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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, let me first respond to the question earlier in the day of my good friend, the majority whip, about whether votes at the 60-vote level are somehow a new addition to debates of Defense authorization bills. Of course, the answer is emphatically no. The question is, frankly, almost laughable. A quick review of the Congressional Record shows, contrary to Senator Durbin's assertion, the Republican majority agreed to a 60-vote threshold on the Kennedy amendment during last year's Defense authorization debate.

Indeed, the Kennedy amendment was part of a UC agreement that set up side-by-side votes on the Enzi and Kennedy amendments. Both, of course, were given 60-vote thresholds, the same exact format that we offered on the Webb and Graham amendments yesterday.

Senator Durbin said there was never a 60-vote threshold. He was wrong. What Republicans are asking for is not unprecedented. It is not even uncommon. It is there for the distinguished majority whip to review online. But I certainly appreciate him asking the question.

We are just a couple of days into this debate. But a familiar and troubling pattern is already beginning to emerge. We could have voted on the Webb amendment yesterday. The Republicans were willing to move forward with votes on the side-by-side amendments. We said so at the time. Yet the Democratic majority insisted on a cloture filing instead that had no other effect than to simply slow things down. We are about to have that same vote with the same threshold and the same result that we could have had yesterday, all for no apparent reason.

Two days into this debate, we are already heading down the same fruitless road we went down with the emergency supplemental bill when the Democratic majority delayed the delivery of funds for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 3 months.

The bill we finally sent to the President's desk was guaranteed to draw a veto, so the Democratic majority delayed it some more. In the end, they gave the President the bill he asked for. They wasted 3 months of the Senate's time fussing and fighting over the original request and then gave him what he wanted in the first place. It was a total and complete waste of time.

Now, here we go again. Two days into this debate, we are already wasting time on an amendment we know the President will veto. The Webb amendment contains many good things that Republicans strongly support. But it also limits the President's authority as Commander in Chief, and combined with other objectionable provisions in this bill will provoke, of course, a veto.

The President vetoed the emergency supplemental because it carried restrictions on his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief. He will do it on this bill too. We know that for a fact. No one here disagrees with the idea that our forces should be rested, trained, and well-equipped. Republicans showed yesterday that we are committed to giving our soldiers and marines everything they need. That is why the underlying bill begins the expansion of the Army and Marine Corps. That is why Republicans offered a side-by-side amendment yesterday that would have given our men and women in the field all of these things without language that would draw a Presidential veto.

If the Democratic majority would have allowed us a vote on the Graham amendment, we could have stood here today and told the troops that rest, training, and equipment are on the way. But, instead, we are going to dangle all of these things in front of them knowing they won't be delivered. The Democratic majority is trying to force us to make a false choice between these two options, to pit the troops against their Commander in Chief. This is not just foolish, it is wrong. By putting limits on the President's authority to control forces in the field, the Webb amendment also amounts to a back-door effort to hamstring the Petraeus plan. It is the first vote on a strategy that has not been fully manned for just about a month. Every Senator in this Chamber knows we will get a progress report on General Petraeus's strategy in September, 2 months from now. We should wait for that assessment before rushing to judgment.

A Democratic-led Senate sent General Petraeus to Iraq, confirmed his nomination unanimously. He has a plan. He is executing it. We need to let him do his work. Let me say again, the Webb amendment contains a policy objective that Republicans enthusiastically share. What we do not share is the belief that the President's constitutional powers as Commander in Chief should be eroded by politicians in Washington in a time of war as this debate proceeds.

We will debate a number of amendments that seek to limit the President's authority and dictate operational plans for the war in Iraq. I expect that at least some of them will seek to order an immediate withdrawal of our combat forces. These amendments would provide a direct way to end our involvement in Iraq, and the Senate will consider them in due course. But the Webb amendment is different. It would curtail the deployment of reinforcements to Iraq, denying our military commanders the ability to sustain current force levels in Iraq, especially in Anbar Province, where most agree there has been considerable evidence of success. The Defense Department establishes dwell times through policies that have been developed over time by our commanders and leaders. Those leaders in turn respond to the requests of commanders in the field. The waiver contained in the Webb amendment sets an unreasonably high bar.

Republicans, meanwhile, will insist on amendments that protect the Nation's ability to defeat terrorists and wage war against al-Qaida. Therefore, I urge a ``no'' vote against the Webb amendment as it seeks to limit the President's authority as Commander in Chief and will deny our field commanders operational forces. I urge my colleagues to do the same.

Before yielding the floor, I wish to go back a minute to the 60-vote threshold issue with which I began my remarks. The suggestion has been made from the other side that somehow it is unusual to have a 60-vote threshold. Let's take a look at some of the votes we have had on Iraq proposals this very year. We agreed to a 60-vote threshold on the Gregg and Murray amendments as side by sides which answered the all-important question of whether to fund the troops. We have had 60-vote thresholds on vote No. 43, the Biden resolution; vote No. 44, the Levin resolution; vote No. 51, the Reid resolution; vote No. 74, the Reid resolution; vote No. 117, the supplemental funding bill; vote No. 167, the Feingold amendment; vote No. 168, the Warner amendment; vote No. 169, the Cochran amendment; and vote No. 171, the Reid amendment. On all of these controversial Iraq proposals, we didn't have a simple majority threshold but a 60-vote threshold. So the notion that is being spun on the other side that this is somehow an unusual event is absurd on its face. All you have to do is look at the record this year and, not to mention, be reasonably alert to the way the Senate has operated. For most of the time since I have been here, controversial measures, we know, require 60 votes. Let me explain the reason for that.

