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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 5822, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I appreciate the thoughts of my colleague from Arizona.

I would say that I wouldn't stand up here and criticize nurses, dairy farmers, small breweries, which I have many of in my State, or even the pollinators. I actually have a daughter who's a beekeeper, and I think we all recognize the importance of pollination.

But let me get serious here. Once again, my friends on the other side of the aisle, I think, are trying to block important legislation by using a procedural tactic. They want to prevent this rule and the underlying legislation from going forward without any opportunity for debate, without an opportunity for an up-or-down vote on the legislation itself.

I think that's wrong. I hope my colleagues will vote ``yes'' so we can consider this legislation on its merits and not kill it with a procedural motion.

I say, let's not waste any more time on unrelated parliamentary measures. Those who oppose the bill can vote against it on final passage. We must consider this rule, and we must pass the bill today.

I have the right to close but, in the end, I will urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' to consider the rule.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Mr. Speaker, to the questions of my colleague from Arizona, I have to say you have far more experience in this body than I do. As you know, I'm a freshman Member. So I have only operated under the current process that we have today. I can't speak to what the process was like in the past.

I can say, as a member of the Rules Committee, a tremendous number of amendments come before our committee. And if all of them were allowed to come to the floor, and if this were an open rule, I'm sure there would be some advantages and some opportunities for greater debate.

On the other hand, on the issues that we're about to take up today, the essential issue of veterans benefits, which I'm going to look forward to speaking to in a few minutes, assuming that we vote down this current point of privilege, I am looking forward to the opportunity to move forward on taking better care of our veterans. And if we had a tremendous number of amendments before us today, I am not sure we would ever get there.

In fact, when I look at some of the information that I have before me, I am reminded that during the DOD appropriations bill in 2009, when I was sitting on the Rules Committee, we actually had 606 amendments come before us. Many of them were just there, I think everybody would agree on both sides of the aisle, many of them were just there to score political points. So do our constituents want us to take up our time today with listening to political back and forth taking up day after day with 606 amendments, or do they want us to get right to the heart of the matter, and that is to move forward on the issue of taking better care of our veterans?

And let me make one other point. You know, you've talked about earmarks, and you are very eloquent on the topic of earmarks; and I appreciate that. I think a lot of our constituents have great concerns about earmarks, how are they handed out, how does the budgeting process work here. But I do have to say as a freshman Member, I have taken great care to have a tremendous amount of transparency around the topic of earmarks.

We hold appropriations meetings in our district. We invite individuals with any kind of issue to come before us that they would like to see appropriated, whether it's a highway bridge, or whether it's a community center, or whether it's a particular project that might benefit anyone in our district, the university, or some system. We actually ask each person who comes before us with an earmark request to make a 3-minute video. Then we post it on our Web site. Then we ask our constituents, do you have opinions on this?

So while I understand much of the concerns about the earmark process, I have to say as one Member who I can't say is in the top 13 percent of the highest recipients of earmarks, I still appreciate the process which allows me to take my constituents' wishes before the Appropriations Committee and say, you know, this would benefit my district, this would benefit my university, this would create more jobs. And I do it in a fully transparent manner. So I believe my constituents have the benefit of knowing all of the information around earmarking and doing the very best we can with making sure that process isn't handled in back rooms or in the dark of the night, but is actually a very transparent process.

So I appreciate the concerns that you have brought before us today. I look forward to moving forward on the debate on this rule so that we can move forward on what I think is a vital part of our appropriations process, that's taking care of our veterans.

So again, I want to urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on this motion to consider so we can debate and pass this important legislation today.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, House Resolution 1559 provides for consideration of H.R. 5822, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2011, under a structured rule. The rule provides 1 hour of general debate equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee on Appropriations. The rule waives all points of order against consideration of the bill except those arising under clause 9 or 10 of rule XXI. The rule waives points of order against provisions of the bill for failure to comply with clause 2 of rule XXI. The rule makes in order only those amendments printed in the report. All points of order against the amendments except those arising under clause 9 or 10 of rule XXI are waived.

The rule provides that for those amendments reported from the Committee of the Whole, the question of their adoption shall be put to the House en gros and without division of the question. The rule provides one motion to recommit with or without instructions. The rule provides that after consideration of the bill for amendment, the chair and the ranking minority member of the Committee on Appropriations or their designees each may offer one pro forma amendment to the bill for the purpose of debate. Finally, the Chair may entertain a motion that the Committee rise only if offered by the chair of the Committee on Appropriations or his designee.

Mr. Speaker, for more than 9 years our country has been engaged in two conflicts halfway around the world. The number of wounded military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan has put a financial strain on the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA expects to treat more than 6.1 million patients in 2011, including more than 439,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the constant training, deployment, and redeployment of our troops have put a significant burden on our military.

H.R. 5822 appropriates funding for military construction, veterans programs, and four related agencies. Our troops have performed admirably wherever they have been deployed, and Congress has an obligation to provide the care and compensation to every eligible veteran. This bill also provides additional funding for the Guard and Reserves to address critical unfunded requirements as a result of prolonged and repeated deployments. In my home State of Maine, thousands of Guard and Reservists have made invaluable contributions to our national defense, and I am proud to see this funding included in the bill.

