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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McGOVERN. Madam Speaker, let me begin by commending the chairman of the House Armed Services

Committee, Mr. McKeon, and the ranking member, Mr. Smith of Washington, for their hard work on this bill. As has been mentioned, these two gentlemen demonstrate that despite strong differences of opinion they can work together in a bipartisan manner, and that is to be commended. Unfortunately, Madam Speaker, the same cannot be said of the Rules Committee, and I strongly oppose this rule.

Last night, late at night, the Rules Committee made in order several amendments to the defense bill--we have a long list of them here--but many other amendments on important, substantive issues were denied an opportunity for debate. Among those was a bipartisan amendment on Afghanistan submitted by my Republican colleagues, Congressman Walter Jones and Ron Paul, my Democratic colleague, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Smith of Washington, and myself. In fact, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee asked that an amendment he had on Afghanistan be withdrawn so that he could support the amendment that Mr. Jones and I brought before the Rules Committee.

In brief, it would have required the President to fulfill his commitments to transition all combat operations to Afghan authority no later than the end of 2013 and complete the transition of all military and security operations by the end of 2014. Anything beyond 2014 should be authorized by Congress.

The McGovern-Jones-Smith-Paul amendment would have replaced section 1216 in this bill, which retains at least 68,000 troops in Afghanistan until 2015, and then advocates a robust military presence beyond that date. Madam Speaker, that seems like an important issue that deserves a serious debate, but the Rules Committee said no. They refused to make our amendment in order. And why not, Madam Speaker? What is the Republican leadership afraid of? Are they afraid that a bipartisan majority of this House will vote to follow the will of the American people and change our Afghanistan policy?

Madam Speaker, we have been at war in Afghanistan since 2001. This is the longest war in American history. By the end of this year, we will have gone into debt to the tune of nearly $500 billion to finance the war in Afghanistan--all of it borrowed money, all of it on a national credit card; not a single penny of it paid for, and that includes the $88.5 billion in this bill.

Over 15,000 of our brave servicemen and -women have been wounded, and the death toll of our troops in Afghanistan has now reached 1,968. That number continues to grow as U.S. forces receive less cooperation from Pakistan and they are subject to increasing attacks from Afghan Government troops serving alongside them. And the death toll numbers do not include the soaring rates of suicide by our returning war veterans. But the Republican leadership of this House does not think we should debate an amendment that advocates a different approach. That is simply outrageous, Madam Speaker.

Every single one of us, every single one of us in this Chamber, is responsible for putting our brave servicemen and -women in harm's way, and to disallow an amendment, to disallow this kind of debate that would help change our policy, I think is outrageous.

I'm glad that the Rules Committee finally made in order the one Afghanistan amendment submitted by the gentlelady from California, Congresswoman Barbara Lee. This amendment calls for the safe, orderly, and expeditious withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan, and it will finally allow Members of this body to vote on whether it is time to bring all of our troops home right now from Afghanistan.

Last night, the chairman of the Rules Committee told me that I should be happy because they were making that one amendment on Afghanistan in order, and it was going to receive a whole 20 minutes of debate--20 minutes for a debate on the war in Afghanistan, just 10 minutes for those of us who have concerns about the war. Are we really supposed to be happy about that? Are the American people supposed to be happy about it?

Poll after poll reveals that a majority of Americans--Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike--now support ending U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and bringing our servicemen and -women home. Winding the war down as quickly as possible is a bipartisan issue.

It has bipartisan support in this House, and it has been granted just 20 lousy minutes of debate.

Well, I'm not happy with that, Madam Speaker, and I can't imagine that any Member of this House thinks that 20 minutes is enough time to debate the life-and-death issues of the war in Afghanistan.

We spend 40 minutes in this House on bills naming post offices, 40 minutes on naming post offices, and that's fine. But the longest war in U.S. history only warrants half of that? Talk about misplaced priorities.

As the only amendment on the war in Afghanistan made in order, I urge my colleagues to vote in support of the Lee amendment. Otherwise, this bill calls for our uniformed men and women to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, and my colleagues need to be clear on this. This is a bill that would mandate that our brave men and women in uniform stay there indefinitely.

The Rules Committee also denied Congressman Garamendi's amendment to strike the funding to construct an east coast Star Wars fantasy base. The defense bill provides $100 million in start up money for the east coast base, and to bring it into operation by 2015 will require another projected $5 billion.

Just last week, Army General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the site is not needed. The Pentagon doesn't want it, Madam Speaker. And I actually think $5 billion is lowballing the cost. A similar base on the west coast has now cost us upwards of $30 billion.

Why shouldn't we have such a debate on an expensive proposal like that? Or is all the Republican talk about cost-cutting and putting our fiscal house in order as big a fantasy as this silly Star Wars proposal?

And where are all these extra billions and billions of dollars coming from, Madam Speaker? Well, we know where it's coming from. We had that debate just last week. It's coming from programs to help hardworking families. It's coming from the safety net that keeps those families from falling into poverty, especially in these hard times. It's coming from programs that make sure seniors and the working poor can at least put food on the table and take their kids to a doctor when they're sick. SNAP, Medicaid, Meals on Wheels, Medicare, health care for women and children, education infrastructure--in short, it's taken from programs that are the very lifeblood of our cities, States, and our towns.

Madam Speaker, this bill costs $642.7 billion. But too many amendments to reduce some of the more outrageous costs in this bill were denied by the Republican Rules Committee. In real terms, defense spending is now more than 20 percent higher than the average Cold War budget and double the amount we were spending a decade ago.

Madam Speaker, we have, and we will continue to have, the greatest, strongest military on the face of this Earth. But at some point, national security means more than throwing billions of dollars at pie-in-the-sky Star Wars programs that will never actually materialize.

It means taking care of our own people. It means educating our children. It means an infrastructure that isn't crumbling around us. It means clean air and clean water and a health care system that works. It means creating jobs so that our local communities can thrive and our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan can actually find decent work when they return home. These must be our priorities.

Madam Speaker, let me conclude by quoting President Dwight Eisenhower in a speech he made in 1953:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

His words resonate with us today. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership of this House refuses to heed them.

I urge my colleagues, especially those who are concerned about this war in Afghanistan, vote this rule down. This is an unfair, unfair rule. It doesn't deserve to go forward. We ought to have a real debate on Afghanistan, and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will stand with me.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. McGOVERN. Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' and defeat the previous question. I urge my Republican colleagues to join with us in a bipartisan way to vote ``no'' on the previous question so we can have a real debate on Afghanistan. That's what your constituents want; that's what we should have here. And barring that, Madam Speaker, I urge a ``no'' vote on the rule, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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