored. The federal government should not make compensation under the program depend on geography. EEOICPA needs to be amended to make sure that doesn't happen.
Furthermore, so far DOE has processed fewer than 2 percent of its caseload under Subpart D. In fact, I am told that as of March of this year, there were approximately 22,000 claims pending-and only ONE had been paid, even though DOE had spent approximately $50 million to administer this part of the law. On the other hand, the Department of Labor has processed 97 percent of its 52,000 claims it has received and issued over $825 million in payments and medical benefits.
The Wamp amendment well might improve DOE's claims processing-which certainly need improving. But it will not guarantee payments for meritorious claims in Colorado and other states across the nation. Too many of our cold war veterans are headed down a dead end street. Speeding the trip isn't the answer-we need to change the route.
The Wamp amendment won't do that. That was why I hoped the House would have been able to consider the amendment filed by my friend from Ohio, Mr. Strickland.
The Strickland amendment would have required the President to submit to Congress a proposal for legislation to establish a Federal payer for Subpart D claims, if legislation to solve the problem is not enacted during this Session of Congress.
Unfortunately, the Republican leadership did not allow the House to even consider that amendment, just as they refused to permit consideration of the amendment I filed with my colleague from Colorado, Mr. Beauprez.
The purpose of our amendment was to help some people who worked at DOE's Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant.
Some of them are suffering from cancer or other conditions because they were exposed to radiation or other hazards while they were working there. So they are covered by the EEOICPA program.
For those who worked at most sites, coverage requires a finding that their condition is as likely as not to have resulted from on-the-job exposure. That's a reasonable requirement-provided there is adequate documentation of exposures. But, unfortunately, over the years there were serious problems with the way DOE kept records at Rocky Flats. So, as things stand now, there is a real risk that many Rocky Flats workers who should be covered will not get coverage in time to benefit from it, because their claims are tied up in red tape.
Nonetheless, Mr. Chairman, despite my concerns and disappointments, I do think enactment of this bill will help support our men and women in uniform and help them win the peace in Iraq and to defeat terrorism in Afghanistan. And, while in my view Congress was wrong to allow the president to rush us into war in Iraq, I think it now is imperative to provide our men and women in uniform with what they need.
So I will support this bill today.