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Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Arizona as well. I think we have a rare moment of peacemaking and harmony in the Senate. It may not last for long, so I want to speak while we have that moment and say for the Record that I don't dispute any of the statements made by the Senator from Arizona nor do I question his right to do so, including his responsibility to raise questions about spending.
We are at a time when we are cutting spending right and left--even at the Department of Defense. I do want to put on record the following: This bill, which we are considering as it relates to the Department of Defense in its entirety, is the bill that was passed by the House Republican majority. This is not a bill which was written on this side of the Rotunda. We have received it. That doesn't mean we should not ask questions about what the House did, but I don't want to be assigned the blame or asked to take responsibility for provisions which I did not author. We took the House version and brought it to the floor in an effort to get this moving in an expedited manner.
I know some of the questions the Senator from Arizona has raised are not new. There was a longstanding debate here in the Senate about whether to expand the notion of minority contracting to include Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians. Understandably, Senator Stevens of Alaska, who chaired the subcommittee for a long time, and Senator Inouye, who also chaired the subcommittee--and unfortunately he passed away just a few weeks ago--believed that the minority status for contracting should include their native tribes people. They fought for it, and it was included. I know the Senator from Arizona perhaps took exception to that and debated with them. To renew that debate is perfectly appropriate, but it is not a new provision in the bill. It is something that has been there for some time. I welcome the debate. I think it is a fulsome debate and an important one, but I wanted to say that for the Record.
This is the House Republican bill and the measures which the Senator from Arizona addressed have been debated for a lengthy period of time. Some issues that were raised are new to me. I have to look more closely--and I should--to find out the merits of the provisions.
Before we go any further with that, I----
Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, could I briefly respond?
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, if I could ask any time that we use from now until the managers arrive on the floor be for debate only. I ask unanimous consent for that purpose.
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Mr. DURBIN. I see my friend and colleague from the State of Rhode Island, who serves on the Defense Appropriations Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee, and I will yield to him next.
I do want to say a word about the Department of Defense appropriation contained in this bill. This act provides $604.9 billion, including $87.2 billion for overseas contingency operations. That is a reduction from the 2012 level of $633.2 billion. There were no changes in the bill that passed the House last week.
The bill fully complies with the spending caps in the Budget Control Act. It contains no Member-requested earmarks in compliance with the earmark moratorium. Congress has cut the defense budget to find programs which we believe are excessive to accommodate scheduling delays, budget errors, and unspent funds.
The bill includes 671 cuts to programs in the budget request that have funds that are not needed for the remaining 6 1/2 months of the year. I believe everyone should agree with the notion that if we are going to replicate last year's budget--for goodness' sake, we are not going to build the same ship twice, so we are trying to avoid those obvious misappropriations and waste of Federal tax dollars.
The bill also rescinds $4 billion in unspent prior-year appropriations for 87 programs that have been delayed or terminated.
There has been talk in the press that the Defense appropriations bill included here gives an advantage to the Pentagon when it comes to sequestration, but that is not true. Until this bill is enacted, the Defense Department is dealing with two challenges: sequestration and the threat of defense being under a full-year continuing resolution for the first time in our Nation's history.
This bill does nothing about sequestration. Nearly $42 billion in defense cuts have already been ordered by the President, and this bill does not change that at all.
Some people think the Defense Department is being afforded special treatment in being able to transfer money to deal with sequestration. In fact, this bill keeps a tight rein on the Pentagon's transfer authorities. The bill actually provides less transfer authority than what the Defense Department requested in February of 2012.
The Defense Department asks for $5 billion in general transfer authority. The bill allows $4 billion. The Defense Department asks for $4 billion in transfer authority for overseas contingency accounts. The bill provides $3.5 billion. All these transfer authorities are subject to congressional approval processes.
The perception that this bill gives the Pentagon excessive flexibility to deal with sequestration is not correct.
The other challenge facing the Department of Defense is the threat of a year-long continuing resolution if we fail to pass this bill--a bill that would do nothing more than extend the authority of last year's spending bill. Some of the Department's most pressing fiscal challenges relate to trying to live in today's world using last year's budget. Passing a defense bill will give the Pentagon relief from the threat of living under a full-year continuing resolution for the very first time. But that is not because of flexibility, that is because an appropriations bill is a better steward of taxpayer dollars than a continuing resolution.
