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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2216, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014; And Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2217, Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the rule and the two underlying bills.

House Resolution 243 provides for an open rule for consideration of H.R. 2216, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2014, and H.R. 2217, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2014.

This rule provides ample opportunities for Members from both the minority and majority to participate in the debate, and it does not limit the number of amendments that may be considered, so long as the amendments comply with the rules of the House.

My colleagues from both sides of the aisle agree that these appropriation acts for fiscal year 2014 are the products of an open, collaborative, and bipartisan process.

They provide critical funding for military construction, housing, schools, and medical facilities for our servicemembers and their families, important veteran programs, the protection and security of our airports, seaports and national border, and disaster relief efforts. They also reduce duplication, improve oversight, encourage efficiency, and increase coordination of services.

Mr. Speaker, these bills address nonpartisan issues that affect every one of us. The seamless operation of these agencies and programs and projects will benefit all Americans.

Let me first address H.R. 2216, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2014.

This fiscally sound bill funds programs that are necessary to keep our promises to our veterans and to train, equip, house, and support the brave men and women in uniform, as well as their families.

This bill provides over $73 billion in discretionary funding, which is $1.4 billion above the enacted fiscal year 2013 level. It continues to provide advanced funding that was approved in fiscal year 2013 for veteran medical care and funds programs to reduce the staggering backlog which severely delayed the process of veteran benefits claims. This advance funding will ensure that our veterans have full access to medical care regardless of where we stand in the annual appropriation process.

H.R. 2216 funds military construction projects, including family housing, military medical facilities, and Department of Defense education facilities. It also funds critical VA medical services and provides for a unified electronic health record system to integrate Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs health records.

Currently, our veterans must physically present a hard copy of their DOD health records at their VA appointments, and physicians are unable to look up the patient's medical history if a patient does not have their records with them. This bill addresses this frustrating and inefficient process and will begin to replace an archaic paper record system with an electronic system that will ensure our veterans will be efficiently served and receive the care they need and deserve.

Next, I'd like to talk about and highlight a few of the important provisions in H.R. 2217, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2014. This bill is essential to protect the security of our national borders and the safety and well-being of all Americans.

This bill provides $38 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes funding for 21,370 Border Patrol agents and nearly 22,800 Customs and Border Protection officers--the largest totals in history. It also directs U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train agents to identify and assist victims of human trafficking and directs ICE to increase spending on human trafficking and smuggling investigations.

H.R. 2217 also provides funding for FEMA to ensure our Nation is prepared to provide disaster relief and funds the Coast Guard.

Finally, I'd like to reiterate that these bills strengthen our national security and continue the well-being of our brave servicemembers, their families, and other veterans. They also recognize that our growing debt threatens the stability and safety of our Nation, and for this reason these bills make recommendations to reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies, duplication, and overhead.

Once again, Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this rule and the underlying legislation. The Appropriations Committee has worked hard to provide us with two fiscally responsible appropriation bills that will meet the housing construction and medical needs of our military and provide support to their families. They will keep our promises to America's veterans, and they will enhance our national security.

I encourage my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on the rule and ``yes'' on the underlying bills, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I just want to remind everyone that we're talking about a rule here. And this rule, different from those that were proposed in the Congresses before I got here, in the 111th Congress, is an open rule. It allows for amendments. If there are those who do not like what's in these bills, they can do everything that they need to do in an amendment and get 218 votes and pass it, and it'll change. If this bill needs perfecting, either one of these bills need perfecting, they can be perfected.

I believe that is as close to regular order as we can get. If we can come down to this floor, offer an amendment, get an opportunity to debate that amendment, have our say, hopefully get the votes to pass it, change the bill, that's the way this process should work.

This rule provides for that. It provides for two very well-thought-out appropriation bills, which may have flaws. But if there are flaws, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, come on down. Once we pass this rule, we'll be taking those bills up one at a time. And any amendment, as long as it's within the germaneness rules of this House, can be offered. We would welcome that. I think both sides would welcome that.

That's why when both of these bills came out of committee, there were glowing reports, both from the minority report and from the majority report. They are well-thought-out bills. They are well-done bills. They are bipartisan. They're done in an open and collaborative way, in an open, real, and regular order process. So for those reasons, I think this is a great rule because it sets forward the opportunity of people on this floor, no matter who they are, from a freshman to a senior Member, from Republican to Democrat, from moderate, liberal, and conservative, no matter who they are, to offer amendments to these bills, both of them. And if they get a majority vote, they can pass them. So I think that to me is an open process. That's also regular order.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I've been in this process a long time, not necessarily here, but in other venues, and what I have found is what's before you is before you, and what comes later may or may not come later.

