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Providing for the Safe Redeployment of United States Troops From Iraq -- Motion to Proceed -- Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about what is currently happening on the floor of the Senate and what I am hopeful will happen.

Our leader, Senator Reid, has one more time brought us--and rightly so--to a point to debate and try to move forward on changing course in the war in Iraq. There have been 5 years of war, with the largest expenditure now of the Federal Government in terms of monthly expenditures, and certainly in terms of loss of life. It goes on every day, day after day. All you have to do is look at the newspaper and see that families continue to pay a huge price for this war.

I stood on the floor of this Senate 5 years ago and was one of 23 Members who voted ``no'' on going into this war. But I have spent every other moment, every other vote, doing everything I can to support our troops, to make sure I do everything I can to make sure we honor them through our efforts to equip them and make sure they have the resources, and that when they come home and put on the veteran's cap that we are, in fact, providing the health care and the resources they need. I am proud to be part of a caucus, a new majority that has placed veterans health insurance, health care as a top priority to make that happen.

But I often think back to the discussions before my vote, and discussions with my husband, who is a 14-year veteran of the Air Force and the Air National Guard, and him reminding me that the best way to support American troops, the best way to support our troops is to give them the right mission. The second thing is to make sure they have the resources they need. The third thing is to make sure there is a clear exit strategy for that mission.

I did not support that mission and believe there was not the evidence that was needed to carry on that mission. I have supported those resources, however, that they need.

Now it is important, it is critical, that we as a body, as a Congress, come together to support the exit strategy, the effort to change the mission that needs to occur in Iraq, to be able to bring our people home, to be able to stop the multiple deployments, redeployments that are going on, and that we refocus on those areas of the world and those groups such as al-Qaida that truly are a threat to us. That means Afghanistan, that means other kinds of strategies to be able to truly keep us safe. That is what we need to do.

The most important thing is to keep us safe as a country, to be smart about our strategy. That is what we are debating, here: whether we are going to be smart about our strategy to keep us safe, whether we are going to pay attention to the daily loss of life in Iraq, and whether we are going to pay attention to the almost $15 billion a month that is being spent on that war, which is now a civil war, that is not being invested back home in America.

That is what I want to speak about for a moment, understanding that the most important thing is the loss of life and what is happening to our troops and their families.

As I said, I am extremely proud of the fact that we made a very top priority for us in the new majority coming in the full funding of veterans health care. We have done that. We have tackled the problems we have seen with Walter Reed and the inability for our troops, as they move between systems, to get the effective care they need by passing the Wounded Warriors legislation.

We have continued to bring forward other efforts to be able to address what I consider to be the abuse of our troops by continual redeployment without enough dwell time, rest time, for them to be here at home, as the Army Manual would require.

But we also have another very important piece of this which goes to what is happening when we have almost $15 billion a month that is being diverted from our economy, which from Michigan surely looks like a recession. I cannot speak to every other part of the country, but from our economy and our families and our communities, it is being spent on a war that a majority of Americans--not a majority of Democrats--a majority of Americans--Democrats, Republicans, and Independents--people of all persuasions in all States are saying: We no longer want to go in this direction. We want to change this mission. We want to bring our people home.

But we are now getting ready to do a budget. The distinguished Acting President pro tempore today is on the Budget Committee. He has served with distinction in the House and now in the Senate. Mr. President, you know as well as I do that we are now grappling with very tough decisions about how to address the needs here in America.

I think that on top of the issues of national policy and how to keep us safe, and the loss of life, and how to support our troops, we have to grapple with the fact that last year, for instance, when we passed, with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, an effort to extend health care, health insurance to 10 million children of working families, the President vetoed it, saying it was too much money. Yet it was about half of the cost of 1 month of what we are spending in Iraq today.

Investing in children, healthy children in our country, of working families who unfortunately are working in jobs where they do not have health insurance and do not have enough of a wage to be able to afford the $1,000 a month premium or more that they would have to pay--do we focus on supporting those families and change this direction or do we continue down this road of saying no to our children?

We have the opportunity to create new jobs in the energy economy. In Michigan, we are moving full speed ahead on alternative energy, and not only in our vehicles. But windmills and solar and biofuels and all of these things take partnerships and investments.

We have an energy tax provision--a measure for which we came one vote short of being able to override one of the multitude of filibusters that has gone on on this floor: a historic level of filibusters stopping us at every turn--we came one vote short. We are talking about having some resources to be able to put into tax incentives to be able to produce alternative energies and the infrastructures so the biofuels can actually get to the pump so you not only can buy a E-85 car but get E-85 at the pump. It takes some investments to be able to do that.

We have been told no on being able to put dollars into that area. Yet the amount of money we are talking about is less than 2 months of spending in Iraq.

Infrastructure, roads and bridges. We saw last year what happened in Minnesota in terms of a huge bridge collapse and what happened with human life and what happened to the community involved. We have roads and bridges across our country, water and sewer systems that are aging, that need a facelift, and we need to be able to get some additional dollars so we can bring ourselves into the modern age for much of our infrastructure. Yet we are told again: No, there are no resources to put money into our infrastructure. However, we are rebuilding roads in Iraq, we are rebuilding schools in Iraq.