Here are five reasons why a continuing resolution would be harmful to our national defense: Readiness. Readiness is the way to measure whether our troops are properly trained and equipped to do their mission. Under last year's funding bill, operation and maintenance accounts would be underfunded by $11 billion. In other words, if we just took last year's bill, we would be short $11 billion in preparing our troops for battle. I will tell my colleagues that these operations and maintenance accounts which result in readiness training mean survivability for our men and women in uniform. It is that basic. That directly translates into less training, if we don't do something about it, and delayed repair of equipment. Every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has warned us that readiness is on the verge of plummeting because of fiscal uncertainty. That is disgraceful and unacceptable. Once readiness goes down, it takes years to rebuild it.
Spending on unneeded programs is also a concern. Continuing last year's bill would fund $17 billion worth of programs that are no longer needed--specifically 31 programs that have ended.
For example, a continuing resolution would provide $2.6 billion for MRAP armored vehicles. The Pentagon has already bought these vehicles, and with our troops beginning to draw away from Afghanistan, we don't need more at this moment. This bill would not provide funds for unneeded programs such as this.
Third, no new starts or multiyear authority. A simple extension of last year's bill would extend the prohibition on new programs and multiyear contract authority. A multiyear contract must be specifically authorized by law and only when the government would save approximately 10 percent compared to buying each year's requirements.
If this authority is not provided, the taxpayers stand to lose $150 million in cost savings for the V-22 Osprey and as much as $373 million in savings on the Army's Chinook helicopter. To put that in simple terms, if we can enter into multiyear contracting and get discounts on what we will need in the future, it is in the best interests of our national defense and the taxpayers. Losing that multiyear contracting results in the opposite. We overpay for things we know we will not need.
When the government needs to be finding ways to make taxpayer dollars stretch further, a simple extension would require the government to turn away from cost savings that have already been negotiated.
On the fourth point, shortfalls will go unaddressed. There is a long list of shortfalls in the defense budget that are not controversial but wouldn't be fixed by a continuing resolution. Here are just a few examples we are considering: $1.5 billion for National Guard equipment; $2.3 billion for ship operations; $271 million to close the shortfall in TRICARE health care programs; $211 million added for the Iron Dome missile defense program that protects Israeli cities from short-range rockets.
The President of the United States visited us yesterday for lunch and talked about his upcoming trip to the Middle East to meet with our allies in Israel. I will tell my colleagues the President, as well as the leaders in Israel, know how important the Iron Dome missile defense program is and we should not shortchange it.
Another example: $45 million is added to focus intelligence efforts on finding Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.
I recently visited Africa. I have been in the field with our troops who are stalking this man and they will find him. He is a notorious murderer. The President has said we will put an end to his reign of terror and we will. This bill, the bill we are considering, will provide the funds to finish that.
Let me summarize by saying this bill is a compromise solution that meets budget caps, does not unfairly help the Department of Defense compared to other agencies. It eliminates wasteful and unneeded spending, lowers the risk to readiness and the threat of a hollow force, takes care of our troops and their families, and addresses the priorities of our national defense.
I will not quibble or argue with my colleague from Arizona or any other colleagues. If there are provisions in the House bill--which is included here in its entirety--that need to be challenged, addressed, debated or changed, so be it. That is why we are here. But we are starting with this and with the good intention of finding funds for the Department of Defense in very challenging times.
I yield the floor to my friend from Rhode Island.
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Mr. DURBIN. Would the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. BROWN. Certainly.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Illinois.
Mr. DURBIN. I would ask of the Senator, pending before the Senate is the Cruz amendment which would literally remove any funding to implement the Affordable Care Act, as I understand; is that correct?
Mr. BROWN. That is correct.
Mr. DURBIN. We have heard from the Republicans on the other side of the aisle that they oppose this intrusion of government into health care and creating health insurance exchanges so Americans who currently don't have a choice in health insurance and want to get a different policy, if they care to get one, would have a choice through the exchanges?
Mr. BROWN. This is what they have been saying, yes.
Mr. DURBIN. The premise behind this is the government shouldn't be involved in this, as I understand the Republican argument; is that correct?
Mr. BROWN. That is what they say.
Mr. DURBIN. Did I hear the Republican leader come to the floor and speak about thousands of pages of regulations, government regulations, which will now be part of health care?
Mr. BROWN. You did.
Mr. DURBIN. I would like to ask the Senator from Ohio, is he aware of the fact every Member of the Senate has a government-administered health insurance plan?
Mr. BROWN. I am aware of it. I assume my colleagues are too.
