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Public Statements

Order of Business

Location: Washington, DC

ORDER OF BUSINESS -- (Senate - July 28, 2005)


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about S. 397, the protection of lawful commerce in arms bill, also known as the gun liability immunity bill. Regardless of whether you support this bill or oppose this bill, I can certainly understand that the issue of gun liability is an important one.

But let me ask my colleagues: Is this really more important than all the other important issues before the Senate right now? With only a few days left before the August recess, is giving liability protection to gun manufacturers really more important than passing the Department of Defense authorization bill during a time of war? Even this bill's most vocal supporters could not make this argument with a straight face.

As I travel around my State of Illinois talking to constituents, I hear many concerns from them. They tell me about the lack of affordable health care, the quality of our Nation's schools, the rising cost of gasoline, and the war in Iraq. Parents worry about how the budget deficit will affect their children's future. Veterans complain about the long delays in applying for and receiving disability benefits and about the amount of those benefits.

My constituents have no shortage of suggestions and ideas for what Congress should be doing, but I can honestly say that none of them are saying, ``Senator, please go back to Washington and make sure that gun companies aren't being sued by victims of gun violence.'' I haven't heard that one yet.

And that is why I have chosen to speak on the floor today to--highlight the misplaced priorities of the Senate's leadership. Even though we have 139,000 troops fighting for our freedom in Iraq and a $440 billion Defense bill that could help these troops, we are here debating gun liability instead of talking about how to strengthen our national defense.

That is regrettable, and that is one of the reasons why so many Americans are disillusioned with their Government. Because we are not focusing on the problems that truly matter to them. Because some are more interested in scoring political points, or catering to a special interest.

I believe--as do my Democratic colleagues--that the first priority of the Senate should be to provide for our men and women who are in harm's way. And that means spending the necessary time to debate the Defense bill. If that takes us the rest of the week--or even next week--then that is what we should do.

How can we go home to our constituents in August and tell them that we left Washington, DC without finishing a bill to help our military because we spent too much time protecting gun manufacturers? That is shameful.

I have talked to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and many of them were planning to offer good, commonsense, bipartisan amendments to the DOD bill--amendments that would have helped our military and strengthened our national defense. I also have filed several amendments that I would have offered, and I believe that many of my colleagues would have supported them as well.

One of my amendments would have protected members of the National Guard and Reserve against employment discrimination. This amendment is supported by the Reserve Officers Association and is cosponsored by Senator Salazar.

I have heard that there have been instances where prospective employers are reluctant to hire guard and reservists because of fears that these employees could be called up for extended tours of duty. These citizen-soldiers are getting through initial stages of interviews only to be summarily dropped from the process upon disclosing the fact that they are members of the Guard and Reserve.

My amendment would have gotten to the heart of this problem by preventing employers from forcing members of the Guard and Reserve to disclose their military service during the interview process. However, my amendment would not have prohibited them from disclosing their military status if they thought it would be beneficial during an interview process.

But instead of helping members of the Guard and Reserve, we are talking about gun manufacturer liability. That is wrong.

Another amendment I would have offered relates to the medical records of our servicemembers.

For years, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have attempted to modernize their medical records to create a two-way exchange of patient health data to better care for our Nation's service members. This would decrease costs and improve the flow of information when active members of the military leave the DOD system and move to the VA system. Greater use of technology would also reduce medical errors, which kill up to 98,000 people a year.

Unfortunately, the DOD has not managed to create a fully functional electronic medical records system. Last year, a GAO report found that one of the primary reasons for the delay in developing this system is the lack of congressional oversight.

My amendment would have helped provide some of that oversight. I wanted to get some answers from DOD on why this project is being delayed and how the Department is proceeding with this important project.

But debate over these amendments, and many others, is being silenced in favor of the one we are having now--about helping gun manufacturers.

This is why the American people are tired of what goes on in this town. Because there are real issues they sent us here to debate--real problems they expect us to solve. But even when we have a chance to do this--even when we have a defense bill where we could add amendments that could help our troops and care for our veterans--the Senate passes on that chance and heads directly into another fight singed with more politics and more ideology.

We can do better than that. We owe ourselves better--and we certainly owe the American people better.

I ask unanimous consent that an article from Army Times, criticizing the Senate leadership's decision to stop consideration of the DOD bill, be included in the RECORD.


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