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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 - Motion to Proceed - Continued

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, as we begin our work this afternoon, I wished to come to the floor to make a few comments about the Homeland Security appropriations bill which is now going to be included in the amendment offered by Senator Mikulski and Senator Shelby as part of an appropriations bill coming over from the House. This is such an important step forward, not just for the government but for the private sector jobs which depend on reliable, transparent, and appropriate government spending, for the whole country. We have been in gridlock and stopped on our funding bills for months now. We have not been talking about what makes Americans happy and prosperous--smart investments in their future and their interests.

We have been fighting about appropriations bills. That fight, hopefully, is coming to an end because of the extraordinary leadership of the Senator from Maryland, Senator Mikulski, the senior Senator from Maryland, and the newly minted--not new to the committee, a true veteran of the Appropriations Committee--chairwoman of our committee. She is in an able partnership with Senator Shelby of Alabama, a longstanding appropriator who understands practical politics and compromise is necessary to move anything of importance through this body. I can't thank them and their staffs enough for salvaging several of these important bills.

They weren't able to come to an agreement on everything. I and others are still troubled we will not see much progress in the areas of education and health, as much as we would like, but that is for another day. We are going to move forward on the sections we may move forward together. One of those areas is funding for homeland security, which is a pretty big bill by Federal Government standards. It is not the largest, it is not the smallest, it is $42 billion. That is not chump change. It is a significant amount of money the taxpayers provide to us to make decisions about their security. It funds everything from Border Patrol and protection to Customs and Immigration.

It funds the Coast Guard, which is a very important part of our operations. We feel that directly as a coastal State in Louisiana and are very familiar with the needs of coastal communities. The Coast Guard is always there.

It funds a number of other entities. I do not want to fail to mention cyber security, which is one of the newest, most frightening threats to our country. This threat didn't even exist 20 years ago. You may see the ever-evolving capacity of people who would do us harm: not just governments that don't like the United States, not just groups that don't like the United States, but individuals who have some bone, some beef, some anger, and may actually act out in unbelievable ways through the Internet by attacking sensitive material and data.

This is not just an attack to the government functions of our country, but we have seen any number of attacks on our private infrastructure. This is so critical to our existence, whether it is our water systems, our financial systems, our utility systems, our electricity systems. I could go on and on.

This is a very important responsibility for the Federal Government to step up and figure out, working with the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security, which I chair. This is no insignificant matter.

On the contrary, it is not only important for us to have the right money but invest it in the right places. We are trying very hard to do that. This is why it would have been very dangerous, in my view, to have this bill stuck. We would be funding last year's priorities, not being able to account for all the new intelligence which has come in over the last 12 months. This is an evolving, ever-growing, ever-changing threat. We would have been spending taxpayer money funding last year's threats, not tomorrow's threats.

This is why Barbara Mikulski, the chair of our committee, fought so hard to say we must move some of these appropriations bills forward to ensure appropriate funding and not wasting the taxpayer money. She was right. She was able to negotiate with Senator Shelby a yes--not a no, not a maybe but a yes--for the homeland security bill, and I could not be a happier chairman.

I also want to thank Senator Coats, who is my able ranking member from Indiana. He worked hand-in-glove with me to put this bill together. Our staffs worked very closely together. We had a few minor disagreements and views. We were able to work them out and work through it, obviously. This bill is here with his signature and mine on it. We were able to negotiate in very good faith with our House counterparts, and I want to thank them.

Chairman Mikulski says the four corners have signed off on our appropriations bill, both in the House and the Senate, the Republicans and the Democrats. It took some give and take, but that is what we need to do.

I want to highlight a few areas in the bill people have been very interested in. First, the bill includes total discretionary spending of $39.6 billion. As I said, $42 billion was what it was a few years ago. Like every committee, we have taken a cut, we have taken a reduction. Contrary to what you might hear, we are tightening our belts and we are cutting into some muscle. We are cutting into some bone. It is not easy, but it is necessary.

However, there is a point where you can't keep cutting or you won't be able to provide the security in the phrase homeland security. It will just be homeland. There won't be a big security piece around us because we have chopped it up. When people who want to harm this country discover this, they will find the weakness.

I am not trying to scare up additional funding, but I am speaking the truth. Do you want to secure a border? You may talk about it or you may actually build one. If you want a strong Customs agency, which moves people through quickly but ensures no bad things come into our country, you need to fund it. This does not happen on a wish and a prayer.

We have a flat budget. We have reorganized to accommodate what Senator Coats and I believe are the priorities for the Members here representing the people. The Coast Guard, cyber security, border security, travel facilitation I will return to in a moment.

