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Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, The Global War onTerror, and Tsunami Relief Act, 2005--Conference Report -- Continued

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Location: Washington, DC


EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT FOR DEFENSE, THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR, AND TSUNAMI RELIEF ACT, 2005--CONFERENCE REPORT--Continued

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. DeWINE. Mr. President, I rise today to briefly discuss the conference report to the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, which we hope to adopt later today.

First, I thank my colleague from Mississippi, Senator Cochran, for the good work he has done. I plan to support adoption of this conference report. There are certainly a number of programs that will benefit greatly from passage of this bill. It is the right thing to do.

I must say, though, there are a few areas, which I will discuss in a moment, where I do not think we have gone quite far enough.

First, let's talk about the most important thing. Of course, that is the money that will go to support our soldiers. That is really why we are here. That is the most important provision in the bill. Let me talk about a couple of specific items that will aid our soldiers.

This bill includes Senator Craig's amendment, which I cosponsored, to provide an immediate payment--it ranges from $25,000 to $100,000--to those who have suffered traumatic injuries on active duty, such as the loss of an arm or leg or the loss of their hearing or sight.

The bill also includes my second-degree amendment to Senator Craig's amendment making this provision retroactive to October 7, 2001. This second-degree amendment I offered will ensure the coverage of soldiers who have been injured in Iraq, injured in Afghanistan, those soldiers who many of us have seen or talked to who are currently recuperating at Walter Reed, Bethesda, or other hospitals around our Nation, as well as those who have left the hospital and are learning to live with their injuries.

This amendment would help service members, such as Army SSG Justin Shellhammer, whom I spoke to today on the phone. Justin Shellhammer is a courageous young man, someone of whom we can all be very proud. I talked to him on the phone this morning. He is excited he is going to get a leg this afternoon. He told me about how his recuperation has been coming along and what his prospects are. When you talk to someone like him, your heart goes out to him. But, frankly, you feel great admiration for him and how courageous he is.

I am also pleased this bill includes an additional $150 million for the procurement of up-armored humvees. Many of us on the Senate floor and in the House have supported, for a long period of time, increases in funding for this program. It is an important program. There is a critical need for these vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan and here in the United States where they are used for training.

Quite simply, these vehicles have saved the lives of hundreds if not thousands of service men and women and enabled them to complete their mission.

Just a few moments ago, I talked about the fact that there are some items that should have been included in the bill that are not. I am, frankly, a little disappointed.

The conference report does not provide the death gratuity increase that we provided to all Active-Duty deaths. This bill increases the death gratuity to $100,000--and that is a very good thing--to the families of those who have died in service to our country. But the language in the bill that came out of conference provides only for deaths that occur in a combat zone or those that are ``combat-related.'' I think that is much too narrow. I think it is a shame. I think it is too bad that is what the conference did.

If we do not apply the death gratuity increase to all Active-Duty deaths--which is what we should have done--we will not be covering a number of individuals who die while carrying out their orders, who die in service to our country. Their families will not be covered. For example, we will not cover the family of a service member who gets into a fatal car accident carrying out very specific orders to deliver files from one side of his home base to another, in service to his country. His family will not get that death benefit.

We also will not cover the death of a service member who gets into a fatal accident en route to a conference he or she was ordered to attend. And it will not even cover a military police officer guarding the gates of one of our domestic bases who may fall from heat stroke. I do not think that is right. I think that was a mistake the conference made.

As I have done since the beginning of this Congress, I will continue, as I know others will, to work to expand the applicability of this critical benefit.

I must say, I was also disappointed that we were unable to pass an extended TRICARE Prime medical benefit for children of decreased service members. Under current law, the dependent child of a deceased service member receives medical benefits under TRICARE Prime for 3 years at no cost. But following that period, the dependent children may continue to receive TRICARE Prime, but they must pay for that benefit at the retiree dependent premium rate, available to children under the age of 21 or 23 if they are enrolled in school. Also, after 3 years, when a dependent child's military parent dies, and if that family elects to pay the premium and stay enrolled, even if they pay that premium, that child would move down on the food chain, so to speak, in terms of the availability of services and priority. I do not think that is right. I think we need to correct that.

