3:43 PM EDT

Steve Pearce, R-NM 2nd

Mr. PEARCE. Mr. Chairman, we call our veterans from World War II America's greatest generation but our actions don't always hold water.

I rise today to offer an amendment to the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill which would ensure veterans are appropriately reimbursed for mileage travel to and from medical facilities in New Mexico or large rural States.

Many times people in my county, 305 miles away from Albuquerque one way, are directed to drive to Albuquerque. These people, many are like my father in their 80s, they cannot travel 5 1/2 hours one way. It's unthinkable that we do that. It's unconscionable that we only pay them 11 cents a mile.

From Hobbs to Albuquerque, 305 miles one way, the reimbursement is $34. I would like to ask anyone in this chamber how they would expect to drive 305 miles for $34, but even worse, the Veterans' Administration takes a fee when they get there. Approximately $7.50 of the $34 is then sacrificed to the VA.

[Time: 15:45]

No allowance is made to sleep overnight. No allowance is made for hotel. No allowance is made for any circumstance except turning around and driving another 5 1/2 hours to get back home. We are reimbursing all that driving at 11 cents a mile.

Meanwhile many of us in government jobs, all Federal officials are reimbursed at 48 1/2 cents per mile because that's the going rate. That's the rate that we should be paying, and yet to America's Greatest Generation, we're paying 11 cents a mile.

Now, the director of the service, the Secretary, could change this by regulation, and all people on this House floor agree that it should be changed. Back in March of 2007, March of this year, we passed the Wounded Warrior Act, H.R. 1538, by a vote of 426-0, where we mandated that the Secretary actually do this.

But we also know in Washington that we play games with people, we play games with our veterans. So that bill now is trapped over in the Senate.

What my amendment simply does is say we would like for the Secretary not to pay anyone mileage from this bill, from H.R. 2642, until he remedies the situation with our veterans. Pay them what the mileage costs them to drive. We are mandating that they go that far to the facilities. That's unthinkable, but it's unconscionable that we are paying only 11 cents a mile.

So while we are claiming America's generation, America's World War II veterans, to be our Greatest Generation, let's begin to act with honor and reimburse them the way that we should. My amendment would ensure that.

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


3:47 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I rise to make a point of order.

Mr. Chairman, let me just say we all know that 11 cents per mile is inadequate. We need to deal with it. I don't think this amendment is the right way and the right time to do that.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to make a point of order against the amendment because it proposes to change existing law and constitutes legislation in an appropriation bill and therefore violates clause 2 of rule XXI.

The rule states in pertinent part: an amendment to a general appropriation bill shall not be in order if changing an existing law imposes additional duties.

3:47 PM EDT

Steve Pearce, R-NM 2nd

Mr. PEARCE. Mr. Chairman, I would say to the chairman that I understand and accept that, but I would point out to the chairman that we have legislated this way through appropriations before, and we'll do it again.

I would simply make the point that the point of order today says we will not do what our seniors and what our veterans deserve for us to do one more time.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time and graciously accept the gentleman's comments in his point of order and thank him for his work on this bill.

3:47 PM EDT

Steve Pearce, R-NM 2nd

Mr. PEARCE. Mr. Chairman, I would say to the chairman that I understand and accept that, but I would point out to the chairman that we have legislated this way through appropriations before, and we'll do it again.

I would simply make the point that the point of order today says we will not do what our seniors and what our veterans deserve for us to do one more time.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time and graciously accept the gentleman's comments in his point of order and thank him for his work on this bill.

3:49 PM EDT

Joe Donnelly, D-IN 2nd

Mr. DONNELLY. Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you on this bill and what a tremendous job your committee has done in producing this. I want to make sure that the Veterans Administration uses the added resources that you have provided to help reduce the disability claims that we have seen getting backlogged. We need to reduce that backlog in the most efficient manner possible.

Mr. Chairman, I strongly support this underlying bill. For the first time in years, Congress is going to provide the kind of resources the VA should have in order to provide the level of health care and customer service that America's veterans have earned through their service.

I commend you and the committee for drafting a bill that we can all be proud of and that works for our veterans.

Today, America's disabled veterans must wait an average of almost 6 months for the VA to make a decision on their initial claim. Right now, as we speak, almost half a million veterans have pending claims that have already exceeded that 6-month time period, a period of time, I believe, that is far, far too long.

With hundreds of thousands of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, we can only expect the demand for services to rise. This is an unacceptable situation, as you well know, Mr. Chairman, and it's a result from two occurrences, insufficient resources at the VA to process claims and a system that fundamentally needs to be improved. We commend you because this bill starts to address the funding issues that we face.

