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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SHERMAN. I join the gentleman from Georgia in opposing this amendment and associate myself with his remarks.

The Federal Government is in a different position from a private company having construction done, for two reasons: First, one of the greatest social problems we face in this country is the eroding wages of middle class families. We see that even in times when there are sufficient jobs, the average American doesn't make any more on an inflation-adjusted basis than a decade or two decades ago. The Federal Government should not play a role in pushing down people out of the middle class. We have a social responsibility to work to a return to what used to be the American norm, and that is that each generation does better than the last.

But the second, even from a crudely proprietary position, the Federal Government is in a very different position than a private homeowner, private property owner. I know I was tempted the last time we fixed our home, maybe I should go with the slipshod, cheapskate company. After all, I'm only going to live there a few more years. Even many private owners, they're only going to own the building for a few years.

So many of us in our daily lives use government-constructed projects from the 1930s. When the government builds something, it is normally going to be owned and operated by the government and used by our citizens for many, many decades. Why do we want slipshod construction? Why do we want those who are not looking to have skilled craftsmen and craftswomen but, rather, are looking to slap it up there in the cheapest possible way?

Our public works need to be built by those with the proper construction skills; it's not a matter of just hiring as many hands as you can as cheaply as possible.

And so I support the gentleman from Georgia and his comments, and I urge the defeat of this amendment.


Mr. SHERMAN. Mr. Chairman, I had the Clerk read the amendment because it's a simple one-sentence amendment. It says that none of the money in this act can be used deliberately by the President to violate the law, in particular, the War Powers resolution, often referred to as the War Powers Act, which is found in title 50 of the United States Code.

This is the same amendment I offered to the Homeland Security appropriations bill. Some 208 Members of Congress voted for that amendment. The only argument against the amendment at that time was that it wasn't exactly appropriate or relevant to the Homeland Security bill. After all, I was preventing the funding of violation of the War Powers Act with the funds provided to the Department of Homeland Security.

Now that I offer this amendment to the MilCon bill, it is relevant. This is a bill that provides tens of billions of dollars for the Defense Department. And it is necessary and appropriate, if we are going to adopt a policy that says that money is not going to be appropriated for deliberate violation of our law, that we apply this amendment not only to the Defense Appropriations bill, but to this second bill that funds the Pentagon.

Why is this amendment necessary? Because so many administrations have embraced the idea of an imperial Presidency, the idea that a President can send our forces into battle for unlimited duration, for any purpose, unlimited in scope. This is not what the Constitution and the law provides.

The War Powers Act is the law of the land, and it says the President may indeed commit our forces, but the President must seek congressional authorization and must withdraw within 60 days if that authorization is not provided by the affirmative vote of both Houses of Congress.

In Libya, we face not an attack on the United States, not an attack on our allies. But even in this circumstance, this President, like others, claims that he does not have to follow the law.

The administration has implied that there are substitutes for congressional authorization; they have implied that resolutions by the United Nations, the Arab League or NATO can be a substitute for congressional authorization; and they implied that consulting congressional leaders, a lunch with leadership, is a substitute for the affirmative vote of both Houses of Congress. It is time for us to stand up and say, No, Mr. President, you actually have to follow the law.

Obviously, this amendment is even more apropos to the Defense appropriations bill, but we will be dealing with that weeks from now. The President has been violating the War Powers Act for many weeks. It is time to act today.

Moreover, if we put this amendment only on the Defense appropriations bill and don't put it on this bill, then we invite the administration to try to figure out clever accounting ways to use the billions of dollars provided to the Defense Department in this bill to carry out operations in Libya. We should not invite a loophole hunt. We should put the same restriction on both of the bills that fund the Defense Department.

Now, if we can pass the amendment, the President will, I hope, request an authorization from Congress to take action in Libya, and he will have to accept an authorization that will, I expect, be limited in time and scope. Perhaps it will say that only air forces and not ground forces can be committed. Perhaps it will require renewal every 3 or 6 months. There may be conditions on funding sources. For example, perhaps we use some of the $33 billion that Qadhafi was stupid enough to leave invested in the United States in ways that we could find and that we have frozen rather than use taxpayer dollars.

Congress will ask some tough questions. And we may put some conditions requiring certain action also by the Benghazi transitional government. We would ask why the Benghazi government has refused to disassociate itself from the al Qaeda fighters and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group men who are in their midst and why they will not remove from that transitional government those that have American blood on their hands from Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is not just the issue of an aggrandizing President. It is also the issue of a derelict Congress. Continuing military action in Libya should be conducted only consistent with American law. If Congress habitually appropriates funds knowing that those funds will be used to violate the law of the land, then we are complicit in undermining democracy and the rule of law in the United States. The question is not democracy and the rule of law in Libya; the question is democracy and the rule of law in the United States.


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