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Public Statements

Caregivers And Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KERRY. Madam President, I speak in opposition to amendment No. 2785 to the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. This amendment, offered by Senator Coburn, would cut funding for international organizations, including U.S contributions to NATO and the United Nations. This would gravely undermine our vital national security interests at a critical time. We all strongly support strengthening medical care for our Nation's veterans, but Senator Coburn's amendment sets up a completely artificial choice between protecting the health of America's veterans and ensuring that our Nation meets its national security objectives and international obligations.

To be clear, this amendment would cut funding from the contributions to international organizations account, which provides the assessed dues to the U.N. and NATO, APEC, OAS, OECD, and the OPCW, as well as take funding from the contributions to international peacekeeping operations account. That is why I will oppose this amendment, for several critical reasons:

First, we obviously need as much support as we can get from our NATO allies for our joint mission in Afghanistan. We cannot, and should not, carry this burden alone and how can we ask NATO to do more while we are at the same time cutting our NATO contributions? This would seriously undermine our standing with NATO and with our NATO allies at a time when we can least afford it. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

Several other international organizations are also threatened by this amendment. Funding for the Organization of American States, which addresses threats to hemispheric security, from terrorism to narcotics, would be cut. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which promotes economic growth in 30 member states and more than 70 other countries, would lose funding. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which promotes trade, security, and economic growth throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and which the United States will host in 2011, would also be cut. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which ensures worldwide implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, as well as the World Trade Organization, which provides the stable framework for international trade that is so critical to the United States, would suffer funding cuts.

Second, our United Nations contributions fund a wide range of U.N. activities in support of key United States foreign policy priorities. U.N. organizations are monitoring nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. We need the best information possible about the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and the last thing we need to be doing is cutting funding for the very organization that is doing on the ground monitoring. The U.N. is also providing vital assistance for the upcoming elections in Iraq, which will be critical to the future of democracy there. U.N. food and agriculture agencies are compiling forecasts of global agricultural production, identifying areas of likely famine and severe hunger, and facilitating emergency food assistance. U.N. health agencies are on the frontlines of detecting outbreaks of avian flu and H1N1 and defending against a world pandemic. In addition, we work through U.N. organizations to protect a range of U.S. interests, from the intellectual property rights of American entrepreneurs to coordinating international aviation safety standards.

Third, passage of this amendment would directly threaten ongoing peacekeeping operations in nations essential to America's national security interests. There are now over 115,000 peacekeepers the second largest deployed military in the world serving in 17 missions in some of the most dangerous corners of the world. These U.N. peacekeeping operations are working to preserve peace and stability in fragile countries with grave humanitarian situations, including Darfur, Liberia, Lebanon, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. U.N. peacekeeping is eight times less expensive than funding a U.S. force, according to the Government Accountability Office, and these peacekeeping operations help shoulder the burden with our military. U.N. peacekeeping missions also help end brutal conflicts, support stability, the transition to democratization, and bring relief for hundreds of millions of people. And if not for U.N. peacekeeping missions, some of these conflicts could require the presence of U.S. soldiers.

Haiti is a good example. The U.N. force in Haiti has dramatically reduced the number of kidnappings that plague the nation and helped deliver food and medicine, clean streets, and maintain security after several successive tropical storms devastated the country. The mission in Haiti is in the midst of a successful transition from keeping the peace to enhancing security for the people of that country. In the 1990s, Florida faced wave after wave of illegal Haitians trying to escape from the failed state. Should this mission be abandoned? Should we abandon the people of Darfur?

Fourth, the President has stated his commitment to paying U.S. dues to international organizations in full. As Ambassador Rice has said, we must meet our obligations. As we call upon others to help reform and strengthen the U.N., the United States must do its part and pay its bills. Our dues to the United Nations and other international organizations are treaty obligations. The full payment of assessed contributions affects the standing and influence that the U.S. has at these organizations. Going into arrears undermines U.S. credibility and negatively influences world opinion regarding U.S. respect and appreciation for the role of multilateral organizations that support and advance U.S. foreign policy.

We all want our veterans and their families to receive the best care possible--they have earned it many times over--but this amendment presents us a false choice between caring for our veterans and protecting our global interests: we must do both. It is for these reasons I oppose Senator Coburn's amendment and urge fellow Members to oppose the amendment as well.


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