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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. MIKULSKI. Madam President, I rise to speak as the chair of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, to talk about the aspects of my bill, the parts of my bill that are in the supplemental. But before I do, I want to join with other Americans in extending my deepest condolences to the families in Connecticut, those 26 families who faced a tragedy of such enormity that it is impossible for the mind to comprehend and the heart to endure--the murder of 20 sweet, innocent children and 6 teachers who died protecting their children.

When we look at the photos of the children, we see in many of them the faces of our own families. We can only imagine the agony they are facing right now. I wish to extend my heartfelt support to them and also to all those who responded to the tragedy: those on the scene, the school principal who literally put herself in the line of fire to protect her students and tried to alert them through the intercom system; to teachers in the classrooms and a teacher's assistant who literally shielded them with their own bodies and their own know-how. Then there were the police and other law enforcement who went into the school, not knowing what danger and horror they would face or how they could rescue the children. There were the ambulance drivers who raced to the scene, paramedics, and even grief counselors needed counseling at one point.

In this situation, the families bear this incredible grief, but we all do too. Whether for those people on the scene, for those who have the permanent wounds of the bullet or those in Connecticut or those families who will bear the permanent impact of this tragedy, we lift our hearts in prayer for these victims and we lift our voices to end violence in America. We must look at ending violence in our country. We need to be able to look at the issues around gun control and ammo control, but that is only one aspect of it. We also have to look at issues related to mental illness because for those who suffer mental illness--whether it is those who have the illness themselves or their families who try to cope with it--they are often alone and helpless.

That is not by way of explanation or excuse for what happened in Connecticut or Colorado--what happens now all too frequently in our society. But there is a pattern, particularly of young men over the age of 18 and below 30 who seem to fall between the cracks, missing the help they need to be able to deal with those demons inside themselves. We need to be able to focus on that.

I agree with the President who said last night:

No single law--no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this.

We must do more to protect our children and our communities, not only with words, prayers and vigils but actually with the deeds here.

So know I will join with my colleagues to reinstate the assault weapons ban. I plan to work with Senator Feinstein to introduce a bill that will deal with military-style weapons and high-capacity bullet clips. Weapons of war have no place on our streets, in our schools or in our homes.

For those who cry: Oh, it is regulation--we regulate food for our safety. We regulate cars for our safety. We need to now look at regulating guns. But know that, as I also said, we must also look at the issue of mental illness, particularly in young adults.

Our colleague Senator Lieberman is proposing a commission on violence. I am often skeptical of commissions, but I believe if Joe Lieberman headed up that commission and we looked at it, it would come out with an action plan. If there was a pledge to support the recommendations of that commission, I would also be able to support it.

We need to look at guns, mental health, and those things that glorify violence in our society or glorify that somehow or another guns are a solution to every problem we have.

Today, the funerals in Newtown begin. Our mourning will go on for a long time, but our work as well must continue over the days and the weeks ahead. I intend to work with my colleagues to change the law and change the culture of violence.

I also rise to speak on my commerce and justice bill. I want to focus on my national responsibilities as the chairperson of the Appropriations Committee on Commerce, Justice, and Science. I also wish to point out that Maryland was hard hit too, especially the communities in the lower shore and in particular the community of Crisfield. I will speak more about Maryland and what we faced during Hurricane Sandy tomorrow.

It was ironic that when the hurricane hit, we faced hurricane winds in one part of our State and a blizzard and nor'easter in another part of our State. So we had State troopers on snowmobiles trying to go in to rescue vulnerable populations in Garrett County. We also had our State troopers and guards on rafts and on swiftboats going in to rescue vulnerable populations being hit by the flooding waters and the horrific hurricane winds. Although we were not hit in Maryland the way New York and New Jersey were, we face damages too.

Up and down the Atlantic coast, there was tremendous damage. I am here to talk about the CJS portion of this urgent supplemental. It provides $513 million to repair, replace, restore, and rebuild our communities and our critical assets. In our case, the CJS bill is about restoring critical assets for Federal law enforcement, our weather prediction and weather facilities, NOAA, and what was damaged in our fisheries program. Even NASA's spaceport Wallops facility was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

When a storm such as Sandy hits, it devastates everything in its path, including Federal facilities, such as the offices and equipment of our law enforcement agencies. Our Federal law enforcement agencies--the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms--were also hit. We need to make sure we maintain support for these law enforcement agencies, and therefore we have in this appropriation $15 million for the Department of Justice to repair these facilities by replacing equipment and operational tools damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

This will also help FBI facilities in New York and New Jersey that were hit. The New York field office, resident agencies, and even labs and case record storage facilities were damaged. They are all important in dealing with fighting crime, whether it is terrorism, organized crime, or financial fraud. Sewage and mud destroyed the New York
field office mobile command center, specialized laboratory trucks, and evidence response team vehicles.

This appropriation also has $1 million to restore the tools the Drug Enforcement Agency needs to go after drug traffickers. Radio communications and the antennas to stay connected were damaged. The New York division's information technology system needs all the help it can get to be able to replace those 15 vehicles used for important kinds of forensic detection and wiretap that were lost to flooding or crushed by falling trees.

Also included in the appropriations is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which will get $25 million. Flooding swept through the ATF offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan. It damaged communication, security systems, and other tools Federal agents need to detect crime, fight crime, identify the perpetrators of crime, and gather the evidence.

