REAL SECURITY -- (House of Representatives - April 06, 2006)
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, the Preamble to our Constitution lays out the basic functions of government and notably featured is the need to provide for the common defense.
National security is the single most important purpose of government; all of the other blessings of liberty flow from it. Throughout much of this country's history, Senator Arthur Vandenberg's famous maxim that ``Partisanship must end at the water's edge'' has guided the formulation and execution of America's national security policy.
Unfortunately, over the past several years that bipartisan tradition has been undermined by the Republican Party which has sought to convince Americans that only one party could be entrusted to preserve our Nation's military strength and its position as the world's preeminent power.
This unwillingness to listen to other voices has reached its zenith under the current administration, which took office with one overriding principle, that was to guide American national security policy. Yet when the previous administration, that of President Clinton, was for it, they were against it. The result is an America that is less safe than it should be and less safe than it needs to be.
Our military has been stretched to the absolute limits in Iraq, leaving us precious little ability to respond to other contingencies around the globe. Overseas, we are less often seen as a force for good in the world, and surveys of public opinion consistently show that we as a Nation are viewed negatively, even by our friends in Europe.
At home, we have frittered away the 4 1/2 years since September 11 instead of making real strides in safeguarding the Nation from terrorist attack.
In Iraq, a stubborn refusal to commit enough troops to save the lives and pacify the country in the months after the invasion has led to a protracted fight against the Baathists and Islamist insurgents that has claimed now more than 2,300 American lives.
And finally, we have failed to reckon with the Achilles heel of our national security, our reliance on foreign oil to supply our energy needs.
Clearly, Americans want and deserve change. Last week, Members of our party from both the House and the Senate unveiled a comprehensive blueprint to protect the American people and to restore our Nation's position of international leadership.
Our plan, Real Security, was devised with the assistance of a broad range of experts, former military officers, retired diplomats, law enforcement personnel, homeland security experts and others, who helped identify key areas where current policies have failed and where new ones were needed.
During the next several weeks, Democratic Members of the House will be doing a series of 1-hours where we will discuss the particulars of the Real Security plan. Tonight, we will give an overview of that plan, and in the following weeks we will flesh out each of the five pillars of the Democratic Real Security plan for the country.
It is a tough and smart strategy to rebuild our military, equip and train our first responders and others on the front lines and here at home, provide needed benefits to our troops and veterans, fully man and equip our National Guard, promote alternative fuels and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, restore Americans' confidence in their government's ability to respond in the face of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
To protect the American people, we will immediately implement the recommendations of the independent bipartisan 9/11 Commission and finally protect our ports and airports, our borders, mass transit systems, our chemical and nuclear power plants, and our food and water supplies from terrorist attack.
After September 11, all Americans trusted the President to take the steps necessary to keep our country safe. Since then, inadequate planning, sometimes incompetent policies, have failed to make Americans as safe as we should be. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina showed that the Federal Government was still not prepared to respond.
Under the administration's leadership, the war in Iraq began with intelligence that was at best wrong and at worst manipulated. 140,000 of our finest young people were sent into Iraq without an adequate plan for success.
Our ports and other critical infrastructure remain vulnerable, while both soldiers in the field and first responders at home lack the basic equipment and resources they were promised.
Both in the Persian Gulf and on our own gulf coast, lucrative, no-bid contracts have gone to companies like Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown&Root and others with friends in high places.
Despite record high fuel prices, our country remains heavily dependent on foreign oil because of an energy policy that benefits the big oil interests.
The Real Security plan rests on five pillars that my colleagues and I will introduce to you tonight. They are the creation of a 21st-century military, a smart strategy to win the war on terror, a plan to secure the homeland, a plan to move forward in Iraq, and a proposal for achieving energy independence for America by 2020.
Under Real Security, a Democratic Congress will rebuild a state-of-the-art military by making needed investments in equipment and manpower so that we can project power to protect America wherever and whenever necessary.
We have all heard the stories of parents using their own money to purchase body armor for their own children serving in Iraq. I personally asked Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld about the shortage of body armor, about the lack of adequately armored vehicles, and the holdups in development of equipment to counter roadside bombs that have killed and maimed so many of our troops. Despite his assurances, there are still problems and young Americans are still paying the price.
Under Real Security, Democrats will guarantee all of our troops have the protective gear, equipment, and training they need and are never sent to war without accurate intelligence and a strategy for success.
I have been to Iraq now three times; and I visited our wounded troops here at home, there, and in Germany. I have spoken at the funerals of my constituents who have been killed in Iraq, and I have sat with their families as they have mourned. These experiences have reinforced my sense of commitment to ensuring the well-being of America's soldiers and their families and our veterans.