H.R. 2642 provides invaluable new resources to address the VA's deficiencies, including funding for over 1,000 additional claim workers. I want to make sure the VA is doing everything possible in considering every opportunity to use the funds you are using in a wise fashion.

The Government Accountability Office has made eight commonsense recommendations to how it can improve the disability claims process at the VA. This report, most recently reiterated on May 25, is a report that deals with our wounded warriors and how to take care of them better. It has eight strategic ways to fix the disability claims situation.

However, according to the GAO, the VA is not moving on these eight recommendations. I think the Congress should know why the VA is not moving forward with these, and if they do move forward, they should let us know when and how they are going to implement these recommendations. We should require the VA to report back to Congress on what it is doing to implement the GAO recommendations and how they can improve this process.

Mr. Chairman, we are grateful. The veterans of Indiana's Second District are grateful for the increase in funds, and we ask your help in making sure that the VA uses those funds in a wise way and reduces the disability claims backlog.

3:52 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, let me thank Mr. Donnelly for his leadership and seeing that we did put additional funding in this bill to hire, as he mentioned, over 1,000 new VA case workers, actually over 1,100 VA case workers to reduce that absolutely unacceptable backlog of handling veterans cases.

I also look forward to working with the gentleman in the months ahead to see how we can implement the GAO recommendations, to see we not only have additional money for the VA to reduce that management backlog, but to see that we are putting in place management practices to reduce it even further.

This is not the first time the gentleman has spoken out on behalf of veterans on this problem. I thank him for his continued leadership on this effort.

3:53 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. At this time I would like to yield to my colleague and friend, a distinguished veteran who comes to this Congress as the highest ranking enlisted officer to have ever served in Congress, the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Walz).

3:55 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time. I want to thank the gentleman for his distinguished military service to our country. Veterans of America ought to be grateful to having someone like you with your experience on the VA Committee.

You have taken a leadership position this year. Particularly we look forward to working with you in getting the VA and DOD to work together. There needs to be a seamless transition as someone moves from active duty or is a member of the Guard and Reserves into the VA health care system or the VA benefits system. We know we will have a better system because of your leadership, and we will work with you.

Mr. Chairman, I yield to my colleague and very close friend from Texas (Mr. Gene Green) for a unanimous consent request.

(Mr. GENE GREEN of Texas asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

3:56 PM EDT

Gene Green, D-TX 29th

Mr. GENE GREEN of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this appropriations bill and thank Chairman Obey, Chairman Edwards, and our ranking members for their work in setting a new standard for funding our veterans program.

3:56 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

These will be my last remarks of the day. We have had a lot of debate here over the last 4 hours.

I just want to say that we are facing a historic moment. Never before in the history of this Congress have we voted on the floor of this House to increase veterans health care spending by the level we will in just a few moments.

I want to thank all those who have been part of it. I want to salute Speaker Pelosi for having said we must keep our promises to our veterans. I want to salute Chairman Obey; Congressman Spratt, the chairman of the Budget Committee; Mr. Filner, the chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee; as well as Mr. Wicker and the others who have worked on this in a bipartisan basis.

As the son of a World War II veteran, son of a dad I love greatly for his service to our country, as my mentor was Congressman Olin B. ``Tiger'' Teague, known as Mr. Veteran in Congress for over 32 years, his service here, what an honor and privilege, and humbling privilege it is to me to work with us here today to pass this historic bill for America's veterans.

We know we can never repay our debt of gratitude, but this bill today will be a great down payment on that debt, and ultimately it will be a show of respect for those who have sacrificed so much for the American family.


4:45 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I move that the Committee do now rise and report the bill back to the House with sundry amendments, with the recommendation that the amendments be agreed to and that the bill, as amended, do pass.

The motion was agreed to.

Accordingly, the Committee rose; and the Speaker pro tempore (Mr. Weiner) having assumed the chair, Mr. Lynch, Chairman of the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union, reported that that Committee, having had under consideration the bill (H.R. 2642) making appropriations for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes, pursuant to the previous order of the

House by unanimous consent, he reported the bill back to the House with sundry amendments adopted in the Committee of the Whole, with the recommendation that the amendments be agreed to and that the bill, as amended, do pass.

4:54 PM EDT

Roy Blunt, R-MO 7th

Mr. BLUNT. Mr. Speaker, I take this time for the purpose of inquiring about next week's schedule. I yield to my good friend, the majority leader, for information about the schedule next week. In light of the agreement we reached this week, any sense you could give us at all about the remaining 10 appropriations bills would be helpful.

