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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CULBERSON. Madam Chair, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I know that my colleagues feel the same way I do that one of the most gratifying, most rewarding parts of this extraordinary job that we're entrusted with in addition to being guardians of the Treasury, to being good stewards of the public's business, is to do everything in our power to help ensure that our men and women in uniform have all that they need to do their job as they stand guard and over this Nation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in every scary, dark corner of the world.

Today, Madam Chair, it's my privilege, with my good friend from Georgia (Mr. Bishop), to lay before the House and ask for its approval the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill for 2013.

On our committee, we feel as though we are the peace of mind committee for the United States military. We want to ensure in the work that we do in the Military Construction and in Veterans Affairs that we have done everything we can to ensure that our men and women in uniform don't have any worries, that they don't have to worry about when they are in uniform; they don't have to worry about the quality of their barracks, their living conditions; they don't have to worry about the condition of the military facilities that they are living and working in.

We want to make sure that they have got everything that they need. The United States Navy, when it comes to piers or sub pens, or the Air Force for runways, or the Marine Corps or for the Army, we have done everything in this bill that the Pentagon has asked us to do and fully funded it in a way that's fiscally responsible, Madam Chair.

We have also taken care of our veterans, of our men and women in uniform when they leave the Armed Forces and become veterans, because they will spend most of their time out of the military, and we wanted to be sure that our Veterans Affairs Administration was fully funded, that they have got all the resources that they need in order to take care of our men's and women's health care needs, psychological and physical, and in a way that's fiscally responsible.

In this environment, Madam Chair, in this era of record debt and deficit, our subcommittee, along with the full Appropriations Committee, has done everything in our power to find ways to save money, to be good stewards of the public's precious, hard-earned tax dollars. And in our subcommittee, something we have done together in a bipartisan way, arm-in-arm, we have made sure to ferret out every unspent dollar from previous years that could be returned to taxpayers, to avoid spending increases while making sure that our men and women in uniform are taken care of while they are in uniform and also, as I say, when they leave active duty and become veterans under the care of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We have, because of decreases, Madam Chair, of the Air Force, the Army, the Pentagon, our Armed Forces are reassessing their deployment needs around the world. We've seen a reduction this year in the level of spending requests for military construction around the world that enabled us to increase spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs while holding overall spending for this bill flat. That reflects not only our finding cost savings in various parts of the bill, but, in particular, the Air Force, among the branches of the service, asked for significantly less money this year.

But we have also taken into account in our legislation the pay freeze that is in place for the entire Federal Government. We have applied that to Federal civilian contractors working in the military construction field or for the VA.

We have also, Madam Chair, in our legislation, made sure that the VA uses their construction funds within 5 years. In the past, they simply could hold that money year after year after year; and we want to make sure that that money is used for the purpose that Congress intended it, and that is to build VA facilities.

We have been able to find savings in a variety of other areas, Madam Chair, all of which have permitted us to fully fund the request of the Pentagon in giving our Armed Forces around the world everything that they need to do their job without a worry in the world. If they are out there on watch, guarding the United States of America and protecting our liberty, our committee has made sure to give them as much peace of mind as possible.

Two other things I want to make sure to bring to the Members' attention that is extremely important.

At the Veterans Administration, for years there's been an effort to get a combined medical record. When you're in uniform, on active duty, you have got one set of medical records with the Department of Defense. Then when you enter the Veterans Administration, that medical record is not compatible with the computer systems or their recordkeeping systems at the Veterans Administration, which causes terrible inefficiencies and threatens lives, endangers the health of our men and women in uniform.

This committee has taken very seriously the task that Chairman Rogers has charged us with to ensure that we move the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration as rapidly as possible to a unified medical record. Then when our young men and women leave the active duty service, that medical record stays with them in the VA.

Finally, I want to also make sure to thank my good friend, Sanford Bishop from Georgia. It's been a privilege to work with Mr. Bishop and his staff. We are blessed with an extraordinarily capable staff on this committee.

