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Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2010 - Conference Report - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, before I turn to the Legislative Branch appropriations bill and the continuing resolution that is under discussion, I wish to take a couple of brief moments to speak about the very devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit American Samoa, also Samoa, Tonga, and the other islands that are in the region, and offer my thoughts and prayers to those who have lost loved ones in this disaster.

As we saw yesterday, an earthquake in the range of 7.9 to 8.3 in magnitude occurred about 120 miles from American Samoa. It was followed by three aftershocks, all of about 5.6 in magnitude. These are incredible earthquakes we are seeing. Even the aftershocks are enormously significant. When we think back to the earthquake that hit Alaska in 1964, it was about 7.9 on the Richter scale. We in Alaska remember that most vividly.

To appreciate what American Samoa and the islands in the region have been hit with--it is incredible. According to the media reports, these earthquakes caused four tsunami waves approximately 15 to 20 feet high. They struck the island 25 minutes after the quake, reaching up to 1 mile inland. There are reports from residents on the island that the quake lasted 2 to 3 minutes. That is an eternity when the earth is rocking underneath you, and then to know that these tsunamis came in so quickly after those earthquakes. I understand that as of this morning there are 24 confirmed deaths in American Samoa and many more in Samoa, Tonga, and the other islands. This number is likely to rise as many individuals remain missing and unaccounted for. The President has declared American Samoa a major disaster area, and we have FEMA teams that are heading to the area now.

To those who have family members and loved ones in American Samoa, the White House and FEMA will be holding a teleconference this evening at 7 o'clock p.m. eastern time. Hopefully, we will have more information available at that time. I understand that few landlines are working and getting updates has been difficult. As far away as Alaska is from American Samoa, we have a surprisingly large Samoan and Tongan population in my State, so I know there are people at home in Alaska who are worried about their families and their loved ones. Hopefully, we will have more updates on that.

Again, my thoughts and my prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones and to those in American Samoa affected by this terrible event.

Mr. President, I want to speak this afternoon on the conference report that is accompanying H.R. 2918, the Legislative Branch appropriations bill, as well as the continuing resolution for fiscal year 2010.

Before I speak to the specifics of the legislative branch agreement, I would like to make clear my very strong objection that this continuing resolution that will be part of this was made part of the legislative branch conference report. This was done at the last minute. It was done at the direction of the House majority. It precludes amendments and careful consideration of all the issues.

The conferees were not offered an opportunity to concur in this process. This is what is known around here as air-dropping, where new material, new matter is inserted into a conference agreement that has not been considered by either body. We didn't take it up in the Senate. They didn't take it up in the House. What we have in front of us is a pretty onerous example. We have rules here in the Senate against air-dropping. I think we have good reason for those rules.

While it has been said that this is a clean CR, certainly there are items that are contained within this CR that represent important policy decisions and go beyond simply funding the Federal Government for another month. Provisions in this so-called clean CR include one relating to the Postal Service. This is Postal Service reform. The authorizing committee has been working on this for some time. There is another example related to the extension of surface transportation reauthorization.

We had time a week ago to take a freestanding continuing resolution through the normal process in both the House and in the Senate. We would have been able to present that bill to the President before the end of today, before the end of our fiscal year. I am very disappointed that normal process was not followed.

As I understand it, the reason this occurred was the House majority's desire to prevent its minority from offering motions to recommit the bill.

So here we are, last day of the fiscal year, and we clearly have to continue the critical operation of the Federal Government. But I do want to make clear this was not the right process for us to follow.

I have enjoyed the opportunity I have had to work with my chairman on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. We worked hard to produce an appropriations bill that we believed was reasonable and fair and balanced. We greatly reduced the scope of the budget, and we finished our work in a timely manner. We had some very substantive committee hearings. It was a good process. I was pleased in that process.

So it seems more than a little bit troublesome that we, with a very small appropriations bill coming out of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, working quite concertedly to make sure we did work the committee process in an appropriate manner, should be hung with the continuing resolution at the very end. It is more than just a bit ironic.

At this time I would like to speak to the Legislative Branch portion of this conference report. Again, I want to thank my chairman, Senator Nelson, for his work. I also want to recognize and thank the full committee chairman, Senator Inouye, and our ranking member, Senator Cochran, for the support they provided in getting the Legislative Branch conference put together.

Aside from the continuing resolution I just mentioned, I think it is fair to say our conference was without controversy. The final agreement meets the high priority needs of our legislative branch.

Now, Senator Nelson and I are both new to the Appropriations Committee, and we worked well together on this. We did our best to see that the legislative branch served as a model for others within the Federal Government. We worked to tighten our belt wherever possible. We funded only the highest priority initiatives.

In looking at the appropriations bill itself, funding for the legislative branch totals $4.65 billion, and while the agreement is $44 million over the level the Senate passed, the increase is due to items that the House had included. We were able to make reductions below the Senate-passed level in certain areas, such as our Senate office budgets.

The bill is about 4 percent over fiscal year 2009. This is a big improvement, considering that when they came to us initially with the request for the legislative branch it was about a 15-percent increase. So we were able to scale it back.

The conference agreement enables us to meet the highest priorities that have been identified by the Architect of the Capitol, in looking at health and safety, building improvements, particularly in the Library building and the projects that reduce the deferred maintenance in our buildings.

We recognize if we do not address deferred maintenance, it does not go away; it continues and, unfortunately, that pricetag continues as well.

The bill continues the efforts of the Architect of the Capitol to improve energy efficiency with over $14 million in funding designated for this purpose. Also, within the Library of Congress, we managed to include funding to begin to update the agency's information technology infrastructure.

For about a decade, there have been no increases to IT within the Library. Yet most of the users of the Library are virtual users. I had an opportunity, a couple of weeks ago, to meet with Dr. Billington, the Librarian of Congress. He was showing me some of the incredibly historical documents, old maps
from the 1800s from Russia where they were mapping Alaska. Some documents we looked at, the only way I would ever have an opportunity to view them is if I were able to visit the Library of Congress.

Well, now, most of that, much of that incredible history is available through the Internet. So Alaskans, in a classroom thousands of miles away, can access the treasures we have within our Library of Congress.

The information technology infrastructure was clearly Dr. Billington's highest priority. I believe this investment will ensure that millions of people who access the Library through its Web site will be able to find what they are looking for. It is phenomenal.

Similarly, within GPO, the Government Printing Office, we funded the final increment for updating GPO's Web site to ensure that government publications can also be easily accessed and searched.

Also, the bill provides the final increment of funding to complete the merger of the Library of Congress Police into the Capitol Police. This is a project that was initiated years ago by Senator Bennett when he was chairman of the subcommittee about a decade ago. It has been promoted by each of the successive chairs and ranking members to improve the security of the Capitol Complex. Today, the Library of Congress Police officially join with the Capitol Police in a ceremony that is taking place this afternoon at the Library.

So this is good news for them. Congratulations need to go out to the men and women of the Capitol Police and the Library Police who worked very hard to ensure that this initiative happened relatively seamlessly.

So there are good initiatives within Legislative Branch appropriations. I am pleased to have been able to work with Senator Nelson closely on these, and I am pleased with the product we have moved through our subcommittee.

Were it not for the add-on that we had just last week, I would be standing before you and saying this is almost a perfect product. We recognize we must deal with the ongoing funding of our Federal Government. It is the last day of the fiscal year, and a continuing resolution must advance.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum and ask unanimous consent the time be divided equally between both sides.


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