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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. LEE of California. Madam Chair, first of all, let me just say thank you to my colleagues, Representative Jones and Representative McGovern, and to all of the Members today in calling for a real debate on the war in Afghanistan, which really should have occurred when it was authorized in 2001, which, of course, I could not support then knowing it was a blank check. It was an overly broad resolution for war without end. I have to thank my colleagues today for their leadership in calling for a safe and swift end to this war in Afghanistan. We all know the simple truth: there is no military solution in Afghanistan. Earlier this summer, we passed the sad milestone of 2,000 American lives lost in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands suffer more from wounds both visible and invisible.

As we remember and honor our dead and our wounded and pray for their families and their loved ones, we also have the duty and responsibility and opportunity to act today to ensure that further losses are avoided and that we accelerate the transition to Afghans ruling Afghanistan.

Later on today, I'm going to introduce an amendment to this Defense appropriations bill to limit funding in Afghanistan to the responsible and safe withdrawal of troops. We have the power of the purse strings in this House. For those who believe enough is enough, we should vote for this amendment.

I encourage all of my colleagues to support the Lee amendment, which will save at least $21 billion and, most importantly, the lives of countless Americans and Afghans. Quite frankly, as has been said earlier, it is time to use these tax dollars to create jobs here at home. It is time to rebuild America and also to provide for the economic security of our brave troops. They have done a tremendous job. They have done everything we have asked them to do. They have carried a tremendous load over the past decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Asking them to stay in Afghanistan 2 more years when there is no indication that circumstances on the ground will change is really unconscionable.

Before we send our men and women in uniform into Afghanistan or ask them to stay for another 2 years, we have an obligation to answer simple questions like: What national security interest does the United States currently have in Afghanistan? To what extent does the United States presence in Afghanistan destabilize the country by antagonizing local Afghans? How critical is the overall effort in Afghanistan compared to other priorities in our own country?

Earlier this year, along with my colleagues Congressman Walter Jones and Congresswoman Woolsey and Congressman McGovern, we held a hearing on Afghanistan with Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis. This was an ad hoc hearing, mind you, because we should have had the authority to hold that hearing in the House Armed Services Committee or the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, but quite frankly the leadership would not let us have a formal hearing. So we had our own.

We had an ad hoc hearing with Colonel Daniel Davis, a brave, outspoken whistleblower, who risked his career to tell the truth about what he saw on the ground in Afghanistan. It was a hearing that every Member of Congress should have heard before voting to spend tens of billions of dollars and risking the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of Americans in uniform.

Those of you who attended the hearing or read the witnesses' testimony understand that the current strategy of propping up a corrupt regime in Afghanistan will almost certainly fail. Instead of having a full debate on the current strategy in Afghanistan, instead of having a real debate about what we hope to gain with more years in Afghanistan, we are limited to these brief opportunities on the floor to remind Congress that the American people overwhelmingly want to bring the war in Afghanistan to an end. People are war-weary, and they want this over.

This Congress has the opportunity once again to stand with seven out of 10 Americans who want to bring the war in Afghanistan to an end by voting ``yes'' on several of the amendments that we're going to be considering. My amendment I will introduce later in this debate will limit the funding to the responsible and safe and orderly withdrawal of United States troops and contractors from Afghanistan.

Madam Chair, let me thank once again our colleagues, Congressman McGovern and Congressman Jones, for gathering us here this afternoon. We have very limited opportunities to reflect the majority of the American people's sentiment in terms of their weariness of this war. It's time to end it.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Ms. LEE of California. Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment at the desk.

The Acting CHAIR. The Clerk will report the amendment.

The Clerk read as follows:

At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:

Sec. __. (a) Prohibition on Use of Funds.--None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for any account of the Department of Defense (other than accounts excluded by subsection (b)) in excess of the amount made available for such account for fiscal year 2008, unless the financial statements of the Department for fiscal year 2013 are validated as ready for audit within 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(b) Accounts Excluded.--The following accounts are excluded from the prohibition in subsection (a):

(1) Military personnel, reserve personnel, and National Guard personnel accounts of the Department of Defense.

(2) The Defense Health Program account.

(c) Validation Defined.--In this section, the term ``validation'', with respect to the auditability of financial statements, means a determination, following an examination, that the financial statements comply with generally accepted accounting principles and applicable laws and regulations and reflect reliable internal controls.

(d) Waiver.--The President may waive subsection (a) with respect to a component or program of the Department if the President certifies that applying the subsection to that component or program would harm national security or members of the Armed Forces who are in combat.

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Ms. LEE of California. Mr. Chairman, I join with my esteemed colleague, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, in offering an amendment which hits really at the heart of the issue of fiscal responsibility.

My amendment is short and to the point. If enacted, it would freeze Department of Defense programs at fiscal year 2008 levels unless the financial statements of the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2013 are validated as ready for audit within 6 months of enactment of this act.

This amendment would exempt military personnel, Reserve and National Guard personnel accounts, as well as the Defense Health Program accounts from this potential funding freeze. It also contains a waiver for any potential harm to national security or combat forces.

Now, some of my colleagues may make the argument that the Department of Defense is making progress on this issue in response to congressional engagement. They might reference language in recent Defense authorization bills requiring DOD to develop and implement plans to achieve audit readiness by September 30, 2017.