This bill, more than I think perhaps any other, Madam Chair, illustrates how unified the Congress is in support of our men and women in uniform. We have found common ground on every section of this bill, on every issue. We've worked together arm-in-arm to make certain that the men and women of the United States military can focus on their mission of protecting this great Nation with complete peace of mind, knowing that the Congress of the United States is behind them and will support them in all they do.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. CULBERSON. Madam Chairman, I want to assure my colleague from California and all the Members, and all the members of the military tonight listening, if you have retired recently, our subcommittee is going to really bore in on this and make sure that the claims backlog is dealt with, that it's done expeditiously. Obviously, we want to make sure that these men and women who, again, have earned everything that this country can possibly give them, to make their life comfortable and secure, to make sure that their health is taken care of, that that claims backlog is dealt with.

I also want to reassure my colleagues--and I know that we've got a rapt audience at the Veterans Administration here tonight as well--that we are going to really bore in on this medical records problem. It is utterly unacceptable for Federal bureaucracies to not work together on something as vitally important as medical records.

The example that Chairman Rogers gave us of a young man who lost his eyesight because of a bureaucratic inadequacy and just foolishness is just not acceptable. We had another story of a young man who actually lost his life in Bill Young's district, Chairman Young of Florida. So we're going to make sure that those issues are dealt with, and again, to make sure that our men and women in uniform don't ever have to look over their shoulder to worry about what the United States Congress has done to support them.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. CULBERSON. Yes, Mr. Cuellar. Absolutely, we're going to bore in on this.

MD Anderson, of course, is one of the Nation's greatest cancer centers. We have had complaints and concerns expressed to my office about the slow pay of the Veterans' Administration for MD Anderson's treatment of VA patients. And absolutely, we're going to get to the bottom of it. There's just no excuse for it.

If services have been rendered--and clearly, MD Anderson, again, if you're lucky enough to be treated by MD Anderson, they're the greatest in the world. We're going to make sure that they're paid promptly. I understand that MD Anderson is currently owed over $1 million. It's just unacceptable. We'll do everything we can to help.


Mr. CULBERSON. I also want to be sure to thank my colleague from Texas (Mr. Cuellar) and say how much I've enjoyed working with him over the years in securing our border in Texas. We've got language in the bill, which Mr. Cuellar suggested, to encourage the Army National Guard to work with our Border Patrol and law enforcement authorities on the border in a cooperative way to ensure that the laws are enforced because, of course, we want that border to work securely and fairly so we get that strong economic growth back and forth while keeping out the criminals and gunrunners. HENRY, you've been a leader in this effort to secure the border, and it's a privilege to work with you on this


Mr. CULBERSON. Madam Chairman, my colleagues from Pennsylvania raise a really important issue that absolutely the subcommittee will look into. It's a constant source of concern for us to see Federal agencies waste our constituents' precious tax dollars for, it appears to me from the way you've described it, possible elimination of existing good service, duplication of existing service, and unnecessary expenditure of tax dollars.

We will work very closely with you and do all that we can to help make sure that the veterans that you represent are being given the very best possible health care at the best value for taxpayers.


Mr. MICA. Thank you so much, Mr. Culberson, for yielding to me. I appreciate the gentleman yielding for the purpose of this colloquy.

Madam Chairman, as you may know, the new Veterans' Administration Medical Center under construction in central Florida has experienced some serious delays and possible cost overruns that have raised significant concerns for Florida veterans who have earned and deserve this facility.

With Florida's growing veteran population and more veterans returning to our State from current conflicts, this facility is, in fact, key to keeping our pledge to aid those who served our Nation. It is important to clearly state the intent and the serious commitment of Congress that this new facility should be completed as soon as possible, and also make certain that we do everything in our power to ensure that the Federal resources necessary are available to complete that project.

Is this your intent?

Mr. CULBERSON. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. MICA. I yield to the gentleman from Texas.

Mr. CULBERSON. Yes, absolutely, Chairman Mica. We're going to ensure that there are enough Federal resources to complete that veterans facility, but also to ensure that we're good stewards of the treasury and that our tax dollars are spent wisely and carefully. And we're going to make certain that the VA is not wasting money and not engaging in cost overruns, sir.

Mr. MICA. Well, thank you. And I'm so appreciative of your commitment and support. This is very important to our veterans, and we are most appreciative of the commitment you've made to central Florida and those that have served our Nation, not only on this, but all the projects.

