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Public Statements

Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief Act, 2005--Conference Report--Continued

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC - Senate


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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2005 is a vital piece of legislation. It provides $75.9 billion for the Department of Defense, nearly $4 billion for the Department of State, and billions more for military construction and other national priorities. It will come as no surprise to anyone that Congress will pass this bill with an overwhelming majority. Instead, we should be asking what took so long.

The administration continues to play games with the funding of the war on terror and the war in Iraq. These aren't inside-the-beltway issues. Every day the administration resists bringing forward an accurate and reasonable accounting of our future needs in Iraq, it complicates the way the Department of Defense conducts business.

In recent weeks, the Pentagon has been forced to shuffle $1.1 billion to cover Army shortfalls while the Department of Defense waits for the President to sign the supplemental into law. That $1.1 billion came out of Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Army National Guard personnel accounts. That is a dangerous way to conduct business.

As we pass this legislation, I urge the President to heed the advice of so many Senators who believe that he must better reflect the costs of war in his regular defense budgets and simply be straight with the American people about the ongoing costs of operations in Iraq and elsewhere. Our troops shouldn't have to wait for the gear and equipment they need to do their jobs well, to win the peace in Iraq, to bring the terrorists to justice in Afghanistan and around the world, and to come home.

This bill takes some important steps toward the Military Family Bill of Rights which we have talked about for many months. It increases to $400,000 the life insurance coverage available to service members, and raises the death gratuity to $100,000 for those who die in combat and in combat-related incidents, including training. It also extends to 1 year the length of time widows and children of military personnel may remain in military housing. Together, these provisions are important affirmations of the Congress' support for the men and women of the American military and their families. I thank the House-Senate conferees for including those provisions.

I regret that the House-Senate Conferees struck a provision that the Senate added to pay an equal death gratuity to the survivors of all service members killed while on active duty, regardless of the circumstances. This policy was supported by 75 Senators in a floor vote. It was supported by the House in its version of the legislation. And it is supported by the uniformed leadership of the military. It is clear that the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, led by Secretary Rumsfeld, opposed it. While they have succeeded in striking the provision from this supplemental legislation, I will continue to work with my colleagues, many of whom have worked on this issue for some time, for its enactment.

While I support this bill overall, I have serious concerns about the attachment of the REAL ID Act to the conference report. This legislation creates new hurdles for legitimate asylum seekers, allows the government to waive environmental laws to build physical barriers on the border, and forces an unfunded mandate on the States. This legislation did not have so much as a hearing in the U.S. Senate. Such legislation should be considered in committee and before the full Senate, rather than being attached to an emergency spending bill. It is my hope that the Senate will work to amend the most damaging provisions of the REAL ID Act as soon as possible.

I am pleased that the conference report includes the ``Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act'' which makes changes to the H-2B visa program. This provision will provide great relief to many small businesses in Massachusetts that count on foreign workers to keep their seasonal businesses open.

Mr. President, I would also like to thank the conferees for addressing potentially damaging anti-small business language in this bill which would have allowed small business subcontracts at the Department of Energy to be counted as prime contracts and capped all small business contracting goals at 23 percent. Section 6023 had strong bipartisan opposition from members of the Small Business Committees and from other members concerned about protecting small business federal contracting. The compromise language included in Section 6022 of the final version of this bill lays out a process for the Small Business Administration and the Department of Energy to expand small business contracting.

The compromise requires the Small Business Administration and the Department of Energy to develop a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, on a methodology for measuring the achievement of awarding prime contracts and subcontracts to small businesses. It is my understanding that MOU will in no way count the subcontracts awarded by DOE's management and operations contractors towards DOE's prime contracting goal. Section 6022 also requires DOE and SBA to conduct a joint study of changes at DOE that would encourage greater opportunities for small business contracting, and it includes temporary relief for local small firms that are facing undue burdens as a result of contracts being broken out from large, bundled management and operations contracts.

Mr. President, the Department of Energy has the worst small business utilization record of all Federal agencies. This compromise is an opportunity to address the growing challenges facing small firms as a result of contract bundling, the need for greater diligence by the administration in its effort to meet the 23 percent government-wide minimum goal for small business contracting, and the need for greater management and oversight by the Department of Energy of the contracting dollars being awarded by the Agency. I hope the administration will use this opportunity to improve small business contracting at the DOE and will draw on the conclusions of the ongoing studies being released by the GAO to address the current shortfalls in small business prime contracting and subcontracting oversight. As the ranking member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I am committed to working with the other committees of jurisdiction, including the Energy Committee, to ensure that DOE and SBA do not undermine the intent of Section 6022 by using this compromise language to prevent small businesses from receiving their fair share of DOE prime contracts.

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