But let me just say, Mr. Chairman, this is wholly unacceptable that we are still just developing plans for the Department of Defense to have much its fiscal house in order 5 years from now. This problem is not newly discovered and further delay is really an abandonment of our congressional duty, given the enormous and increasing proportion of Federal dollars going towards the defense budget. In the 1990s, Congress was promised that these financial deficiencies would be solved by 1997. This timeline then was delayed to 2007 in the early 2000s. Given the Pentagon's past failures to meet deadlines, why should we believe the 2017 timeline will be honored?

Nearly 60 cents of every Federal discretionary dollar now goes towards defense spending, and by the Pentagon's own admission, they cannot properly account for how the money is spent.

Can you imagine? We have nonprofit organizations that get shut down behind a few thousand dollars in unaccountable funds.

There is no doubt that these circumstances have contributed to instances of waste, fraud, and abuse at the Pentagon, including more than $300 billion in major weapons cost overruns identified by the Government Accountability Office.

It's time to finally do away with the culture of unlimited spending and no accountability at the Pentagon. Being strong on defense does not mean handing a free pass to irresponsible spending. I believe it's critical that the Department of Defense be not only prepared and validated as ready for an audit, but actually pass an audit.

Today I urge my colleagues to support this amendment and take a first step toward compelling the Department of Defense to act with urgency on this matter. The financial reforms necessary to abide by basic accounting standards, laws, and regulations at the Department of Defense cannot wait.

I deeply regret that my colleagues would invoke a point of order on an issue of such vital importance to Congress' charge to conduct responsible oversight on Federal expenditures. I wish that the Pentagon would be held to the same standards as nonprofit organizations and those in business and other entities responsible for responsibly spending Federal dollars.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Ms. LEE of California. Mr. Chairman, my amendment, once again, is very straightforward. It reduces the overseas contingency operations account, which is currently funded at $85 billion, by $21 billion.

That leaves $64 billion in reserves, more than enough funds for the safe and swift withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

This amendment allows Congress the opportunity to stand squarely with the war-weary American people who want to bring our troops home. It is clear that the American people have been far ahead of Congress in supporting an end to the war in Afghanistan. The call has been growing across this land to bring this war to an end, and it is past time for the Congress to answer that call here today.

I want to thank all of the cosponsors of this bipartisan amendment and all of my colleagues who have worked on this issue throughout the year and supported my legislation, H.R. 780, to responsibly end the war in Afghanistan.

Our brave troops have done everything that was asked of them and more. Asking our troops to remain in Afghanistan for another 2 years when there is no indication that circumstances on the ground will change is unconscionable.

As we send our men and women in uniform back into danger on multiple tours, they are bearing an overwhelming and unfair burden of sacrifice while so many of us go on with our daily lives. An alarming number of troops are coming back home with post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide cases are rampant, and sadly, each day we continue to hear more and more about our veterans and the terrible toll this has taken on their lives.

Mr. Chairman, the costs of this war are unacceptable, particularly when we ask what the added benefit is of keeping our troops in Afghanistan through 2014. The war in Afghanistan has already taken the lives of over 2,000 soldiers, injured tens of thousands more, and drained our treasury of over $500 billion. And those costs will only go up as we spend trillions of dollars on long-term care for our veterans, which of course we must and we should do.

Instead of spending over $85 billion in Afghanistan this next year, we should restrict funding to the safe and responsible withdrawal of all of our troops and use the tens of billions of dollars in savings right here at home, investing in jobs and education and health care and mental health care.

The situation on the ground in Afghanistan, whether we leave in 2013, 2014, or 2020, whether 100 more United States troops die or 1,000, let me just say, not an extra dollar should be spent extending the decade-long war in Afghanistan. We have the power of the purse strings in this House. For those who believe that enough is enough, they should vote for this amendment.

As the daughter of a military veteran, I know firsthand the sacrifices and the commitment involved with defending our Nation. But the truth is that our troops have been put in an impossible situation; there is no military solution. It's past time to end the war and bring our troops home. And quite frankly, it is time to use these tax dollars from ending the war to create jobs here at home and economic security for the American people. It's time to rebuild America, and also to provide for health care and, of course, as I said earlier, the economic security of our troops.

Today, once again, we have the opportunity to stand with 7 out of 10 Americans who oppose the war in Afghanistan. The American people have made it clear that the war is no longer worth fighting. And I'll say it again, not an extra day, not an extra dollar should be spent extending the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

I knew 10 years ago that this would be a war without end. I could not support it then. More Members of Congress are beginning to see that this was a blank check to wage war forever unless we end it now. So after 11 years, yes, we should bring our troops home. We can do that responsibly by voting ``yes'' on the Lee amendment today.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Ms. LEE of California. Let me just say that I rise in strong opposition to this amendment.

Some Members here continue to try to repeal Davis-Bacon, despite the House being on record supporting the protection of labor standards.

All of us, or at least the majority of us, have been in support of prevailing wage requirements. It helps to ensure that local projects that provide local jobs have these jobs that have affordable, middle class wages with benefits. The law protects government from contractors trying to win Federal contracts by bidding too low to attract competent workers.

This amendment should be opposed. If we really want people to move toward achieving middle class standards, if we want to keep the middle class with good jobs, good-paying jobs with benefits, then there is no way we should repeal Davis-Bacon.

People are losing the American Dream quite quickly here in our own country, unfortunately. And here we go again trying to erode one of the basic protections of working men and women.

So I hope we oppose this amendment, maintain standards of prevailing wage for our workers, and ensure that they too have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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