Mr. CULBERSON. Thank you, Chairman Mica. You've been a stalwart leader on behalf of veterans for many years here in Congress. And thank you for bringing this to our attention. The subcommittee is going to give it our full attention and make sure that facility is built in a way that's cost effective and takes care of your veterans.

Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Madam Chairman, we have no more speakers. I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. CULBERSON. Madam Chairman, as we wrap up the opening part of this bill, I think it's important to point out to the Members of the House, to the country, that this is the third appropriations bill that has been brought to the House floor under the leadership of Chairman Rogers, the third appropriations bill that we've brought up as a new majority in the House. And this, to my knowledge, is the first time in American history that there have been three successive spending bills in a row.

Mr. DICKS. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. CULBERSON. I yield to the gentleman from Washington.

Mr. DICKS. I know the gentleman wouldn't want to mislead the House. This is the second bill. We're going to get to the third bill, but this is number 2.

Mr. CULBERSON. What I was remembering, my good friend, Mr. Dicks, is when we first came in the spring, I think there was an omnibus bill that had to be dealt with.

Mr. DICKS. That was last year. H.R. 1. We remember it. It was 800 amendments, 600 on your side, 200 on our side.

Mr. CULBERSON. What we've done, I know on this committee, is work arm-in-arm to find ways to solve the Nation's problems.

Mr. DICKS. We're going to get the third one up tomorrow or maybe tonight even.

Mr. CULBERSON. We are indeed. We're going to finish this bill tonight, Mr. Dicks. But it's important to point out, I think, that Chairman Rogers deserves a great deal of credit. This committee has worked. We have searched every nook and cranny we can of the Federal budget under our jurisdiction to save every possible dollar we can, and this is the first time, certainly in my memory and my knowledge of American history, that we've had multiple appropriations bills in a row that have reduced Federal spending.

Our constituents want us to do, obviously, far more. Yet when it comes to the military, when it comes to Veterans Affairs, we have worked arm in arm to save every possible dollar while at the same time preserving the quality of care for our veterans in the VA health care system. Then, in the armed services of the United States, when they're in uniform, we have made certain that all of their needs are taken care of when it comes to housing, when it comes to the education of their kids, when it comes to the caliber of the facilities that they have to live and work in. So it is our privilege to bring this bill to the House tonight in a bipartisan fashion.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. CULBERSON. Madam Chairman, the gentleman's amendment seeks to increase by $10 million the Department of Defense's investment in planning and design funds for the Energy Conservation Investment Program, which is certainly a worthwhile program. I accept the amendment, but I cannot stand idly by when I hear the gentleman refer to energy independence.

There is no greater energy independence for America than a ``drill here and drill now'' for American energy resources. I proudly represent the west side of Houston. My neighbors, my friends, my colleagues are geophysicists and engineers who have kids in school and who play at the beach. I've grown up on the Galveston seawall while watching oil and gas rigs right off the shore. We can produce American oil and gas cleanly, safely, immediately, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, vast wealth for the Nation and making America energy independent in the short run and in the medium run.

Clearly, we need to make investments in the future for alternative sources of energy, and I certainly agree with the gentleman from Oregon about the need to make investments looking out into the future. Rice University, which I also proudly represent, is doing extraordinary work in developing ways of using carbon nanostructures to transmit electricity ballistically so that we can transmit, store, and transport electricity in ways that were never possible before. That holds the promise of making America energy independent, but that's way down the road.

I do have to say that, while I support the gentleman's amendment, I feel compelled to point out, if you would just unleash the entrepreneurship, the good judgment and the extraordinary technological capability, then the people of America, many of whom I proudly represent in west Houston, would be able to produce vast amounts of American oil and gas right here in the United States immediately. It would be a tremendous boost to the Nation's economy, making America energy independent in the short run. Clearly, because we've got enough shale gas, we could, frankly, support ourselves on shale gas and oil for who knows how long.

