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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, I will not call it up at the moment. I withdraw the request.

I do ask unanimous consent that Senators Graham, Casey, Brown, and Sanders be added as cosponsors to amendment No. 2335.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BIDEN. I want to explain briefly what this amendment does. It adds $23.6 billion to allow the Army to replace all of its up-armored HMMWVs with mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, the so-called MRAPs. It also adds a billion dollars to increase the cost of the 8,000 MRAPs we are trying to purchase today. In terms of the specifics of this amendment, the idea is simple. If we can prevent two-thirds or more of our casualties with a vehicle that is basically a modified and armored truck, we have to do all in our power to do it, in my view.

Last, it provides $400 million for better protection against explosively formed penetrators or EFPs. These are those shaped-charges that hit our vehicles from the side and are increasingly deadly.

I want to be straight with my colleagues. This is a very expensive amendment. Twenty-five billion dollars is a lot of money. But compared to saving the lives and limbs of American soldiers and marines, it is cheap.

Our commanders in the field tell us that MRAPs will reduce casualties by 67 to 80 percent.

The lead commander on the ground in Iraq, LTG Ray Odierno, told us months ago that he wanted to replace every Army up-armored HMMWV in Iraq with an MRAP.

Instead of adjusting the requirement immediately, the Pentagon has taken its time to study this issue and just recently they have agreed that the general needs a little over half of what he asked for. 10,000 instead of approximately 18,000.

This makes no sense. Are we only supposed to care about the tactical advice of our commanders in the field when it is cheap?

I don't think that is what the American people or our military men and women expect from us.

More importantly, while we argue about the best strategy for Iraq, we must still protect those under fire. I disagree with the President's strategy in Iraq. I do not believe a strong central government will lead to a stable, self-sufficient Iraq.

I think we need a new strategy that focuses on implementing the Iraqi constitution's call for federalism and re-focuses the mission of American forces on fighting al-Qaida, border protection, and continuing to train the Iraqi forces.

While we disagree on strategy, the fight continues in the alleys of Baghdad and the streets of Diyala Province. American soldiers and marines are targets every day they are there. So every day they are there, we must give them the best protection this nation has.

The American political process is designed to make change and decisionmaking a slow and deliberative process. Those of us who want a change in strategy have three options.

One, we must convince enough colleagues to sustain a veto from the President; or, two, we must convince the American people to elect enough new Senators and House Members willing to sustain a veto. Or, finally, three, we must convince the American people to elect a President willing to change strategies. That is reality. I believe in this system, which means I will not walk away from my duty to try to convince both my colleagues and the American people that there is a better path to stability in Iraq.

It also means that I will not give up on my obligation to our military men and women.

While we take the time necessary to move the political process for change, they face improvised explosive devices, rocket propelled grenades, explosively formed penetrators, sniper fire, and suicide bombers every day. We have an obligation to protect each and every one of them to the best of our ability. I agree with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, GEN James Conway when he said, ``Anything less is immoral.''

In terms of the specifics of this amendment, the idea is very simple. If we can prevent two-thirds or more of our casualties with a vehicle that is basically a modified and armored truck, we must do all in our power to do that.

Will it be a challenge to American industry to build close to 23,000 MRAPs in the next 12 to 15 months? Absolutely. Can they do it? Only if we give them a real chance. If we provide funding up front for all that is needed, we give business the ability to increase capacity to produce. If we give little bits here and there, they and their subcontractors will be limited in their ability to produce these life-saving vehicles. Less will be produced and more Americans will return injured or dead.

I gave a statement on July 19, when I first introduced this amendment, that laid out some of the history of the MRAP program. I won't go into all of that again, but I will reiterate the key choice my colleagues have to make: Do we do our best to save American lives, knowing that the only downside is the possible need to reprogram funding at the end of the year, or do we care more about some unknown topline wartime funding number than those lives?

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

I thank the managers of the bill and yield the floor.

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