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Conference Report on H.R. 3043, Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. PELOSI. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding. I thank him for his leadership in bringing this important legislation to the floor. I commend Chairman Obey for his leadership of the Appropriations Committee, particularly on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee on which I had the privilege to serve for a number of years. I commend the chairman of the Veterans Quality of Life Subcommittee, Mr. Edwards, for his extraordinary leadership on behalf of America's veterans.

Everyone who wants to honor our promises to our veterans, everyone who salutes their service to our country owes a deep debt of gratitude to you, Mr. Edwards, for your extraordinary leadership.

Madam Speaker, our national budget should be a statement of our national values. The legislation that we debate here today invests in America's correct priorities. It includes the largest increase in veterans benefits in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration, and potentially life-saving biomedical research, and it does it all in a fiscally sound way.

Madam Speaker, I have a long speech this evening. But in the interest of time, I am going to submit it for the Record and just say two things, because the main focus of this legislation is on our veterans and the other is on the investments made by the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee.

In the military, it is said that we leave no soldier behind on the battlefield, and when they come home, we promise here in this House that we will leave no veteran behind. This legislation fulfills that promise to our veterans. The President has said that he will perhaps veto this bill. I hope that he will have a change of heart and a change of mind in that regard because those who care about our veterans, and I believe that includes everyone, I know everyone in this Chamber and in the Senate, in the Congress and in the country wants them to have what they have earned and what they deserve.

In terms of the other aspects of the bill, I bring to the floor some deep concerns about the priorities that the President is criticizing in this bill. The President says he will veto any bill that is $1 more than what he has asked for in his budget. In this bill, we have $1.4 billion more for the National Institutes of Health. That isn't even enough to meet their needs, to meet the requests for grants that they have in any responsible way. But it is $1.4 billion more than what the President requests. And I can't help but juxtaposition the war in Iraq with this budget today. In the war in Iraq, we spend about 10, $12 billion a month, some of it unaccounted for, some of it in no-bid contracts, some of it in no-performance contracts, some of it the money has just disappeared. Democrats, in taking over the majority, have tried to hold the administration accountable. What we are finding is that it is hard to find some of that money. At the same time, consider this. As the President is spending 10 to $12 billion a month in Iraq, we spend 5 billion, $5 1/2 billion a year on cancer research.

In America, 550,000 people die of cancer each year. That doesn't count those who are diagnosed, those who are suffering with; I am just talking about 550,000 people who die of cancer. Wouldn't it be better for us to invest more money? Say we doubled the biomedical research for cancer research from $5.5 billion to $10 billion or $11 billion in a year. Think of the return that that could be in scientific advancement. We know the scientific opportunity is there.

The heads of the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control, all the entities of government that deal with the health of the American people want more investments in their budgets; and yet their boss, the President of the United States, who has appointed them, has dismissed their professional judgment on these issues, and not only failed to fund, but threatened to veto if we in Congress try to meet those needs.

Across America, almost every family, certainly probably every family in this body, has been affected by cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, you name it, the list goes on, all of which would benefit by a bigger, more robust investment in basic biomedical research in the budget of the National Institutes of Health. So that is why this bill is so important, because it directly relates to health and well-being of the American people and it directly relates to our national security and how we honor our commitment and our promises to our veterans.

I wish the President were here, and I wish the rules of this House would allow us to address him directly because it's a mystery to me and I wonder how anyone who might consider our national budget a statement of our national values could possibly say that although I know that hundreds of thousands of people in this country are dying of cancer, and although I know that scientific opportunity exists that we are ignoring. We have a moral responsibility to fund that opportunity, that scientific opportunity, but which we are ignoring by the President's call for a veto. How do you justify that?

So, my colleagues, I think it is really important that we send a message to the President in the only way that the rules allow us to do in this House, and that is to send it with this bill to the President's desk with a very, very strong vote, a vote for the health and well-being of the American people. How do you explain to your constituents that we cannot afford to find cures for cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, as I said, and the list goes on, but we can afford to spend $1 trillion in Iraq, much of it unaccounted for, and do that all at the same time?

I urge my colleagues to think about your friends, think about your neighbors, think about your families, think about your own responsibility to a healthy America when you make this vote, because you can make all the difference in the world. I think that we should vote as if the lives of our constituents depended upon this vote, because they certainly do. With that, I urge a ``yes'' vote on this important legislation and once again commend the presenters of this legislation for their great leadership.

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Our budget is a statement of our values.

The legislation we debate today invests in American priorities: it includes the largest increase in veterans spending in the 77-year history of the VA, and potentially lifesaving medical research, and it does so in a fiscally responsible way.

These bills have passed the House and Senate with the strong bipartisan majorities they deserve.

The President has said he will veto these bills. But allow me to make the case that these are investments that are necessary and right.

The Labor-HHS spending bill has been historically called the ``People's Bill.'' It is where Congress addresses the aspirations of the American people: the economic security of their families, the health and well being of their families, and the education of their children.

Today, this bill is once again the ``People's Bill.''

This is because it makes crucial investments in the health of all Americans: every dollar spent on NIH research is returned to us manifold: in improved quality of life and millions of lives saved.

We should be proud that NIH supported researchers have made the United States the world leader in biomedical and behavioral research, creating thousands of jobs and new businesses in the process.

But in order to build upon past scientific achievements, address current medical needs, and anticipate future health challenges, we must make investments today.

We stand today on the precipice of countless scientific breakthroughs. For example, mapping of the human genome has greatly advanced our knowledge about the links between genetics and diseases.

Scientists are working right now to identify genetic changes that increase and decrease risk for cancer, to determine patterns of protein markers for very early detection of cancer, and to better treat and cure the disease.

By funding these critical investments, we can declare a national war on cancer--a disease that kills 550,000 Americans a year.

In my hometown, NIH is funding cutting edge research at the San Francisco VA Medical Center on the health of our veterans. Right now, scientists are breaking new ground in the diagnosis, prevention and management of disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries that result from combat.

No group of Americans has stood stronger and braver for our Nation than those who serve in the Armed Forces. From the bitter cold winter at Valley Forge to the boiling hot Iraqi terrain, our soldiers have courageously answered when called, gone where ordered, and defended our Nation with honor. They have done everything asked of them.

How we repay that service speaks volumes about our national character.

I want to thank all of our veterans and military service organizations who have long advocated for the funding contained in this bill.

I also want to thank Chairman Spratt, Chairman Obey, and Chairman Edwards for their leadership and their dedication to those who have worn our Nation's uniform.

This bill provides $6.6 billion more than last year and $3.7 billion more than the President's budget. These are dollars well-invested.

For example in this bill:

We provide quality healthcare to 5.8 million America veterans, including 263,000 who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We ensure that the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan--one third of whom will be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and 300,000 who are expected to suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury--get the best treatment possible. We will ensure the poly-trauma centers and Centers of Excellence for Mental Health and PTSD are fully operational.

For our veterans living in rural areas, this bill will increase the travel reimbursement rates for those who travel long distances to the nearest VA facility.

These benefits have been earned. These are the benefits our veterans deserve.

Madam Speaker, on this coming Monday, our Nation will honor its veterans with Veterans Day. But in this body, every day should be Veterans Day. On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a Nation, let it be our promise that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.

Today, we are delivering on that promise.

I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.


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