But I would say this to the gentlelady, that what we have here are two bills that are bipartisan bills, and they have a great deal of input from both sides. They came out of committee with a strong vote, with both Republicans and Democrats.

And so my thought is: here we are. We're here. We're addressing this particular issue. Now, when these other bills come to the floor of the House, before they get here they're going to pass through the Rules Committee, too, these appropriation bills. I will do everything I can to make them open, also, so that anybody that wants to amend them or perfect them has the opportunity.

I believe in an open process. I believe that Members, no matter how long it takes, should have the opportunity to say their piece. And no matter what your philosophy is, no matter what your party is, no matter what your position is, no matter what your rank is, if you're 435th it doesn't really matter, you should have an opportunity to present your case.

And so, these are these two bills. We have talked about the fact that we're going to have an open process here, and people want to perfect these bills; then great, offer an amendment. When the other appropriation bills come, that'll be the time to talk about them. But when they do, just know this: I'm going to be one that is going to be pressing hard to have open rules for them, also.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Again, I will reiterate the fact that it is what is before us. We cannot get to these two bipartisan, well-thought-out, well-debated, well-collaborated pieces of legislation which deal with some issues that are very, very important without passing a rule to allow us to do that. That's what this rule does. It deals with those two bills. No, those two bills aren't before us, but this rule is the gateway to get to those bills. How are we going to get there? We're going to pass this rule. Once we get there, what are we going to do? We're going to have an open process--one that has been foreign until the Republicans took control of this legislature--foreign, no matter what your standing in this body was.

There were closed bills after closed bills after closed bills after closed bills that came up. Was there an opportunity to amend it, to perfect it, to do anything with it? Absolutely not. But that's not the way it is now. If we pass this rule, we're going to get to a process that allows every Member to come down to this floor and offer an amendment, debate that amendment, and have the possibility of passing that amendment.

So, yes, there are other issues, there are other appropriations, there are other bills that will be coming to this floor at some point in time. And at that time we can debate them. But right now, this is the issue before us. These two very important bills--and very much agreed-on bills--are only going to be taken up on this floor if this rule passes.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to reiterate again the benefits of these two bills that we're going to be debating if we pass this rule. They provide critical funding for military construction, housing, schools, and medical facilities for our servicemembers and their families, as well as important veterans programs. They protect security for our airports, seaports, and national border, as well as disaster relief efforts. They also reduce duplication, improve oversight, encourage efficiency, and increase coordination of services.

If there were one provision in a bill that would push you over the edge of voting for or against something, it would be the idea of getting rid of this old paperwork. I've had someone come and tell me that they had gotten a tetanus shot, I think, about 3 weeks before they got out of the service. Once they got out, they went to the VA and they forgot to take the record with them. So they had no proof. They went to the VA and they said, You're going to have to get a tetanus shot. He says, Wait a minute, I've already gotten one. You don't have that record? No. And if you don't have it with you, we don't know. Because you can tell us you had one 3 months ago, but that doesn't matter.

We need to do it. This one bill gets rid of that process and says we're going to move towards a modern system of electronically transferring these records. There's so many good things in these two bills; it's just pretext for the fact that this rule needs to be approved.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, that last discussion was worth paying the price to come here. But I would like to say this, to bring it back to where we are, and that is:

We have before us a rule. This rule is going to be the gateway--the gateway--to an open process. That open process, when it opens up, is beautiful to behold. We have two bills that will be heard. Both of those bills are going to be able to be amended by any Member that would like to do it. And to me, that is what I have searched for, and I think it's a great thing.

We have the opportunity to come to this floor, agree or disagree, but in the end we will produce a product that was put together by a bipartisan group of members of two different committees of the Appropriations Committee. And it went through the regular process. Bringing it to the floor with an open rule is the regular process. That is why I'm supporting this rule, because the rule gives the gateway to us doing those bills.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to submit two letters into the Record.

The first letter is from the Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan. In his letter, Chairman Ryan asks the Rules Committee to follow standard practice by addressing budget enforcement pending a conference report on the budget resolution. To prevent greater uncertainty and further delays in the appropriations process, House Resolution 243 will include a provision and does include a provision that adopts the House-passed budget resolution, H. Con. Res. 25, as an interim budget enforcement measure until an agreement may be reached with the Senate on the budget resolution for the coming fiscal year.

I would like to read an excerpt from that letter. This is from Chairman Ryan to Chairman Sessions, who is the Rules Committee chairman:

As you know, the budget passed by the House reduces spending by $4.6 trillion and achieves balance in 2023--all without raising taxes on the American people. In contrast, the budget resolution adopted by the Senate raises taxes by over $900 billion, increases spending by $265 billion and never balances. While I continue to work with my Senate counterpart to find common ground, we have not yet been able to reach agreement.

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. Let me finish this first.