H.R. 5822 renews our commitment to redevelop closed military bases and their surrounding communities. The bill provides necessary funding to implement the 2005 BRAC and address the enormous backlog of environmental cleanup projects from previous BRAC rounds. This funding is essential to communities across the country, including the towns of Brunswick and Topsham in my district, which are already experiencing economic difficulties from the closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station. We must do everything we can to support the communities that the BRAC bases leave behind.

While the investments in military construction are vital, they are only a small portion of this bill. The vast majority of legislation is devoted to veterans' programs. The bill provides the necessary funding for veterans' medical care, claims processors, and facility improvements, including increased funding for mental health services, assistance programs for homeless veterans, and innovative services for veterans in rural areas.

The military construction projects in this bill are vital to ensure that the missions of each installation are carried out in the most efficient manner possible. One great example is the funding contained in this bill for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. The shipyard provides world-class overhaul, repair, and modernization of nuclear submarines. The yard has a reputation of delivering subs back to the fleet on time and under budget.

This fall, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard will welcome the first Virginia-class submarine to Maine for an overhaul. This bill contains $11.9 million to modernize the structural shops at the yard, which will improve the equipment layout and streamline process flow within the shipyard. It will help workers at the yard continue to do high quality work while increasing their efficiency. And this funding is essential to this mission. Increasing maintenance efficiencies and eliminating redundancies will no doubt make the yard more competitive for Navy sub projects in the future.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is an economic success story in Maine. The yard is in the middle of adding approximately 160 new jobs this year, jobs like painters, sheet metal workers, electricians, welders, and engineers. And the construction work that this bill will fund will be done by outside contractors, bringing even more jobs to the area. The funding in this bill will help this economic engine in southern Maine remain competitive and create new, good-paying jobs.

Finally, I am very proud of what this bill does for our Nation's veterans. Their service has earned them world-class health care and benefits, and Congress has a moral obligation to provide the best benefits possible.

This bill is an example of what happens when politics is put aside and veterans come first. I strongly support this rule which provides for consideration of this essential legislation.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and I appreciate the words of my colleague and far more experienced Member from California. Thank you very much.

I take your criticism that perhaps, although you didn't hear my words earlier today, that had I been here for the amount of time that you had or had the previous experience, I wouldn't have said exactly what I said about the political posturing that could go on under an open rule.

You are right, 18 months I have been here. I have never had any experience in this legislative body about the process of which of you speak. So, far be it from me to say what the differences were from then until today, but I will say a little bit about my own experience.

I have the good fortune of sitting on the Rules Committee, and perhaps some day, if I am here long enough, and I move my way up the chairs and I am the ranking member or the chair, I will want to advocate for doing things differently. But I only know the experience that I have had up to today, Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Rules Committee.

Now, I see frequent meetings of the Rules Committee. I see a tremendous number of amendments come before us. As my fellow members well know, Mr. Speaker, we often spend hours listening to potential amendments that could be heard here on the floor. I think this afternoon we will have the pleasure of joining the other members of the Rules Committee, Mr. Speaker, and hearing 120 or more amendments to the next potential appropriation bill that could come to the floor.

I hear lively debate. I have been there to submit amendments. Sometimes they are accepted; sometimes they are not. I see amendments come to the floor that I agree with and I disagree with. So I see a lot of back-and-forth about the number of amendments. Perhaps it's not an open rule. You are right, I have never had the experience of an open rule here in this Chamber, but I have also had the experience of a tremendous number of amendments, some of which are politically motivated, some of which could take up a tremendous amount of our time, and I feel that generally the Rules Committee pares down the number of amendments to a reasonable number from each side, probably more for the majority than the minority, and I am sure that happened when the other party was in control, too.

But the fact is, I hear a lot of lively debate. I have only the experiences that I have had, and I can't defend what might have happened in the past or what may happen in the future.


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. I thank my friend for those words.

I happen to enjoy many of the meetings we have when we have the time consider both sides, the rules on both sides and the opportunities for what discussion will come to the floor. I appreciate being a member of the Rules Committee and being a part of that filtering process. I don't know if the process will change in the future, but I will say today we have a goodly number of amendments that will be considered on this.

From my perspective, the most important thing that we are doing today is moving forward on this rule, which I hope will pass with a great majority, and moving forward to the consideration of this bill which, I will remind my colleagues, holds a tremendous amount of benefit for our home communities and our veterans, and that is actually why we are here today.

I wouldn't want to see extensive consideration of so many amendments that we never got to the point of what people asked us to do. In this case, it's taking care of our veterans and making sure that they get the services that they deserve after they have served our country.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Mr. Speaker, the passage of this rule is a vital step towards improving our military infrastructure and ensuring that the quality of care for our veterans and their families is worthy of their sacrifice.

My home State has one of the highest populations of veterans per capita in the country. In a State of 1.3 million people, Maine is home to over 155,000 veterans.

These men and women have served without question, without politics and without hesitation. We must make a promise to them and to all of our veterans that we will do the same. We must provide them with the health care and the benefits that they deserve--without question, without politics, and without hesitation. By passing H.R. 5822, we will begin to keep that promise.

I urge a ``yes'' vote on the previous question and on the rule.

I yield back the balance of my time, and I move the previous question on the resolution.


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