What that means is that if there is a doctor's appointment opening, and your parent is alive, and your parent is continuing to serve, you get preference over a child whose parent was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Now, do we really think that is right? I do not think so. I do not think there is any person on this floor or in the Senate who would say that is right.

This is simply not fair. I don't think any Member of the Senate who really understands this would say that is right. My amendment, which was not included in this bill, would have changed that by putting surviving children of service members killed in service in the same position--no better but no worse--as if their parent would have lived and continued to serve in the military. It would have put them in no better position but, rather, in the same position, and they would continue to receive TRICARE Prime at no cost until they became an adult.

I wish to let my colleagues know that I plan to continue this debate and to try to get this in the Defense authorization bill. This is a matter of simple fairness. It is the right thing to do. So this discussion will continue this week and in the weeks ahead.

Let me turn to another topic that this bill addresses, and that is humanitarian assistance. I believe we did a pretty good job in this bill--again, I congratulate the chairman--as many essential priorities were funded. Because of what the chairman did and what others did, many people will be fed, many people will be helped maybe not at the level I would have liked in some cases, but we did a pretty good job.

One country that certainly needs assistance in this supplemental is Haiti. Haiti is embarking on a road to attempt to move toward democracy. They have had a very troubled past, a troubled present. Its current history is troubled. They are facing elections this year.

I thank Chairman Cochran and Senator Bingaman, Chairman MCCONNELL, and all the conferees who supported my efforts to include emergency money for Haiti. Haiti needs election assistance and security. This bill provides $20 million for election assistance this year, for police training and for public works programs. All this money is urgently needed. I will be working closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure this money flows quickly into Haiti.

Another troubled spot in this world is Darfur. Again, I congratulate the chairman for his work. Senator Corzine offered an amendment. Senator Corzine has been a true champion in this area. I congratulate him. He offered an amendment, of which I was the lead cosponsor, regarding Darfur. I thank him for his efforts and commitment to helping end the crisis in the region. The final conference report provides $50 million to support the African Union to stop the genocide in Darfur. Again, I thank Senator McConnell and Senator Leahy for their good work in this area as well.

The conference report also provides an additional $90 million for international disaster and family assistance to help ensure humanitarian aid flows to Darfur and other African crises. We are looking at genocide in Darfur. We are staring it down, and we cannot afford to blink. It is only right that this bill contains funding for this crisis.

Finally, I thank Senator Kohl for his efforts to help increase our U.S. food aid. I worked with Senator Kohl. I was his lead cosponsor on his amendment, which the Senate passed, to include $470 million in food aid to cover known worldwide aid shortages. Again, I thank Senator Cochran for his good work in this area.

The conference report, unfortunately, contains only $240 million. This money will help, but it is not at the level the Senate had provided. This is not enough to cover existing shortfalls, much less new emergencies or worsening conditions in places such as Ethiopia. Last year, 300,000 children in Ethiopia died of malnutrition. This year, the situation is worse, with drought destroying crops in large parts of the country. The people of Ethiopia will avoid the starvation that is on the horizon only if we act. That means remaining open to the possibility of using the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust and other tools in our food aid arsenal. We must understand that it is not only Ethiopia where we have a crisis; we have crises all over the world with regard to food aid. We simply do not have enough food.

I am proud to be joining Senator Kohl in sending a letter to the President asking him to look at the Bill Emerson Trust as we enter the summer season that so often results in food shortages, not just in Ethiopia but around the world. I again commend Senator Kohl for his commitment to end hunger around the world.

There are good parts to the conference report we are passing today. It provides immediate and necessary help that our soldiers need to do their job. It provides our injured service men and women with care that they desperately need. It provides money for Haiti and Darfur, other African crises. However, frankly, we could have done more. Legislation, though, is never perfect. We simply need to continue to work together to address issues that are not fixed in this legislation.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.

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