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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Chairman, this year marks the 12th consecutive appropriations season that the United States has been funding and fighting the war in Afghanistan. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we are still deep in war in Afghanistan. The threat of nuclear weapons in Iran, drone strikes in Pakistan, and the nightmare of mass murder in Syria garner the attention of the news media, but we currently have more than 90,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan and about 110,000 contractors.

Some of these troops are slated to come home over this summer, but many more, approximately 88,000, will remain. And the exact number of troops that will remain in Afghanistan as the U.S. and allies transition to local security forces through 2013 and 2014 is still unclear. Neither the Pentagon nor the administration has publicly laid out post-2014 plans, but they are clearly leaving open the possibility of a significant military presence. This is the reality we face as we open debate on this bill.

Mr. Chairman, I am not convinced that there is any light at the end of the tunnel. I am not convinced that this war is coming to an end, and I do not believe we should continue sacrificing the dedication and blood of our servicemen and -women for a deeply flawed and corrupt government that is simply not ``fixable.'' Oh, we can change the names, the programs, and the projects, but it's simply more of the same problems over and over and over again.

It is regrettable that this war is not more of a priority in public debate, and it is unconscionable that debating this war is not a top priority for this Congress. The majority wouldn't even let us have a full debate and vote on an amendment during the Defense authorizations bill to make sure that the commitments made by the administration to draw down our troops over the next 2 years are kept.

Congress is deeply complicit in maintaining and continuing this war. We've allocated $634 billion for military operations in Afghanistan since 2001, including the $85.6 billion in this bill. We're not just spending those billions, Mr. Chairman, we're borrowing them. Every single penny for the war in Afghanistan has been borrowed, put on the national credit card, exploded our deficit and our debt--every single penny.

Each week of the war in 2012 costs about $2 billion. If the Pentagon's ``enduring presence'' means thousands of troops remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 for who knows how long, then we are looking at a trillion dollar war.

Meanwhile, we're cutting funds for our schools, preparing to slash billions of dollars from the safety net that's supposed to keep our people out of poverty. We're watching our roads and our bridges crumble, water systems and infrastructure decay, and we're told there's no money to invest in health care and scientific research.

And for what, Mr. Chairman, for what? Show me where our military might has put a permanent end to instability, violence, or corruption. Even though the media isn't focused on it, the violence in Afghanistan goes on.

The U.S. death toll for Operation Enduring Freedom is over 2,000--1,919 of those deaths happened in Afghanistan. Members of the Afghan military and security forces continue to turn their guns on our troops and murder them. According to the Pentagon, 154 Active Duty soldiers committed suicide in the first 159 days of this year--that's almost one per day. And as for our veterans, the VA estimates that a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes.

How long will we ask our troops and their families to pay this price? Because they're the only ones paying for this war, Mr. Chairman, the only ones.

I don't believe we should abandon the people of Afghanistan, but I do believe we must end this war sooner rather than later. And I'm not convinced we're anywhere close to an end.

And it's the fault of Congress. We approve the money, and we remain silent year after year after year. We need to stop. We aren't supporting our troops; we're committing them to suffer lifelong trauma from too many deployments for too long a time over too many years for a war without end, for a war that always needs just a little more time and just a few billion dollars more.

Enough is enough. I urge my colleagues to support amendments over the next 3 days to reduce the funding for this war, bring it to an end, and honor the sacrifice of our troops by bringing them and our tax dollars back home.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Chair, I rise in strong support of the Jones amendment.

I appreciate the efforts of the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to provide the Administration with funds for the Afghan military and police who are being trained to take over security from our troops, but $412 million for additional incentive pay is simply crazy.

For the past two fiscal years, funds for this same account remain unobligated. Not unexpended, Mr. Chair--unobligated.

We need to move that unobligated funding stream along, and then determine how much more is needed in incentives for these Afghan forces. But right now we need to stop putting the money out there before anyone knows what they're doing with it. This is nearly half a billion dollars. And it's going to waste.

The bottom line here is this amendment would not touch the base pay for Afghan military and police. It would not touch funds to provide food and other basic needs for these Afghan troops. It would not touch the funds for recruitment and training.

Instead, under the Jones amendment, funds targeted for Afghan incentive pay would be transferred within the OCO account to augment the combat pay of our junior enlisted servicemen and women who carry out daily patrols.

I strongly urge my colleagues to support the Jones amendment.

It's good policy. It's a good use of funds. And it's only fair.

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