I do agree with the gentleman: for the long term, we do need to look at energy alternatives. Certainly, with regard to the Department of Defense, you've reduced one account by $10 million and plussed up this account by $10 million so that the overall cost of the bill does not go up. I do accept the gentleman's amendment, but I have a respectful disagreement with the premise of his argument.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. CULBERSON. The gentleman brings to the attention of the Congress and the country an extraordinarily important issue that the committee is focused on. Post-traumatic stress disorder is so extraordinarily important and difficult to diagnosis in many cases.

I appreciate the gentleman's amendment. We welcome it and will continue to do everything we can to help make sure to alleviate the suffering of a lot of our veterans and what they go through as they return from serving this great Nation.

We accept the amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. CULBERSON. Mr. Chairman, I'm the first one to be a strong advocate of the 10th Amendment. As a Jeffersonian, I really believe very strongly in the whole idea of individual liberty and letting local governments make local decisions and State governments make decisions at the State level.

In some States, as in New Jersey and New York, certainly the labor union movement is very strong and PLAs may work in those States. It certainly may make sense in New York or New Jersey, but Texas is a right-to-work State, and proudly so. We don't have many labor unions--in fact, very few at all. In the construction industry in particular, there really are no unionized construction firms. There are none.

So if the President's executive order--which he issued almost as soon as he came in, President Obama signed an executive order that said the President of the United States--now, just imagine if you're the head of a local VA and you get an order from the President of the United States saying the President recommends that you, as the head of the VA, hire a construction firm that uses a project labor agreement, you're probably going to follow that advice. It is impossible to do that in the State of Texas.

My friend from Arizona, Arizona is a right-to-work State. Many States across the country are right to work. We don't have labor unions. I believe Georgia is a right-to-work State. We don't have a State income tax in Texas. We don't have many labor unions. Trial lawyers have to really have a good lawsuit before they can go to the courthouse. Taxes are generally low. The streets are safe. We've got, in Texas, a thundering economy.

If I recall right, Texas has created most of the jobs in this Nation over the last 10 years. And one of the reasons Texas' economy is so strong is we don't have many labor unions. But of course that's up to us in Texas. And people have been voting with their feet and moving to Texas. We've had tremendous influx of people from other parts of the country.

The language that is in the bill, my good friend from New York, my friend from New Jersey, the language in the bill does not prohibit the use of project labor agreements; it really doesn't. The language was carefully written so that the government cannot discriminate against or give preference to a construction firm that uses PLAs. Nor can the government--and I'm going to read it here exactly--nor can the government require a contractor to enter into or adhere to a project labor agreement.

A project labor agreement--I need to make sure folks understand what we're talking about--is essentially a requirement that if you want to do business with the Federal Government, you have to unionize your shop. That doesn't make any sense in Texas, it doesn't make any sense in Georgia, it doesn't make any sense in Arizona where we have no unionized contractors--or virtually none, to my knowledge. You can't build a

house, you can't build a building in Houston, Texas, if you require the use of a unionized contractor. They don't exist.


Mr. DICKS. The distinguished chairman--who does a great job, and we're trying to work together--if we understand this, a non-union shop can be considered for work under a project labor agreement. You don't have to be a union shop. So a non-union company can do it. All they have to do is to agree to the terms that are part of the project labor agreement; in other words, that they will use the wages and other standards that the project labor agreement has. If they will abide by that, then they can be considered for work. So that doesn't mean that there aren't any.

Thank you for yielding.

Mr. CULBERSON. Reclaiming my time, you're right. And that's the problem, my friend, Mr. Dicks, from Washington State. Truly, you're exactly right. The VA can and will require a nonunion contractor in Texas to unionize before they can even----

Mr. DICKS. No, no, no, no. If the gentleman will yield?

Mr. CULBERSON. I yield to the gentleman from Washington.

Mr. DICKS. They don't have to unionize. They just have to agree to the prevailing wage and other things that are part of the project labor agreement, but they don't have to be unionized.

Mr. CULBERSON. Yes, sir. That's correct. I'm about to run out of time.

The Acting CHAIR. The time of the gentleman has expired.

(By unanimous consent, Mr. Culberson was allowed to proceed for 2 additional minutes.)

Mr. CULBERSON. If I could point out, the gentleman from Washington is correct; on this vote, they're not required to unionize, but they're required to adopt the higher prevailing wage. They're required to adopt all the other higher, more expensive standards that a union may require. That puts that contractor at an immediate competitive disadvantage with all of the other contractors out there.