For the Coast Guard, the bill includes $9 billion in discretionary spending, which is $400 million above the President's request. We have cut out some other things, but those of us on the committee believe the Coast Guard is important. The Coast Guard is on the front line for drug interdiction, which I don't have to explain to people. It is not classified information that now we have drug kingpins owning submarines which bring drugs into the United States. People read about this. It is true. It is not science fiction. We need to make certain the Coast Guard has access to stop drugs from coming into our country in smart, aggressive ways, working in partnership with other governments.

I don't have to remind everyone about the oilspill, the terrible accident. That trial is still going on in New Orleans as I speak, with hundreds of lawyers still debating the worst oilspill in the history of the country. Who showed up? The Coast Guard. They have to have all sorts of equipment to be able to respond for drug interdiction, which is different than an oilspill cleanup; and, of course, people are rescued literally every day by the brave men and women of the Coast Guard who risk their lives to keep our commerce and our recreational boating moving throughout this Nation.

We have $557 million for production of the sixth national security cutter. Let me say something about this that people don't understand. I see my good friend Dick Shelby, and he most certainly understands this as a Senator from Alabama, but I want people who are not on our Appropriations Committee to understand something. When most people in America buy a big item, such as a house or even when they send their kids to college, they finance that. They take that big hit, such as a $40,000 loan to send their child to college for 1 year or $120,000 or $160,000 for 4 years, if they are going to a very fancy, expensive school. Happily, for some of us, at LSU we get a great bargain and a great education for $10,000. But for some families even $10,000 for 4 years is a lot of money. They do not pay cash for that. They finance that. The Senator from Alabama knows this.

Under the rules in Washington, we cannot finance most things. People don't understand this. We have to pay cash. So because we need that national security cutter, I had to find $557 million in our budget to pay for it this year, even though it takes a long time to build it.

I think this should be changed. Senator Snowe, who was the chair of this Committee on Defense, Navy, for many years, thought it needed to be changed, but it has not changed as yet. I want people to know the pressures we are under in this bill, because sometimes when we have to fund these big items in one year, basically, we have to pay cash.

Now, yes, ultimately this money is being borrowed through the general fund--and I don't want to get into a technical argument--but as far as we are concerned, we are paying cash for it in our budget--$557 million this year for the national security cutter.

We are also funding $77 million for long lead time, $335 million for six new fast response cutters, $90 million for a new C-130 J aircraft, and I have invested, at my priority, $10 million for military housing for the Coast Guard.

The Army, the Navy, the Air Force have been upgrading their housing. The poor Coast Guard, because they are smaller and they are more isolated, is not in areas where we can take advantage of that public-private partnership that is working so well. I think our Coast Guard families need some support, and I was able to find some funding there for them.

I don't need to take much more time. I don't know if the Senator from Alabama is here to speak, but I will take 5 more minutes, and if he needs me to cease, I will.

But I want to also point out that we put some investments in the bill to address the cyber threat, which the President has described, and I agree with him, as one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation. This bill includes $757 million, which is $313 million above last year, and I was happy to do that. I think this is a priority. We have moved other items around in the budget because this is a real threat, it is evolving every day, and we have to have the research and technology to address it and work with the private sector to see what we can do to keep their network safe and our government strong.

The bill includes $7 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund. This was also a battle we fought. The money is in there for Sandy, for Isaac, for Irene, for Ike, for Gustav, for Rita and Katrina and there are a few other storms that are, even after 6 or 7 years, still open. So this is money there for them to finish their recovery.

In science and technology, the bill includes $835 million, a 25-percent increase. I want to say one other thing, and I think Senator Shelby will agree with me, that people don't understand how important it is that the Federal Government invests in research and development. Yes, private companies do invest in research and development, but some of the investment we do is truly so farfetched that no one in their right mind would invest in it because there is no immediate return. Yet we have seen, time and time again, when the Federal Government steps up and makes those long-term investments in research, what happens--something is discovered. The Internet was a good example of research through the Department of Defense, and I could give other examples. But soon enough, the private sector realizes, oh my gosh, this research is breakthrough--such as that which came from our research in health on our DNA and all the new and exciting technologies in health.

I can tell you our State is benefiting a great deal from the research done 20 years ago on fracking. That wasn't done by Exxon or Mobil, it was done by the Federal labs out West because of research money in one of our bills. I am not sure which bill it was, but potentially in energy, and that is what is leading to the revolution in natural gas. As to this baloney that the Federal Government doesn't have to invest in research and technology, we do it in partnership with the private sector, and it is the best system in the world. We would be shortchanging ourselves and our future economic growth if we didn't continue it.