We have $10 million in here for the Bureau of Federal Prisons. Ten Federal prisons were affected by Hurricane Sandy, located in four States: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. We need these repairs to meet safety and security requirements to make sure the inmates are kept secure and the prisons are fit for duty. They will need $10 million to be able to do that.

Let's talk about the science side. Our Federal science facilities along our coast were also damaged. Repairs are needed in Federal laboratories, research facilities, and monitoring equipment.

NOAA needs $15 million for ocean and coastal equipment damaged by Hurricane Sandy. For example, 45 tide stations and data buoys were damaged. What does that mean? It is absolutely crucial for these buoys to give us the navigational information for safe navigation into and out of affected ports. The Presiding Officer knows, as the Senator who represents Washington State, how important access to a port is and how important the NOAA facilities are to help our ship captains and our port pilots have accurate and reliable data. They were damaged up and down the coast. They will need $63 million to repair and improve weather forecasting equipment and capabilities. Nine NOAA weather radio sites were damaged, including broken transmitters and antennas. Repairs are needed so they can be able to give us the right weather forecast even during a storm, to be able to give us the right information to protect our communities. For every mile we can be accurate, we will save $1 million in evacuation costs by the State, local, and private sector. Every dollar we spend that can provide accurate forecasting saves lives and saves money. In addition, even the NOAA hurricane hunter planes were damaged. We have three of them. Only one plane was able to work during the 2012 hurricane season. Two other planes desperately need repairs, and we are going to do it.

Also, we need to repair NASA facilities that were damaged along the coast. Beaches were washed away near the NASA launch pad at Wallop's Island. The launch pad sits steps from the beach, and workers had to stop testing the rocket that will be used to take cargo to the space station. After Hurricane Sandy, they said they had not seen this much damage in over 6 years. This is a very important facility. There were other NASA facilities that were damaged because of the impact and their closeness to the beach.

We also need cleanup. Entire coastal communities were washed away. The magnitude was amazing. Right now we have debris from storm damage that can be dangerous to fishing vessels, public health and safety, and to marine life. This funding is important for the communities hit by Hurricane Sandy and also for the west coast communities that are still struggling with debris. I understand in Oregon, Washington State, and in California they are still dealing with debris from the Japanese tsunami. I know the Senator from Washington State as well as Senator Murray have spoken to me about it.

We need to clean up what was washed up. It is important not only for the safety of our beaches but also so that ships have clear navigation. We are also going to be looking at coastal habitat.

Due to the hurricane, not only were people displaced but fisheries were destroyed as well. I am not equating the two, but for many of us who are coastal Senators, we know that the fisheries are an important part of our identity, an important part of the economy, and an important part of jobs in our communities. We call them watermen in Maryland. Our colleagues from New England call them lobstermen or fishermen. I know the Presiding Officer calls them fishermen. Whatever name we use, those men and women who work and harvest the sea depend on their fisheries.

There were several fisheries which were damaged because the storm created such an aquatic and habitat upheaval. Assistance is needed for our fishermen and our fishing communities which depend on this for their livelihoods to get help. We will be focusing in this bill on New England groundfish; Mississippi's--which was hit by another hurricane--oysters and blue crabs; as well as Alaska and its salmon. Those who were affected at the salmon fisheries will benefit from this bill as will New York and New Jersey.

At the same time we will provide assistance to legal aid for mobile resources and disaster coordinators. There is a tremendous demand for their services to help people sort out many of the aspects of this. They help them with their benefits and their insurance. They need help just sorting things out when they don't have the documents they need.

We are going to have lawyers on the ground to work with the community. Legal aid will be doing this, and they will be also coordinate pro bono orders.

We see this bill not just as spending on these items, we see this as helping the communities get back on their feet and ensuring they have vital Federal services in law enforcement and the safety and protection of their community. We need to maintain the safety of our Federal prisons and make sure there is safety and access to our ports in order that safe navigation will be provided.

For every dollar we spend, we are going to be creating jobs. It is going to take jobs and human beings to replace and replenish our beaches. This is important. It is a jobs bill. When we talk about going in and stabilizing our prisons or helping with the New York field office, and so on, these are going to be jobs in construction, in office space restoration, and mold mitigation.

Item after item will help provide an opportunity that even men and women whose jobs were displaced because of this storm will have the opportunity to be able to participate in these Federal contracts to rebuild the very communities that they are from. I know we hope that happens.

After all of this, we are going to have safer beaches and safer navigation. We are also going to continue the excellent work that has been done by NOAA and weather forecasts. They gave us plenty of warning so that we were able to save as many lives as we could, but unfortunately we could not save those homes and we could not save those livelihoods.

This supplemental helps people get back in their homes, get those communities back, and hopefully we will restore those livelihoods. I look forward to ensuring that my aspect of the bill moves in an expeditious, speedy, and smooth way.

I thank the the ranking member, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. She worked with me on a bipartisan basis to put together my part of the supplemental. This will probably be the last bill she will help move. I appreciate her help.

I hope my colleagues, as they look at the overall aspects of this bill, will move it. Tomorrow I will be talking more about the FEMA and HUD aspects, particularly as they affect Maryland. I hope that as the lameduck moves along, we move in a bipartisan way to get our people back into their homes, back to work, and get back the faith that the Federal Government is on their side and responds to them.

The Senator and I thank President Obama for his leadership and giving us the right framework. We have it all lined up here, and we are ready to go.

I yield the floor.


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