EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT FOR DEFENSE, THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR, AND TSUNAMI RELIEF ACT, 2005--CONFERENCE REPORT
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Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, before I make my remarks on the supplemental appropriations conference report, I commend my friend and colleague from California. As we have come to expect, her presentation was thorough, comprehensive, factually and historically accurate. Much in the debate that has occurred around the so-called nuclear option has been heated. It has been rhetorical. It has been filled with opinion. It has been, unfortunately, often devoid of either historical or factual content. I personally appreciate greatly the Senator from California putting into the RECORD these very carefully created remarks based on facts. I hope no matter what happens with this debate--and obviously, I hope the Senate comes to its senses and realizes that we owe an obligation to the Constitution and the country--historians will be able to look back and read the very impressive statement of the Senator from California and know what the facts were. I personally express my appreciation to her.
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Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I rise to address the emergency supplemental appropriations conference report. When the vote occurs, it is likely to be, if not unanimous, very close to being unanimous. And why? Because this conference report contains the funding that is needed by our brave troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It contains funding to provide necessary resources to equip our troops and to do the military construction that is necessary. I will vote for this conference report.
But I want to record some serious reservations about this process. First, the emergency supplemental appropriations process is destined to be just that. It is a way to fund unforeseen emergencies outside of the usual budgetary process.
Unfortunately, once again, we are funding the cost of the military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, as well as a legitimate emergency, such as the tsunami relief provisions in the bill, through an emergency. I am privileged to sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for presenting the authorization for the budget for the Department of Defense, and during several of our hearings over the last several months, I, among a number of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, have asked our civilian and military leadership from the Department of Defense how they explain the fact that once again the costs for Iraq and Afghanistan are not in the budget; they are in the emergency supplemental.
Many of these costs perhaps were genuine emergencies, but many others are not. I would not argue with many of the decisions made because I am well aware of the importance of recapitalizing our equipment, building back up our stores of arms that have been decreased through necessary action. But a good budgeting process would take all of that into account. Having this supplemental, unfortunately, with the big title ``emergency'' over it appears to be an effort to rush things through to avoid congressional oversight and scrutiny. Obviously, a bill that is going to provide funding for the young men and women wearing the uniform of our country, in harm's way every single hour of every day, is going to command broad bipartisan and public support, as it should. But that doesn't, in my opinion, in any way mitigate against what should be the necessity of an orderly process, an appropriations process subject to the give and take of opinion and fact, and argument and reason and evidence, and then the presentation of a budget that includes the expenses that are necessary for our military.
I regret deeply that we are, once again, seeing an emergency bill being pushed through the Senate, as it was pushed through the House last week, when instead we should be having an orderly process looking at these matters within the budget and making decisions based on that process.
During the Armed Services Committee hearing on this supplemental request, a number of my colleagues asked why projects that ordinarily are included in the regular Department of Defense budget were being shifted to the supplemental. I really was quite taken aback when the military leadership said they didn't know, that they were just told they should put it out for the supplemental. The civilian leadership present at the hearing could not offer a much better explanation. So it is regrettable that we are making these important, literally life-and-death decisions once again in an emergency supplemental as opposed to the regular budget.
Also, it is regrettable that the administration is not providing a proper accounting of how funds are being spent in Iraq. According to recent reports, Government auditors found that American officials rushed to start small building projects in a large area of Iraq during 2003 and 2004. They did not keep the required records that would tell us how they spent $89.4 million in cash. They cannot account for at least $7.2 million more. This is a very serious question. If we are appropriating this money and we are sending it for both military and reconstruction purposes to Iraq, we have a right to expect that records will be kept so we can determine whether it is being spent in the appropriate manner.
We have also heard that millions of dollars of Iraqi reconstruction funds that have been appropriated have also not been spent. A large reason for that is security. But why come back for more money when we cannot spend the money we have already appropriated? It is heartbreaking to me that there is so little oversight from this Congress with respect to this administration. There are no rigorous hearings being held to determine whether we are spending money correctly, how it is being spent, where all of the cash is going. The first time I flew into Iraq, I flew from Kuwait to Baghdad on a C-130. The back of it was loaded with cash--dollars. They were being taken into Baghdad to be spent for God knows what, and there is no accountability.
It is remarkable that this Congress, at this important moment in American history, is not exercising its constitutional oversight responsibilities. During the Second World War, Harry Truman, a Democratic President, with a Democratic Congress, held hearings about where money was going in World War II. In the 1960s, Senator Fulbright, with a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress, held hearings about our policies and actions in Vietnam. We have a Republican President, a Republican Congress--hear no evil, see no evil, speak to evil; we don't want to know. Questions are not asked--at least publicly. People have no idea where this money is going, who is getting it, and how it is being spent. These emergency supplementals have even less oversight than the typical budget, which in this Congress is practically nothing.
So while we continue to spend billions and billions of American taxpayer dollars, we don't see the requisite accountability occurring in this body to determine whether we are spending them appropriately.