Mr. DURBIN. Is the Senator aware of any Senator on the Republican side who has come forward--and there may be one, I don't know--who has said: I am so opposed to government-administered health care, and as a Senator I will not take advantage of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program?
Mr. BROWN. I have not heard any say that.
Mr. DURBIN. The same Senators who are critical of ObamaCare because the government is involved in health care have themselves, their families, and children protected by a government-administered health insurance plan?
Mr. BROWN. It is my understanding this has been sort of the hypocrisy we have woven through this debate over the last 3 years.
Mr. DURBIN. What is good enough for these Senators apparently is not good enough for the rest of America?
Mr. BROWN. Apparently not good enough for a senior, not good enough for somebody who is low income but working two $10-an-hour jobs, I guess it is not good enough for them.
Mr. DURBIN. Is it not true the amendment by the Senator from Texas is breathtaking because it says we eliminate all funding for the Affordable Care Act in terms of, for example, the extension of the availability of health insurance for children up to the age of 26?
As I understand the Cruz amendment, we couldn't fund that aspect of the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. BROWN. The Cruz amendment doesn't just anticipate changes in the future, it takes away all these services which have been out there that I have been talking about: the thousands of people in Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin who have benefited; 25-year-olds, 22-year-olds, such as somebody who graduates from Champagne, Urbana, Madison, or Columbus and don't have insurance but have a job, are 23 years old and may stay on their parents' health plan. All of the preventive care literally hundreds of thousands of seniors in Ohio now receive with no copay or no deductible would all be wiped away. All the provisions people have benefited from already would be taken away by this amendment.
Mr. DURBIN. This breath-taking Cruz amendment would actually say to these families with children who are currently on the family policy up to the age of 26: It is over. Those kids are now on their own.
Mr. BROWN. These kids would be on their own, but the Senators who are pushing this amendment would still have their health insurance, just to reiterate that.
Mr. DURBIN. The Cruz amendment does not eliminate the government----
Mr. BROWN. It doesn't take away the insurance for those
people voting on this amendment; that is correct.
Mr. DURBIN. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which protects Senators and Congressmen, is not affected by the Cruz amendment?
Mr. BROWN. My reading of it is it is not affected.
Mr. DURBIN. They don't hate that aspect of government-administered health insurance?
Mr. BROWN. Apparently not.
Mr. DURBIN. Is it also true the seniors who would receive benefits under the Affordable Care Act, for example, annual physicals which are available, those would be eliminated as well?
Mr. BROWN. In my State and the Senator's State, since his State is slightly larger than mine--over 1 million seniors in each State and hundreds of thousands in the Presiding Officer's State of Wisconsin--millions of seniors have received some kind of preventive care, such as screenings for diabetes, screenings for osteoporosis, and not paid a copay or deductible. They have received their physicals and not had their deductibles, copayer deductibles, waived as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
The Cruz amendment would, while still protecting health insurance for Senator Cruz and others, wipe away those benefits for seniors.
Mr. DURBIN. Is it also not true in the U.S. Capitol we have an Attending Physician's Office run by the U.S. Navy, a government entity, which makes itself available to each Senator if they care to pay a monthly fee for annual physicals--a government-administered annual physical for Senators?
Mr. BROWN. It is true. That is true. This is open to people regardless of how they vote on the Cruz amendment.
Mr. DURBIN. Does the Cruz amendment eliminate this government-administered physical exam which is available for Members of the Senate?
Mr. BROWN. It does not.
Mr. DURBIN. I am starting to note a pattern here. The Senators who wish to do away with government-administered health care for everyone else want to keep it for themselves. Does that pattern emerge from the Senator's analysis?
Mr. BROWN. We had this discussion back in 2009 and 2010 when we debated this health care law, that Members of the House and Senate continue to receive health insurance.
I recall one House Member was unhappy during campaigning against the Affordable Care Act, as he recently came to the House. He didn't get his insurance for the first month paid for by the government, as he tried to take away insurance for low-income, moderate-income people in my State, my district and the Senator's State.
Mr. DURBIN. I would say Senator Cruz would certainly be able to offer an amendment which eliminated all government-administered health insurance as it applies to any person in the United States. If he did that, he would be consistent. Instead, what he has done is go after those today who are struggling to find their own health insurance, cannot afford it, and are simply asking for the same option as Members of Congress have today: to be able to go to an insurance exchange and choose the insurance plan that is best for them and their families. I think it would be more consistent.