4:54 PM EDT

Roy Blunt, R-MO 7th

Mr. BLUNT. Mr. Speaker, I take this time for the purpose of inquiring about next week's schedule. I yield to my good friend, the majority leader, for information about the schedule next week. In light of the agreement we reached this week, any sense you could give us at all about the remaining 10 appropriations bills would be helpful.

4:54 PM EDT

Steny Hoyer, D-MD 5th

Mr. HOYER. Mr. Speaker, I hope my recitation of the schedule for next week is a little more accurate than my recitation of the schedule last week, which had a little bit of a problem getting done.

In any event, my distinguished friend, on Monday the House will meet at 12:30 p.m. for morning hour business and then at 2 p.m. for legislative business. We will consider several bills under suspension of the rules. A complete list of those bills will be announced later today.

On Tuesday, the House will meet at 9 a.m. for morning hour business and 10 a.m. for legislative business. On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will meet at 10 a.m., and on Friday the House will meet at 9 a.m. We will consider the following fiscal year 2008 appropriations bills: Energy and Water Development; State, Foreign Operations; and the Legislative Branch bill.

In addition to that, in the week following, I am waiting for it to be written up for me, but I know Financial Services we hope to have up on the last week of the session; the Commerce, Justice, Science bill and the Interior bill in the last week; and then in July, the week we get back, which is the second full week of July, we expect to have the Labor-Health bill, the Agriculture bill and the Transportation-HUD bill.

In addition, after that, we will have the Defense appropriations bill as we had always planned to have that, approximately mid-July.

I want to tell my friend that obviously the three bills that are scheduled for the second week in July may slip to the third week in July because of the difficulty of getting together all of the projects that will be added to the bills as a result of Members' initiatives and the committee's action. But whether it is the second week in July or the third week in July, they will be in mid-July sometime.

4:56 PM EDT

Roy Blunt, R-MO 7th

Mr. BLUNT. I appreciate that. I would ask my friend, on the Energy and Water bill that we expect to do next week, it is my understanding we will come back at a later time and finish that bill, once time has been adequate to allow projects that would have otherwise gone in at some time even later than House passage.

4:57 PM EDT

Steny Hoyer, D-MD 5th

Mr. HOYER. If the gentleman will yield further, yes, the Energy and Water bill, again because of the numbers of projects in Members' districts that are very important to them and, I think, to the country, but will take time to vet properly to make sure that they are justified and to check with the agency, those projects are going to be added after we consider the Energy and Water bill, which is scheduled for next week.

But before the Energy and Water bill is sent to the Senate, we will have those add-ons added to another appropriation bill that will come to the floor and will be, therefore, subject to Members' actions on each and every one of the legislatively added provisions. When that bill passes, those provisions will then be added to the Energy and Water bill and then, and only then, sent to the Senate.

4:58 PM EDT

Roy Blunt, R-MO 7th

Mr. BLUNT. I thank my friend for that.

I would also ask, this was covered extensively last night, but just to verify this one more time as we look at the schedule for these appropriations bills and for next week, on Monday of next week, we intend under unanimous consent to reinstate the rule that we had at the end of the last Congress that would provide for a point of order on any projects that are put in a conference report that we hadn't had an opportunity to see prior to that. That would happen on Monday?

4:58 PM EDT

Steny Hoyer, D-MD 5th

Mr. HOYER. Let me be precise so there won't be any misunderstanding. I am not sure, but I think your rule dealt with more than appropriations conference reports. I may not be correct on that.

But in any event, the rule that will be offered Monday night, hopefully by unanimous consent, will be a rule that will say that a point of order will lie to a conference report from the appropriations conference which has added a project that was not listed in either the House consideration or the Senate consideration, and that point of order would have 10 minutes of debate on either side, 10 minutes for those in opposition to allowing the conference committee report to be considered, and 10

minutes for the proponents of the conference committee report being considered, effectively adding a third to the hour.

[Time: 17:00]

So it would be an hour and 20 minutes of debate rather than just an hour.

Obviously if the point of order is sustained, then the conference committee with the add-on or add-ons would be referred back to the conference committee.

5:00 PM EDT

Roy Blunt, R-MO 7th

Mr. BLUNT. That is the way I understand it, my friend, and our agreement at this point is for these appropriations bills, although in our rule last year we also extended that to authorizing bills. As you know, we don't want to continue that discussion, but the agreement we made this week, the majority [Page: H6567]

leader is fully in compliance with the agreement we made so we can move forward with these appropriations bills with the understanding that while now we

will have a significant opportunity to look at the remainder of the specific Member projects or earmarks in the bill, we also would have an opportunity to have a debatable point of order on the conference report if those appear.

