VETERANS' BENEFITS ENHANCEMENT ACT--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - April 22, 2008)
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I understand we are under a unanimous consent agreement for a vote at 12 o'clock?
The PRESIDING OFFICER. That is correct.
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I will be brief, only to amplify what Senator
Burr spoke to clearly and, I hope, understandably. First and foremost, understand that my relationship with the chairman of Veterans' Affairs Committee, Danny Akaka, is a personal one and one of great affection. Here is a man today attempting to do the right thing and probably, in all fairness, is leading with his heart, and that I respect greatly.
There is no question, there remain in the Philippines 13,000 veterans who fought gallantly to save their island from Japanese domination and fought with us and under our flag to do just that. They deserve to be compensated, and they have been compensated.
Immediately following the war, the United States Government put $620 million into the repairs of the Philippines. In today's dollars, that is $6.7 billion.
Then we left a VA hospital in place so that these veterans could receive first-class health care. And we did and they do and it is still there and it is still operating.
Then we added $22 million--and that is worth $196 million in today's dollars--for equipment and construction. America did its part then, and it does its part today. The question is what is reasonable and right compensation.
I stepped down as ranking member on the Veterans' Affairs Committee last September. In doing so, I was well aware of this bill, and the chairman knew at that time that I agreed with 99.9 percent of it. It is a good bill. It is an important bill for America's veterans, and it ought to be passed.
At that time, I thought I offered what was a reasonable compromise; that we would reduce the level of the proposed increase in compensation to nonservice-connected Filipino veterans living in the Philippines; that we would not lift them to the standard to which Senator Burr has just spoken; that they would deserve some help. The chairman had found an offset in a court ruling that took money away from our veterans, and it was sitting there.
I would have much preferred rewriting the law and reinstating that money to our veterans to abrogate the court decision, but we did not do that. So I offered a compromise at that time. It was roundly rejected by the committee. It simply did not fit where the chairman wanted to go. Therefore, from that point forward, I opposed the bill. It is a matter of fiscal responsibility. It is a near quarter of a billion dollars over the next 10 years, and it does exactly what the ranking member, Senator Burr, spoke to. It lifts these Filipino veterans above their poverty line into a middle-class status in Filipino society. Well, that is OK; none of us should deny that. But we don't do that for our veterans who live here. If you are a Filipino veteran living here legally, you get full compensation as a veteran living in this country.
We do tie a benefit to a poverty level and a cost-of-living standard, and we always have. I certainly wish we could do more, but this budget is nearing $100 billion. The overall VA budget is nearing $100 billion. Four years ago, 11 percent; 3 years ago, 12 percent; 2 years ago, 13 percent; last year, an 18-percent increase. No budget in America, other than defense, has increased that much. And why are we doing it? Because collectively this Senate and this Congress have always believed in fair and responsible compensation to America's veterans--America's veterans.
We also try to compensate those who support us and work in our behalf as the veterans of the Filipino society did what is right and what is reasonable.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I believe what the Senator has offered in this Senate bill that is on the floor, S. 1315, is too much. There is a middle ground. I offered it once, and it was rejected. I hope we can revisit that as a reasonable amendment when we get to the amendment process.
I thank my colleagues, Senator Akaka and Senator Burr, for their work on this legislation. It is good legislation. With a little fine-tuning, then it will be fair, and we ought to support it.
I yield the floor.