I ask the Senator from Ohio if he thinks it would be more consistent?
Mr. BROWN. I would like to see Senator Cruz or one of the supporters of the Cruz amendment offer an amendment.
Mr. DURBIN. I thank the Senator from Ohio.
Mr. BROWN. I appreciate the words of the Senator from Illinois.
To close, Senator Durbin's comments accurately explain that there is a bias in this institution on tax policy and health policy for some Senators to take care of themselves and people like them, a little more than paying attention to the rest of the country. I think this amendment shows this and is one more good reason to vote against the Cruz amendment.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. DURBIN. Let me thank the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski. This is her first major assignment on the floor of the Senate. It is an awesome responsibility. I note that she was not only up for this job, she was made for this job. She has the knowledge, skill, and drive we need to make sure the Appropriations Committee is playing its important historic role in the Senate.
I commend the Senator from Alabama, my friend Senator Richard Shelby too. Senator Shelby and Senator Mikulski have been close partners in developing a very complicated bill. This bill we are considering is going to fund the Federal Government for the remaining 7 months; otherwise, when we run out of money March 24, literally, the government will close. They are working and have worked hard for the last several weeks to get this bill ready.
A version of the bill passed the House. Now it is being considered on the floor of the Senate and Senators are being allowed to offer amendments, which is their right.
One of the Senators who just offered an amendment is Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is well known to virtually everyone in America as a former candidate for President and by virtue of his service to our Nation. I would say I count John McCain as a real friend. We came to the House of Representatives the same year. We have maintained that friendship here in the Senate. We have worked closely together on immigration reform and many other issues. I can't think of a finer Senator on the other side of the aisle.
I don't need to speak to John McCain's reputation when it comes to military service. We know the story: a Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam, captured and held captive, subjected to torture for more than 5 years. John's body still bears the scars of that terrible experience. Thank God he survived and continues to serve in the Senate representing the people of Arizona and the Nation in his capacity as a Senator.
He has been the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, so he knows those issues not only as a veteran, a man who served in the Vietnam war, but also as a Senator who has looked closely at each of the issues that affects the Department of Defense. He doesn't hold a candle to anyone, take a step back to anyone when it comes to his commitment to our military and our Nation's defense. But now it is my responsibility to come to the floor of the Senate and argue against an amendment Senator McCain is offering on the Department of Defense bill. You might think to yourself: Durbin, how did you get this assignment? The fact is, as chairman of this particular subcommittee, it is my responsibility to argue the other side of the issue that Senator McCain has brought to the floor.
I come to this assignment brandnew, just a few weeks now, since the untimely passing of our great friend and national hero, Dan Inouye of Hawaii. Because of his passing, there were vacancies created, and I ended up in this position as chairman of the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations in the Senate. It is a job I am learning, and I confess there are many here who know it better than I do. But I will do my best because I know the awesome responsibility attached to it.
I stand today to urge my colleagues to vote against the amendment John McCain has offered to this continuing resolution as it relates to the Department of Defense. There are basically four provisions in this--three or four provisions in the McCain amendment--and I wish to address each of them.
One of the provisions allows the Department of Defense to give grants to organizations. That sounds like a very easy thing to explain, and it is. The three organizations that receive the grants from the Department of Defense are well-known to most Americans; certainly two are--the USO is one.
The USO for decades has been an organization which has tried to provide help to our veterans, usually stationed overseas, and to give them things as basic as entertainment, to counseling, or when they go through airports to make sure they have a place to stop by and get a cup of coffee and a doughnut. That is the USO. I have understated their mission, but we are all familiar with it.
The other organization is one known to every American, I am sure, the Red Cross. The third is an organization new, but important, called Fisher House. Fisher House. Let me tell you about Fisher House.
Two years ago, I was invited to the grand opening of a Fisher House facility near the Hines VA Hospital in Chicago. Fisher House is to military and veterans hospitals what Ronald McDonald houses are to children's hospitals. What we are saying here in the underlying bill is that the Department of Defense can provide grants to these organizations--Fisher House, Red Cross, and USO. The McCain amendment says no, they can't. The McCain amendment strikes the authority of the Department of Defense to give them these grants. I think that is a mistake. And for that reason alone, I hope my colleagues will vote against the McCain amendment.