I am also deeply concerned that on an emergency supplemental to fund our troops and fund the relief disaster in southeast Asia because of the tsunami, we are being asked to vote on something called ``REAL ID.'' It is a provision meant to, in the supporters' argument, make our country safer. How do we know? We haven't had hearings about it in the Senate. We have not even had debate about it in the Senate. I joined with Senator Feinstein to try to prevent immigration proposals from being tacked onto the supplemental. But we all know why that happened--because the administration backed up the House Republican leadership to give them an opportunity to put the so-called REAL ID on a must-pass piece of legislation; namely, legislation to fund our troops. So without debate, without committee hearings, without process, we have the so-called REAL ID in this emergency supplemental.
I am outraged that the Republican leadership, first in the House and now, unfortunately, in the Senate, would put this seriously flawed act into this emergency supplemental bill for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Emergency legislation designed to provide our troops the resources they need to fight terrorism on the front lines is not the place for broad, sweeping immigration reform. That is what REAL ID is. There may be parts of it that we could agree on if we ever had a chance to debate it. Other parts go too far and don't fulfill the purpose of making our country more secure.
I am in total agreement with those who argue that we need to address our immigration challenges, and we are still not doing what we should to fulfill the demands of homeland security. I think they go hand-in-hand. If we cannot secure our borders, we cannot secure our homeland. Everybody knows we are not securing our borders. Who are we kidding? We need a much tougher, smarter look at these issues. But instead we are taking a piece of legislation passed by the House, jammed into supplemental emergency appropriations for our troops, and we are going to up-end the way we do driver's licenses throughout our country, and we are going to claim we have now made America safer.
I think that is a false claim. I regret deeply that we are rushing to pass this emergency bill with this so-called REAL ID in it. We need to reform our immigration laws. We need to make our borders more secure. But we need a debate about how we are going to do that. Isn't it somewhat interesting to everyone in this Chamber that the richest, smartest country with the best technology in the world cannot secure its borders? Why would that be? Well, part of the reason is because there are many people, particularly to our south, who are desperate for a better chance. They literally risk their lives to come here. Part of it is because we have a lot of employers who want to employ them. So they know if they get here, they will have a job. We are not having a public national debate about this because, if we were, we would have to point fingers at these employers who pick up illegal immigrants every single day on street corners throughout America, or who sign them up to work in dangerous factories with very little health and safety regulation.
So come on, let's not kid ourselves. We have a serious security and immigration problem. But we are not addressing it by jamming this provision about driver's licenses into our emergency appropriations. We need to make our borders more secure. I have introduced legislation 3 years in a row to have a northern border coordinator. I met with both Secretary Ridge and Secretary Chertoff. We don't know who is in charge of the northern border. Trying to figure out who is responsible for the northern border is like playing ``Where is Waldo.'' we cannot figure that out. We are not taking simple steps to rationalize our bureaucracy in Washington, to find out what our holes are and how they can be plugged, what policies would work if we were actually serious about improving security.
The REAL ID Act also gives total control to the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive legal requirements that stand in the way of constructing barriers and roads along the border. The only check is limited judicial review. This is quite a tremendous grant of authority to one person in our Government. I am sure there are some reasons why we would want to expedite a process to try to have better security along our borders. But to give this unchecked responsibility to the Secretary, with limited judicial review--that is a slippery slope, my friends. We are sliding further and further toward absolute power and the removal of our checks and balances.
We also have to figure out how we are going to deal with the changes in asylum rules that are in REAL ID. I am very proud of the fact that our country has always welcomed asylum-seekers and refugees. There is a city in New York, Utica, which is known as one of the most welcoming places for refugees in the entire country. I am so proud of the people of Utica. They have taken in Bosnians, Kosovars, Somalians, all kinds of refugees--people who could not stay in their home country and were desperate for some place of refuge. Under these new rules, we will see whether America remains the place of welcome, whether we fulfill our obligations to our fellow men and women.
I hope that the failure of having a process with respect to REAL ID, the continuing use of the supplemental appropriations route for funding our troops, which avoids the budget process, will at some point come to an end because the majority will no longer tolerate it. This is not good for any of us--to have these kinds of processes that really turn our constitutional system upside down.
In the meantime, we need to send a message that we are able to have national debates about sensitive issues, to debate judicial nominations on the floor, using the rules that have really stood the test of time and been good for the Senate and our country. We don't always win, but the Senate was devised to protect minority rights. I represent a State of 19 million people.
The Presiding Officer represents a much smaller State. He and I are equal. That is the whole idea behind the setup of the Senate.
Finally, let's be sure that we do not piecemeal reform immigration--I use the word ``reform'' advisedly--that we have the kind of debate and comprehensive reform that is so needed. I bet every one of the offices of my colleagues is faced with what my office confronts every single day. We do lots of casework. There are a lot of people who came here legally. They cannot get their relatives into this country. They cannot reunite their families. I want to have a reform that really provides benefits for legal immigrants.
Mr. President, I hope we can deal with these issues in a better way that really reflects the best of the Senate going forward.