Any one of the hundred Senators can object to a time agreement that would allow a matter to be dealt with, with under 60 votes. That is an option frequently exercised in this body on both sides of the aisle. What we have done, as a practical matter in dealing with the Iraq debates this year, is recognize the obvious, which is that it would be difficult on these controversial measures for the leaders of either party to produce an up-or-down vote. Therefore, we have simply agreed to have a 60-vote vote, and it considerably expedites consideration of measures and prevents having to file cloture, running the risk that if cloture is invoked, somebody will require that we use 30 more hours in addition to that. In short, there is a sensible way to move forward on this bill. I hope we will adopt it later this afternoon and move on through with this very important measure for the defense of our country.

I yield the floor.



Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, there is an old saying that goes: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. For years I have led the fight in Congress to push the Department of Defense to safely and efficiently dispose of the deadly chemical weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County, KY, and in other facilities across the country. For years, forces burrowed deep within the middle layers of the DOD bureaucracy have dragged their feet on this issue and refused to comply with Congress's directions. As a result, for years the people of Madison County have had to live with 523 tons--523 tons--of chemical weapons right in their midst, including VX nerve agent, one of the deadliest nerve agents ever created. Just 10 milligrams of VX is enough to kill a human being, and they have over 100 tons of it stored just down the road from a schoolhouse.

My colleagues and I have had enough, and we have concluded that if you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself. Therefore, I rise today to speak about an amendment I filed on Tuesday, amendment No. 2061, that will set a deadline into law for DOD to complete work on the disposal of the chemical weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot and other facilities.

The deadline in this amendment will hold DOD to complete work on the disposal within 10 years; that is, no later than 2017. Thanks to years of delay and mismanagement, last year the Defense Department formally notified Congress it could not make the deadline set in the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC, and that deadline, of course, is 2012.

The United States has committed itself to that document and therefore will be in violation of its treaty obligations. But now DOD's latest projections would put off the completion of the disposal process at the Blue Grass Army Depot until 2023. That is 11 full years past the original deadline, and that is simply unacceptable.

I have documents from DOD that confirm that with sufficient funds, the entire U.S. chemical weapons stockpile could be eliminated by 2017, the deadline set by this amendment about which I am speaking, or maybe even sooner. If that goal can be met, then it certainly should be met.

Compounding the longstanding mismanagement within DOD on this issue is that the Department has consistently failed to request sufficient funds for disposal efforts. For years Congress has had to do the heavy lifting by increasing funds and making clear our commitment that these weapons be disposed of safely and with dispatch. A formal deadline in law, along with a regular reporting requirement, should finally push DOD to request sufficient funds in the future. That seems to be the only way to get DOD to ask for the funds it needs to get the job done.

Authorizers and appropriators of both parties, and in both Houses, have repeatedly expressed frustration at DOD's sluggish response to Congress's will. For years, the Department has flouted Congress and continued business as usual. That simply has got to stop. Passing this amendment will send a strong signal to the Department of Defense that Congress has had enough of their pigheaded stubbornness on this issue, and we are not going to take it anymore.

To prove we mean business, this amendment will also provide an additional $49.3 million for chemical demilitarization activities at Blue Grass Army Depot and a comparable facility at Pueblo Depot in Colorado. My colleagues from Colorado will be speaking to that momentarily. Those funds are fully offset in the bill. The money will be targeted to the two depots that have the farthest to go to dispose of their stockpiles, so this extra funding will help speed up the elimination of chemical weapons.

Delaying the disposal of chemical weapons in Kentucky and Colorado until the 2020s would cost the taxpayers an additional $3.3 billion. Appropriating $49.3 million and setting a firm deadline in law now will save us that $3.3 billion later.

The Department has over 16,000 tons of lethal chemical agents stored in military depots across our country. VX nerve gas stolen by a terrorist from the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky could have grave consequences for Americans living as far as away as Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, or even here in Washington, DC.

The risk from these weapons is particularly acute for those who live near these storage facilities. Every risk assessment ever done has concluded that the longer these deadly weapons lie fallow, the more unstable and the more dangerous they become.

The threat of terrorism posed by our failure to dispose of these weapons is not limited to the storage of such materials in the United States. With America soon to be in breach of its treaty obligations under CWC, it will be all the more difficult for us to prod Russia to dispose of its outstanding chemical weapons. Storage of Russia's chemical weapons is much less secure than our own. The longer these weapons continue to sit in storage throughout Russia, the greater the opportunity for them to fall into terrorist hands. So at its core, continued foot-dragging poses a national security and homeland security risk to our country.

Finally, I note, as I said earlier, this is a bipartisan amendment. My good friend from Colorado, Senator Salazar, joins me, obviously, as a cosponsor, as well as Senator Allard. This is something that Senator Bunning, my colleague from Kentucky, also joins as a cosponsor and feels strongly about as well.

A vote for this amendment will tell DOD that Congress is fed up, fed up, with its intransigence on this issue. A vote for this amendment is a vote to save the taxpayers $3.3 billion. A vote for this amendment is a vote to dispose of deadly nerve agents that are just down the street from our homes, our churches, and our schools.

Most importantly, a vote for this amendment is a vote to make the American people safer and more secure. When this Congress directs DOD to safely and efficiently dispose of these deadly weapons, and when we authorize and appropriate a sufficient amount of money so they can get the job done, that is exactly what we expect them to do. It is a shame we have to place a legally binding deadline on the Department to get them to do this. But if we want this job to be done right, we are going to have to step in and set a deadline ourselves.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment when it is subsequently offered.

I yield the floor.

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