Finally, just one more word about another priority. I have put some additional funding by moving some things around for Customs and Immigration and for TSA. I am not the only Senator who represents a State that depends, in large part, on the hospitality tourism and trade. I could list many States in our country that do as well, but let me tell you about Louisiana. We believe in hospitality. We believe it is a good business. We enjoy having people come to our State. They come, and we all have a great deal of fun and excitement with our festivals and our fairs. But at the end of the day, we make money and we create jobs and it is an important industry. I am alarmed at the fallout of international travel to the United States since 9/11. It has only increased by about 1 percent.

To put that into perspective--and I believe this number is correct, but I will check it for the record--as the Senator from Alabama knows, international travel in the world has increased by something like 400 percent. So people are going to China, they are going to Korea. There is a growing middle class, and what middle-class people do, besides buy homes and send their kids to school, is travel. It is a middle-class thing. We now have more middle-class people in the world than ever, but they are not coming to the United States because we are not investing in the kinds of infrastructure in our airports and ports that provide a safe but pleasant environment. So I am working very closely with the International Travel Association--and I want to thank them publicly for the work they are doing--because I am one Senator who believes in this. I think the President has also said that international travel means jobs for Americans right here at home. It is something they cannot transport.

For border security, the bill maintains the legislatively mandated staffing floor of 21,370 border patrol agents and provides $76 million above the request for Border Patrol staffing within customs and border protection.

Similarly, the bill provides $240 million above the request for maintaining current staffing levels of frontline CBP officers at our land, air, and sea ports of entry. The fiscal year 2013 budget request for CBP submitted to Congress over 1 year ago resulted in an overall funding shortfall of more than $320 million. This bill fills the vast majority of that shortfall through internal savings and reductions in other, lower priority areas. CBP will continue to face challenges in meeting its staffing requirements and I am committed to helping this important agency fulfill its critical missions.

The bill includes $1.46 billion for first responders grants, an increase of $200 million above fiscal year 2012. These grants ensure our frontline responders are trained and equipped for catastrophic disasters. Recent examples of grant investments that supported disaster response are: communications assets, search and rescue units, generators, and medical equipment used during the 2011 tornadoes in Arkansas, Alabama, and Missouri; joint operations centers, rescue boats, and hazardous materials equipment used during Hurricane Sandy in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut; and cutting-edge mobile vehicle radios and an upgraded 911 call center used during Hurricane Sandy in Maryland.

While the response to more frequent severe disasters has improved, the funding in this bill will help address remaining gaps in preparedness. For instance, the recent National Preparedness Report found that State and local governments are less than halfway to achieving needed recovery capabilities and defending against the growing cybersecurity threat.

Finally, in an effort to maximize resources for frontline missions, the bill approves the request to eliminate $800 million in administrative costs and rescinds $307 million in unobligated balances associated with low-priority programs. The bill also requires 30 expenditure plans to ensure oversight of taxpayer dollars.

I would like to conclude by emphasizing my concern with the impact sequester will have on the Department of Homeland Security. Despite the smart investments that are made in this bill, the problem of sequester remains.

The Secretary of Homeland Security has testified before the Appropriations Committee that these automatic budget reductions will be disruptive and destructive to our Nation's security and economy.

At our busiest airports, peak wait times could grow to over 4 hours or more during the summer travel season. Such delays would affect air travel significantly, potentially causing thousands of passengers to miss flights with economic consequences at the local, national, and international levels. New flights that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.S. economy would be delayed or potentially denied due to reduced staffing.

Sequestration will also impact our Nation's land borders. For example, daily peak wait times at the El Paso Bridge of the Americas could increase from 1 hour to over 3 hours.

The Coast Guard will have to reduce operations by up to 25 percent impacting drug and migrant interdiction efforts.

The sequester will impact our ability to detect and analyze emerging cyber threats and protect civilian federal computer networks, and

FEMA will delay implementing critical reforms to improve disaster response and recovery.

The Border Patrol workforce could be reduced by 5,000.

I urge Senators to work together on a bipartisan basis to repeal this ill-conceived sequester and approve legislation that includes balanced deficit reduction.

I again want to thank the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski; the vice chair, Senator Shelby; and the ranking member on the Homeland Security Subcommittee, Senator Coats for their hard work in including the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2013 in this essential legislation to fund the Federal Government.

I am very happy to speak about this bill, but I do see the leaders are on the floor--the chairman and the ranking member--and I want to personally thank them both for bringing our appropriations bills to the floor. I have spoken about homeland security, but there are other bills that need to be talked about this afternoon. I am happy we could work out this agreement with my Republican counterparts, and, again, I thank the chairman and the ranking member for their extraordinary leadership.

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