In fact, one of the original items I will never forget was to put wireless technology into schools. That was in the budget, but it wasn't the American budget, it was the Iraqi reconstruction budget. I have been working for years to get technologies in our schools, new technology, because every single student is going to face, at a minimum, working with a computer, whether you work at a gas station or whether you work at a high-tech company. Yet we can't do that in America. We have been told by this administration and by those who had been in the majority for 6 years: No. But at the same time, it was in the budget for Iraq.

We now find ourselves in a situation with a tremendous housing crisis. In my State of Michigan, it has frankly masked a larger economic crisis, where people have been losing their jobs, they are losing their incomes, seeing all their costs go up, but they have had that equity in their home that was keeping them going. All of a sudden, all of the values go down, and we are seeing a collapse in the housing market which has rippled out way beyond housing now into our capital markets, into our entire economy. Yet when we come to the floor--and we are going to be asking shortly, after we vote to end this filibuster that is going on, on the change in the Iraq mission--we are going to be asking to come together around a housing proposal that, frankly, I think is pretty modest. It is important, it is good, it is the right thing to do, but it certainly is something within the realm of reasonableness. Yet I know it is going to be difficult to be able to get this passed. The cost of it, again, is about 2 weeks in Iraq, to be able to focus on one of the most devastating crises going on in America today.

Most middle-class families save through equity in their home. That is how most people are able to get into the middle class. We are talking about people who have worked hard, played by the rules, done all the right things, got a job, saved up the downpayment, were able to get a home, and then find themselves in a situation where they are looking around saying: Wait a minute. What is going on here? What about me? What is happening in our economy? I need some help. We are trying to do that. I hope we are going to be able to come together and do that. But if we hear one more time: No, we can't do that, we can't afford it--we are talking about less than 2 weeks of what is being spent in Iraq.

How many times have we heard all the comments about Leave No Child Behind, about the fact that we are not keeping our promises as it relates to education. We passed new high standards. We all support the high standards. What we promised was that with that would come resources to help children, help schools succeed. We have seen dramatic underfunding. Again, in this President's budget, he eliminates 48 different education programs, including efforts that focus on vocational education and other things that are important for the future--48 different programs. We will be told that if we try to invest in education, that it is too much. It is too much. We can't afford to keep the promise of Leave No Child Behind.

We passed, on a bipartisan basis, something called the America Competes Act. I wish to congratulate my colleagues. This was a great bipartisan effort. I know the Senator from Tennessee, Mr. Alexander, was a real champion of that. It focuses on math and science and technology and investments in the future. I wish we had seen those investments fully authorized, fully funded in the President's budget--health research to save lives, science research, the National Science Foundation, those things that will make us competitive for the future. Every other country is racing to invest in science. We see China is racing, along with Japan and South Korea and other countries around the world, to get to that next technology, whether it is advanced battery technology research, whether it is biotechnology, whether it is new cures in health care. Yet we, the greatest country in the world, are seeing those things cut, but $15 billion a month is being spent in Iraq which is, by the way, not paid for and goes right on to the deficit for our children to pay for in the future. These priorities don't make sense. They make no sense when we look to the future.

I would like to ask the President: How about just 1 month for America? How about just 1 month? We will take 1 month of $15 billion invested to help us with jobs, keeping American jobs here, opportunity through education and innovation, helping our own families with health care, and people being able to keep their homes. How about just 1 month for America?

This debate we are having on the floor about Iraq is incredibly important on so many different levels, and that is why I appreciate Senator Reid bringing us to this point. There are other pieces of this that we are committed to addressing such as a modern GI bill. My father went to school on the GI bill after World War II. We ought to be doing the same thing for our returning veterans. It will cost some dollars. Are we going to hear once again: Well, we can't afford it. We can't afford to invest in our veterans. I hope not.

The reality is there is a great connection between what is happening now in terms of filibustering our effort to move forward, to change direction in Iraq--one more time, one more filibuster--and what we want to do next, which is focus on the incredibly serious housing crisis in America. There is a connection because we are saying that not only are we not doing the smartest thing to keep us safe from a strategic, from a national security standpoint, we are also using dollars--precious dollars, taxpayer dollars--in a way that is actually making us less safe at home by undercutting our ability to have a strong economy, strong families, to support those who are in the middle class, who are trying to work hard to get into the middle class, struggling to stay in the middle class. The majority of Americans find themselves in great jeopardy right now on a number of fronts. This is the time they look to their Government to play a role to help create opportunity, to be able to make strategic investments here at home that will make sure we can continue to have the American way of life of which we are so proud.

So this matters. This matters. I am looking forward to the time when we are going to change that direction in Iraq, and I hope it comes soon. I hope we are able to say to our men and women who are on their third or fourth redeployment now: Job well done. Thank you for your service. You can come home now. Hopefully, they will come home to a veterans system that works for them, that they will come home to a GI bill of rights that creates a way for them to have opportunity, that they will come home to an economy that works for them and their families. That is our goal. We are going to keep focusing on this issue until we create that change.

I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.


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