Democrats will enact a GI bill of Rights for the 21st century that guarantees our troops, active, reserve and retired, our veterans and their families, receive the pay, health care, mental health services, and other benefits they have earned and deserve.
Our active military are stretched to the breaking point, but our Guard and Reserves have also been ground down by multiple deployments and falling enlistment and reenlistment. This has, in turn, added to the stress on the active Army and Marines.
As part of our Real Security plan, Democrats will strengthen the National Guard in partnership with our Nation's Governors to ensure it is fully manned, properly equipped, and available to meet missions at home and abroad.
The next pillar of Real Security is a broad strategy to win the war on terror. Four and a half years after 9/11 Osama bin Laden is still at large, and al Qaeda has morphed into a worldwide amalgam of discrete cells that are more difficult to track down.
When Democrats are in charge, we will make the elimination of Osama bin Laden our first priority. We will destroy al Qaeda and other terrorist networks, and we will finish the job in Afghanistan and end the threat posed by the Taliban. We propose to double the size of our special forces, increase our human intelligence capabilities, and ensure that our intelligence is free from political pressure.
Despite their vow to drain the swamp, the administration has done little to eliminate terrorist breeding grounds by combating the economic, social, and political conditions that allow extremism to thrive. Democrats will fight terrorism with all means at our disposal by leading international efforts to uphold and defend human rights and renew the long-standing alliances that have advanced our national security objectives.
Under Real Security, we will confront the specter of nuclear terrorism by greatly accelerating the pace at which we are securing nuclear material that could be used to make a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. Our goal is to secure loose nuclear material by 2010. We will also redouble our efforts to stop nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea. While Democrats understand that no option can be taken off the table, we are committed to a muscular diplomacy as the best option for curbing Pyongyang and Teheran's nuclear ambitions.
The third pillar of Real Security is homeland security. In the wake of 9/11, there have been numerous commissions and investigations at the Federal, State and local level, as well as a multitude of private studies. All of them have pointed to the broad systemic and other flaws in our homeland security program. Almost 2 years ago, the independent bipartisan 9/11 Commission published its report, but most of its recommendations have yet to be implemented.
As part of Real Security, Democrats will immediately implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, including securing national borders, ports, airports, and mass transit systems. We will implement the screening of 100 percent of containers and cargo bound for the U.S. in ships or airplanes at the point of origin, and we will take steps to better safeguard America's nuclear and chemical plants and our food and water supplies.
Democrats will prevent the outsourcing of critical components of our national security infrastructure, such as ports, airports, and mass transit to foreign interests that could put America at risk. Under Real Security, Democrats would provide firefighters, emergency medical workers, police officers, and other workers on the front lines with the training, staffing, equipment and cutting-edge technology they need.
While the immediate threats to our national security come from terrorists, we face other dangers as well. Democrats are committed to a security strategy that will protect America from biological terrorism and pandemics, including the avian flu, by investing in the public health infrastructure and training public health workers.
The fourth pillar, and the one that will have the most immediate effect on our security, is to chart a new course in Iraq that will ensure that 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country with a responsible redeployment of U.S. forces. Democrats will insist that Iraqis make the political compromises necessary to unite their country and defeat the insurgency, promote regional diplomacy, and strongly encourage our allies in other nations to play a constructive role.
As a part of Real Security, Democrats intend to hold the administration accountable for its manipulated prewar intelligence, poor planning, and contracting abuses that have placed our troops at greater risk and wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.
Our security will remain threatened as long as we remain dependent on Middle East oil. The fifth pillar, and the one with the most far-reaching ramifications for our country and the world, is to achieve energy independence for America by 2020.
Under Real Security, Democrats will increase production of alternate fuels from America's heartland; biofuels, geothermal, clean coal, fuel cells, solar and wind, promote hybrid and flex-fuel technology and manufacturing, enhance energy efficiency and conservation incentives. All this we will do, and more, to meet the real national security needs of the country.
And now, I would like to turn to some of my colleagues who have been leaders on national security issues. I would like to begin by introducing my colleague from California (SUSAN DAVIS) to hear her thoughts on one of the five pillars.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentlewoman from California for all her work in this area, and I know that you represent a very large constituency of servicemembers in your district, probably one of the largest in the country. Undoubtedly, you have had the opportunity to visit with a lot of the families of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and know firsthand some of the demands being placed on our active duty but also on our guard and reserve.
Many of them pulled out of their jobs, earning a lot less on active duty than they were in their civilian occupations. This must be a tremendous hardship for families.