There are no unionized--or very few unionized contractors in Houston, Texas--throughout the whole State, and that's the problem. While perhaps in New York, while perhaps in New Jersey, while perhaps in Washington State PLAs may actually wind up saving you money--for reasons mysterious to me as a free market guy, but it may save you money.

This language does not prohibit the use of a unionized contractor in New York. Let me repeat, in the brief time I've got left: none of the funds in this act can be used to discriminate against or give preference to a union shop, and the government cannot require a contractor to enter into an agreement. So, you see, the language, as written, we're all on the same page here, guys. This language does not require unionization. It doesn't force a non-union shop to adopt a prevailing wage, for example. And it enables everyone to bid without discrimination.

Our concern is, with the President's executive order, which says that the President of the United States encourages the local VA to hire a contractor that follows union guidelines, they don't exist in Texas. That makes no sense. That's why the gentleman from Arizona wrote this amendment this way. And that's why it's important that the House defeat this amendment to save taxpayer dollars and to allow non-union contractors in right-to-work States to compete for these government construction projects.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time and thank you for the extra time.


Mr. CULBERSON. Our point was that in right-to-work States where we have virtually no labor unions, we don't want contractors to be required to adopt prevailing wages or adopt union guidelines in order to bid on a contract. And in States like yours, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, you should be free to do so.

And I think the way, truly, if I may, the way the amendment is written, we have obviously a difference of opinion, but it is written very clearly that the government cannot require or prohibit contractors from adopting these PLAs, so it leaves it really up to the local VA to decide whether they're going to bid it out to a nonunion shop or a union shop, depending on the State. In your State, fine. In Texas, you know, we're a nonunion State.


Mr. CULBERSON. I think we're headed in the same place, which is that you'd like to preserve the ability to hire union contractors in Ohio, New York, and New Jersey. We share that. I have no objection. Under the 10th Amendment, if that's what you guys want to do, God bless you.

So what I would ask is that perhaps we could postpone the consideration of this amendment briefly. Would you guys come up with some language to amend Mr. Flake's language to make it even clearer in your mind; so let New Jersey run New Jersey and New York run New York and Ohio run New York, and let Texans run Texas?

Mr. LaTOURETTE. We don't want Ohio to run New York. I think the gentleman misspoke.

Mr. CULBERSON. I want Ohio to run Ohio.

Mr. LaTOURETTE. We've got enough stuff going on in Ohio.

Mr. CULBERSON. Will you offer an amendment, because you're a very capable legislator, and may we postpone the consideration of this amendment briefly so that you could amend his language to let Texans run Texas and Arizona run Arizona and Ohio run Ohio?

Mr. LaTOURETTE. And you're a gifted orator.

A couple of things. One, I appreciate the gentleman's invitation, but I don't want to postpone the consideration of the amendment.

Mr. CULBERSON. We've got other work.

Mr. LaTOURETTE. There is going to be a rolled vote, I assume. You're not going to take extra real time.

Mr. CULBERSON. No, but we could fix this, though.

Let's fix this.


Mr. CULBERSON. I agree to the amendment and accept it. I think it's important. Had the cemetery director in Houston been a veteran, this problem never would have arisen.

I also thank the gentleman for bringing both of these amendments to the floor tonight. I have personally witnessed the cemetery director interfering with the funeral services of veterans. It is outrageous, just absolutely unacceptable. I thank the gentleman for his amendments and speaking on this amendment first. I have no objection and will accept this amendment.


Mr. CULBERSON. I want to say again, as I mentioned earlier--and I think much of this has been said, so I won't belabor it--the State of Texas is a right-to-work State. There are very few, if any, labor unions in the State of Texas. We have them in a few industries, but not many.

We have to be good stewards of the taxpayers' precious dollars, and the gentleman from Arizona's amendment makes good sense. We should pay the free-market wage. We should not force taxpayers to pay an artificially high union wage when a free-market wage is available and you can get a job done well at a far better price. That just makes common sense.

Mr. Chairman, I urge adoption of the gentleman's amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.


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