In a time in which bipartisanship seems to be the exception, it is heartening to see an overwhelming majority of both parties put aside their differences and come together to do what is right for our men and women in uniform. Unfortunately, even a bill as important as one providing the necessary funds to our military isn't immune to politics and was nearly derailed at the worst possible time.
Congress has the responsibility to provide our servicemembers the funds they need to get their job done - whether in a foreign country or stationed here in America. It is one of our basic duties, and I take the charge very seriously.
The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill (H.R. 5822), which passed in late July by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, provides $57 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $18.7 billion for military construction and family housing, and $1.3 billion in emergency appropriations for military construction projects in support of the war in Afghanistan.
As co-chair of the Congressional Rural Veterans Caucus, I know full well how this vital piece of legislation supports our troops and our veterans by ensuring critical funding for veterans' health services. It also provides funds for the construction of key facilities for training and housing for our military members and their families. While this bill passed quite easily, another military funding bill faced unnecessary hurdles.
For nine years, we have asked our troops to leave their families and risk their lives to advance freedom abroad and protect our security at home. They have met every challenge presented to them, and continue to push themselves every day to carry out dangerous missions in foreign lands. Even as the last U.S. combat brigade withdraws from Iraq, our commitment to those troops which remain in advisory roles must remain strong.
Earlier this year, Congress took up a $60 billion emergency supplemental bill designed to provide immediate and necessary funding for our troops. In early June, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned funding for the Navy and Marine Corps would begin to run out in July, forcing the Pentagon to disrupt other programs, unless the emergency supplemental appropriations bill was passed. Secretary Gates even cautioned the military would be forced to cut the pay of members of active duty military.
Unfortunately, the House Leadership chose to weigh down this absolutely necessary bill with billions of dollars in unrelated spending, causing the bill to become a victim of their party politics. Because the House of Representatives approved a bill which spent $20 billion more than the legislation already passed by the Senate, the funding was subject to weeks of delays. Time and time again members of both parties called for a troop funding bill without unnecessary additions, but time and time again these requests were ignored.
In the end, the House of Representatives came together in a bipartisan manner to pass a focused war supplemental before the Pentagon's deadline - though later than it should have been. Americans are tired of special interests handouts making their way into must pass emergency legislation - a habit which leaves an especially bad taste in one's mouth when we are talking about a bill meant to provide our military men and women with desperately needed funds.
We are a nation at war. Military bills should not be used to push through extraneous spending which serves no purpose other than securing votes. This sends the wrong message to our troops, their families, and the enemies we are fighting. I wish more bills could take the track of the Military Construction appropriations bill as opposed to the political wrangling which hindered the passage of the emergency supplemental.
Even as some of our troops come home, their brothers and sisters in arms continue the fight for freedom and it is imperative Congress works together to continue to provide the resources they need to support their mission and come home safely.