Mrs. DAVIS of California. I think it is, and because our families prepare as well as the men and women who actually go into war, it provides a particular burden on all of them. And I think that is why it has been, in a community like San Diego, why we have felt this so acutely.
And know how important it is for people to have a sense of comfort that they have the equipment they need and that once deployed and coming home, particularly for the guard and reserve, that they will not see these kind of endless deployments. That has been very important and it has been really hard for the families to sometimes get a really good handle on that.
Mr. SCHIFF. I imagine that you have had the experience that I have with some of my constituents in talking to their families, those that are serving in Iraq and the concerns that they have, and in talking with the soldiers when they return about whether they had the up-armored vehicles that they needed, and finding out from them firsthand that, notwithstanding protestations to the contrary by the Pentagon, that in fact they often didn't have up-armored vehicles. I still have people coming back telling me of the inadequacy of materiel they have to work with and to keep them safe.
But I thank you so much for all your leadership on this issue. You do a tremendous job on behalf of your constituents in the San Diego area and in the armed services area for all the rest of our country. Thank you.
I would like to turn now, Mr. Speaker, to one of my close friends and colleagues here, David Scott of Georgia. We cofounded, along with Steve Israel, the Democratic Study Group on National Security. He has been a strong voice and a great leader on national security issues. We are very grateful for your joining us this evening.
The gentleman from Georgia.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Scott, we are proud and grateful to have you here. You mentioned the proud history of the Democratic Party and national security under the leadership of Presidents like Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy and others.
Today we saw in the press reports that the President authorized Mr. Libby, the chief of staff of the Vice President, to disclose classified information, national security information, for a political purpose. Can you imagine Roosevelt or Kennedy or Truman doing that? Can you imagine, for political reasons, any of them
disclosing classified intelligence information for a political reason?
Mr. SCOTT of Georgia. Absolutely not. Our President, it brings chills to me when I remember what President Roosevelt said: ``We have nothing to fear but fear itself,'' to raise people, our people, to that level. Or President Kennedy saying: ``Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.''
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman.
It gives me great pleasure to yield to Mr. Bennie Thompson, our ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, someone who has brought great intelligence, foresight, and determination to protecting America, to ensuring we have port security and airport securing, and that we plug many of the gaping holes here in the homeland. I yield to the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentleman, and I particularly appreciate your talking about the common sense changes that have to be made to protect this country. Does it make sense, I ask our ranking member, to have a policy where you have to take off your shoes at the airport to get through the metal detector, but 50 percent of the cargo on the plane you are flying on is commercial and 98 percent of that is never checked for an explosive? You can ship a bomb the size of a piano that will never get opened in a crate under that same plane, but you have to take your shoes off. Does that make sense?
Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. None of it makes sense. The other thing is, we have the technology available to us to do many of these things. We have to have the will to produce the resources necessary to acquire the technology in order for that to occur.
We have tried in our committees to fully fund all of the screening programs, not just at airports, but we are talking about screening cargo coming into our country. But we can't get the support on the Republican side of the aisle to move in that direction.
We have two government agencies, Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security, charged with radiation screening of certain activities. We can't even get support to merge the two programs. They are operating in ports separate and apart. So clearly, there are a number of things, Congressman Schiff, that we need to do.
Mr. SCHIFF. And that last point, I think, is the key one. The President, I am sure you recall, during the first debate with Senator Kerry, was asked what is the top national security threat facing the country? And he said, nuclear terrorism. Senator Kerry agreed. I think they were both right.
But if that is true, and the most likely suspect for nuclear terrorism is al Qaeda, then the most likely delivery device is not a missile but a crate. And that crate is going to come into one of our ports. And why we haven't mobilized the resources to implement that portal technology, why we are spending as much as we are on a more distant threat in terms of national missile defense, rather than the more proximate threat of a smuggled in dirty bomb or crude nuclear weapon is not in our Nation's national security interest.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues this evening for all their comments and their leadership. Over the next several weeks, we will be unveiling in greater detail each of the pillars of security: how we intend, as Democrats, to rebuild the 21st-century military; how we intend to take the war on terror to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda; how we intend to beef up our homeland security and repair a lot of the broken pieces of our homeland security policy that make us continue to be vulnerable; how we will make Iraq in 2006 a year of transition to full Iraqi sovereignty; and how, as Mr. Inslee points out, we can achieve energy independence, something vital to the present and this Nation's future.
I want to thank my colleagues for their leadership, David Scott for all his great work, Chris Van Hollen, Jay Inslee, all of the other speakers tonight. We look forward to continuing this dialogue with the American people.