The services being provided through these organizations and at these facilities are nothing short of remarkable. Fisher House, right in the city of Chicago, near Hines VA Hospital, is a beautiful home--a place where families who have a loved one who is going through surgery or rehabilitation at the Hines VA Hospital are given a chance to stay overnight. They do not have to pay for a hotel room and they are treated like royalty, as they should be. These are military families--mothers and fathers, spouses and children, who are treated like royalty at Fisher House while they are waiting for their loved one to finish the treatment or surgery they need to come back home.
Why wouldn't we do that? Why wouldn't we provide that kind of service? The Fisher House facilities are largely built by charitable contributions, donations from everybody. So to give to the Department of Defense the ability to transfer up to $4 million a year--$4 million--to the Fisher House, why, of course, we want to do that. Across America they do such extraordinary things.
In terms of the Red Cross grants, here is what the Red Cross does, and every Member of Congress knows this. A family will call a Senator and say: Senator Shelby, we live in Mobile, AL, and I wanted you to know the mother of a soldier overseas has just passed away and we have to get the word to him right away. What Senator Shelby or what Senator Durbin would do is to call the Red Cross and say: You have to help us. We have to get in touch with this service man or woman overseas somewhere. So it is an opportunity for them to use their network of volunteers and communications to reach out to that soldier, that sailor, that airman, or marine. That is what they do. They spend about $10 million in emergency communication services to keep a hotline running connecting servicemembers, veterans, and their families with the services they offer. There is $2 million for theater support of deployed troops--emergency communication services between deployed servicemembers and their families back home.
They provide lounges, the Red Cross does, in these theaters of operation, war settings, for troops to have access to computers so they can be in touch with their families back home.
One of the big surprises I ran into as I visited our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was to find many of them Skyping away with their families while they are far away. Some of these facilities are being provided by the Red Cross.
The list goes on and on of all that the Red Cross does to support and help our troops. But the list can't tell you in specifics what Red Cross volunteers do. These men and women--and you see them everywhere under the flag of the Red Cross--show up when a tornado hits, when a flood hits, and they always show up when our troops need a helping hand.
When our troops get off the plane in Landstuhl, Germany, after being grievously wounded or injured overseas and are about to be hospitalized--maybe facing their first surgery--one of the first smiling faces they will see will be a Red Cross volunteer, there to say: What can I do for you; can I get in touch with your family; is there something you need? The stories are legendary about soldiers who land at these bases and a Red Cross volunteer walks up to them.
I recall one story in particular about one of the soldiers who volunteered at the Red Cross who said: What do you want? And the soldier said: I need a rootbeer float. Imagine, a rootbeer float. And in a matter of 15 minutes, up pops the Red Cross volunteer with a rootbeer float. It was a small thing for that soldier, but it was an important thing.
So to say we are not going to allow the Department of Defense to provide grants to the Red Cross, the USO, or to Fisher House I think is a mistake. These are great organizations with great volunteers and they do a wonderful job day in and day out to help our troops overseas. If it were my son or daughter overseas, I would like to know the Red Cross is going to be there. I would like to know the USO is going to be there. And God forbid that we would ever need some work at a military hospital; I would like to know there is a Fisher House nearby in case a family needs it because they can't otherwise afford to stay at a hotel for a number of nights.
The McCain amendment would stop the grants by the Department of Defense to these three organizations. If it were not for the fact that such a fine man, a veteran, offered this amendment, some people might say: Why would you do that to our military servicemembers? I don't think we should.
There is also a situation that has been going on for some time regarding Guam. Guam is an important place for stationing some 16,000 marines--16,000 men and women who volunteered to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps and are stationed on Guam. It is a challenge. I have been there. It is a remote location, but important for our national security, particularly in the Pacific theater. Wouldn't we want to say to the men and women who are there in uniform that they are going to have the basics taken care of? And wouldn't we want to say that one of the basics is to make sure they have safe drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities?
Here is what we found out. We found out that on the island of Guam our 16,000 marines are in a facility that has reached the absolute limit in terms of wastewater treatment. The Department of Defense came to us and said: For these troops, we have got to build a new wastewater treatment facility. Well, of course, we do. We don't want to shortchange them or jeopardize public health in any way.
The McCain amendment would eliminate this money, $106 million in funding, for a wastewater treatment plant on Guam. This is not some frill, this is a basic. Everyone wants to believe their son or daughter, volunteering for the Marine Corps and stationed somewhere overseas, is being taken care of by our government--that the government is doing everything we can to make sure they have the basics they need to stay healthy. Well, this is one of those basics--$106 million for a wastewater treatment plant in Guam.