Another part of that reads:

Until such time as we are able to reach agreement and consistent with the practice in previous years when the House and Senate have been delayed in completing action on a budget resolution, I am asking that the rule include a provision that adopts the House-passed budget resolution as an interim budget enforcement measure that will allow the appropriations process to proceed without further delay.

The second letter is just a response from Representative Sessions, who is the chair of the Rules Committee, acknowledging that the rule would include the requested interim budget enforcement measure.

I yield to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Van Hollen).

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Mr. WEBSTER of Florida. I reclaim my time and will not yield any more time after this.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I am not involved in that process. However, I can tell you this: I was a speaker at one point in time in a different body and at a different time in my career. Even if a conference committee has not been formed, there are discussions that go on. Then, eventually, there will be a conference committee, and things work out, but it doesn't necessarily mean that nothing is happening. I think things are happening. I think they are working on solutions. We have to have a solution at some point in time, and that's happening.

This resolution provides for an open rule to allow all Members to offer their ideas and to debate them through regular order. Two underlying bills fund necessary programs that train, equip, house, and support the brave men and women who sacrificially defend our freedoms, and the bills also support their families. Our debt of gratitude to these individuals does not expire when they retire, as the legislation also funds important programs to provide benefits and medical care for our veterans. Additionally, the legislation equips our Coast Guard and supports the individuals who guard our borders, secure our airports and seaports, and who respond to natural disasters.

However, we would be doing a great disservice, Mr. Speaker, to future generations if we were to fail to consider the effect our current spending will have on the future fiscal health and safety our Nation. For that reason, these bills reduce costs, require the coordination of medical care and ensure the efficient operation of those critical programs so that we may continue to support those who protect us.

I encourage my colleagues to join me in voting in favor of this rule and in the passage of the underlying bills.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,

COMMITTEE ON THE BUDGET,

Washington, DC, May 31, 2013.

Hon. PETE SESSIONS,
Chairman, Committee on Rules,
The Capitol, Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: Yesterday you announced that the Committee on Rules will meet on June 3 to report a rule to govern the floor consideration of the first appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014. I am writing to ask that you include in that rule a provision providing for the enforcement of the concurrent resolution on the budget as passed by the House (H. Con. Res. 25) until such time as the House adopts a conference report on the budget for fiscal year 2014.

As you know, the budget passed by the House reduces spending by $4.6 trillion and achieves balance in 2023--all without raising taxes on the American people. In contrast, the budget resolution adopted by the Senate raises taxes by over $900 billion, increases spending by $265 billion, and never balances. While I continue to work with my Senate counterpart to find common ground, we have not yet been able to reach agreement.

Until such time as we are able to reach agreement and consistent with the practice in previous years when the House and Senate have been delayed in completing action on a budget resolution, I am asking that the rule include a provision that adopts the House-passed budget resolution as an interim budget enforcement measure that will allow the appropriations process to proceed without further delay.

Pursuant to the authority provided in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and in title VI of the House-passed concurrent resolution on the budget and consistent with longstanding practice, once the House passes the rule adopting the House-passed budget resolution, as the Budget Committee Chairman I intend to file the allocations and adjustments in the Congressional Record to put in force such concurrent resolution.

To ensure the Rules Committee and House members have full transparency on the budget levels that would be enforced, enclosed are the relevant budget aggregates and committee allocations that I will file if the House adopts the rule. The House-passed budget resolution was based on CBO February budget projections and estimates. The funding levels for global war on terror (GWOT)/overseas contingency operations (OCO) and for veterans programs were based on an extrapolation of the President's budget request from last year. Because the House acted on the budget resolution before CBO had completed its updated budget projections and before the President had submitted his fiscal year 2014 budget request, the resolution provided authority for the Chairman to adjust the relevant levels in the resolution to reflect CBO's updated budget projections and the President's request for GWOT/OCO and veterans advance appropriations. The adjustments for CBO's updated baseline will be limited to changes due to updated technical estimates. Now that we have CBO's revised baseline projections and the President's budget request, it is possible to update the levels in the House-passed budget resolution to reflect this updated information. Enclosed are tables showing aggregate budget and committee allocations that will be used for budget enforcement purposes.

I want to emphasize that this is a request for an interim measure while the Committee on the Budget continues to work toward an agreement with the Senate on a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year. The nation's fiscal problems cannot be addressed solely through the appropriations process and the budget remains the critical vehicle for identifying a solution.

To ensure full transparency as to my intent should this request be granted, I ask that you include this letter and the enclosures in the Rules Committee's record of consideration of the rule. I appreciate your consideration. If there are any questions, please contact Paul Restuccia, Chief Counsel of the Committee on the Budget.

Sincerely,

Paul D. Ryan,
Chairman.

Enclosures.

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