There is also a $13 million ask here that I think makes sense when it comes to the safety of these troops. We want to make sure there is a public health lab in Guam. God forbid these men and women in uniform, or anyone who represents the United States, is facing some biological terrorist. God forbid there is some substance being used that could endanger their lives, and God forbid we would have to rely on laboratory facilities in Atlanta, GA, if you are halfway around the world. That is where the most professional facilities are. So the Department of Defense said: Let's put a $13 million investment in a basic public health lab in Guam to protect the safety of Americans and our troops.
Look at these things. Look at what I am asking for--not for museums, not for things that may be considered frivolous and unnecessary in a given context but, rather, for the basics to support our troops in the field and to provide those who are stationed on Guam some of the most fundamental and basic public health facilities.
So it pains me to come to the floor and to resist an amendment offered by my friend Senator McCain, but I do it in memory of Senator Dan Inouye, who helped write this bill, who himself was a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and had a distinguished career of service in the military.
I hope my colleagues will listen carefully to this debate, and though they feel the strong positive feelings I do toward Senator McCain, they will go to the merits of the issue and defeat the McCain amendment. Make sure the ability of the Department of Defense to continue to work with Fisher House, the Red Cross, and the USO is authorized in law. Let's make sure the 16,000 marines on Guam have the most basic things they need to be safe and healthy and come home just as we want them to. That is what this is all about.
I urge my colleagues to vote against the McCain amendment.
I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I don't know if Senator McCain is nearby, but if he is, I want to give him a chance to come over and use the few minutes remaining before the rollcall vote.
But for those Members of the Senate who did not listen to the earlier statements by Senator McCain and myself, this amendment is very basic and very straightforward: Senator McCain would cut or eliminate the ability of the Department of Defense to give grants to three organizations: Fisher House, Red Cross, and USO.
Fisher House is the Ronald McDonald House of military and veterans hospitals. I have visited the one in Chicago. I have talked to my colleagues about other Fisher House facilities around America. They are remarkable and amazing places.
Fisher House is where a family who may not be wealthy has a chance to stay and be treated like royalty while their son, their daughter, their husband, their mother is being operated on in a military hospital. That is what Fisher House is all about. I have seen it. The volunteers who man these houses make sure people are treated in the way they should be and make us proud as Americans. The McCain amendment would eliminate the authority of the Department of Defense to give money to the Fisher House to continue their operations.
The McCain amendment would also eliminate funding grants that are given to the Red Cross and the USO. The Red Cross is an extraordinary organization, and every American knows what they are about. But in the fiscal year 2010, the Red Cross provided more than 597,000 emergency communications services for nearly 150,000 military families, and they provided nearly $6 million in financial aid to 5,000 military families, not to mention thousands of Red Cross volunteers--including servicemembers, veterans, and military spouses--offered comfort and support to our wounded troops and their families at hospitals around the world.
The USO is another great organization which has provided assistance and entertainment to our troops, many of them stationed far away from home and far away from their family.
In addition, the McCain amendment would eliminate the construction of a wastewater treatment facility in Guam. We have 16,000 marines stationed in Guam. The administration--the President has asked for this money because the wastewater treatment facility in Guam is inadequate. It is not safe. It is a public health hazard. An environmental impact statement prepared for the realignment of marines from Okinawa to Guam clearly finds that the current system is near capacity and needs upgrading.
So whether you argue that Guam is going to have a large future, a small future, the current allocation of marines in Guam deserves the most basic sanitary wastewater treatment facility. You would expect it, would you not, for your son or daughter serving in our Marine Corps? We should expect no less, and the McCain amendment would eliminate the funding necessary for this wastewater treatment facility, as well as a public health laboratory to test samples of suspected toxic substances in a timely manner to protect Americans and our troops in that theater of the world.
I don't know why Senator McCain has picked out these elements. I think they are all positive elements. I hope my colleagues will join me in defeating the McCain amendment. It is an amendment which would take needed resources away from the USO, Red Cross, and Fisher House and deny this wastewater treatment facility in Guam. I hope my colleagues will join me in opposing the McCain amendment.
At this point I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum, in the hopes that Senator McCain can return before the vote.
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Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, we have been assured by the House in the construction of this bill that this provision was added explicitly to make certain that there be no question that the grants that are given to these organizations would be authorized and included in this appropriations process. That is their belief. With an abundance of caution, we support their belief because we know of the importance of these organizations.
I now move to table the McCain amendment No. 33, and I ask for the yeas and nays.
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