I would also like to ask about energy. I know in previous discussions on the floor at the end of previous weeks, I believe we discussed the likelihood that there would be an energy bill on the floor by July 4. I know in either this week's schedule or future scheduling that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and the Energy and Commerce Committee have all delayed some markups that they had intended, and I am wondering if the leader has a sense of what

that means in terms of an energy bill on the floor, and also that bill on the floor in light of the appropriations works we just discussed.

5:01 PM EDT

Steny Hoyer, D-MD 5th

Mr. HOYER. If the gentleman would yield, obviously the gentleman is correct. There has been a change in the July schedule in part because of the moving of three of the appropriations bills to July. So they will not be considered in June. It was always the intent, however, that there would be an announcement prior to July 4 of component parts of an energy policy, not necessarily one bill but an energy policy prior to July 4. We always contemplated energy bills being on the floor in July. As far

as I know, that is still the plan.

5:02 PM EDT

Roy Blunt, R-MO 7th

Mr. BLUNT. I thank you for that response.

In addition to that, every indication I have up to this point is that those energy bills would go through the regular order of the committee. Is that what the leader and the majority still anticipates?

5:03 PM EDT

Roy Blunt, R-MO 7th

Mr. BLUNT. On another topic where we had some discussions that indicated there would be an effort to have a vote before the August work period on the topic of trade. And of the agreements out there, generally the discussion was that there would be a significant effort made to have the Peru agreement on the floor in July. I know these take a significant amount of time because of the various things that have to be done in this trade promotion authority process. I am wondering on trade if my friend

has a sense where those items might be.

5:03 PM EDT

Steny Hoyer, D-MD 5th

Mr. HOYER. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and not with precision in the sense of weeks or months or days, I mean. Obviously as the gentleman knows, Chairman Rangel and Chairman Levin of the subcommittee is working very closely with Ambassador Schwab and Secretary Paulson and the administration on these issues.

They have reached an understanding and that is moving forward, I believe, but I could not tell the gentleman at this time what will be scheduled or when it will be scheduled. As the gentleman well knows, there is discussion with reference to Peru and Panama and actions that may be taken in Peru or Panama, and that is being discussed, as a matter of fact, I think today between Ambassador Schwab and Mr. Rangel and others.

Clearly I think things are moving forward on that, but I cannot give the gentleman any time frames.

5:04 PM EDT

Roy Blunt, R-MO 7th

Mr. BLUNT. I thank my good friend for that. We are interested in that. We will continue to talk about that both on the floor and off. It would certainly be one of my goals. By this time next week if we have any information on that, we can begin to get a sense of meeting those deadlines. Under this process, as the leader well knows, a number of things have to be done. There is very little flexibility in the time frame once you start the clock on a particular agreement, and the clock has to start

right here in the House of Representatives. I look forward to that. I thank my friend for the information.


5:09 PM EDT

Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX 18th

Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to be able to congratulate and to wish a happy Father's Day to all of the fathers across America. In particular, I wish a very special and very respectful Father's Day to all of those serving on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan, all of our veterans, all of them loved dearly for their service, and as well the service and love they give their families.

I want to pay special tribute to those fathers who are no longer with us, and might I mention Ezra C. Jackson, my father, my dad, who will always be someone in my heart as someone willing to stand by his children and be able to uplift his children.

Again this is a commemorative holiday where we simply say ``thank you.'' Fathers are the guiding force, fathers bring strength, both in religion, both in character, and in support of their families. We are a nation of families, moms and dads and grandmothers and grandfathers. And for all of those who have stood in as fathers, we wish you a very happy Father's Day as well.

This is a special day, and as I close, let me simply say, we have a weekend of Father's Day. And in Texas, we commemorate Juneteenth. It is a special weekend of celebrations, remembering the struggle of those who were not yet freed as slaves, and remembering the service and the love that our fathers give in America.

We are united as families, and fathers remain very dear in our hearts. Happy Father's Day.


5:12 PM EDT

Lynn Woolsey, D-CA 6th

Ms. WOOLSEY. Mr. Speaker, today marks over 1,500 days of the occupation of Iraq. Since that time, over 3,500 brave men and women have given their lives and at least 2,600 have been injured. We have spent nearly half a trillion dollars, but this occupation is about more than just numbers. It is about the lives, both American and Iraqi, that will be changed forever.

So many brave men and women heeded the call of the Commander in Chief to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. One could say many of these troops were misled with false or at the very least faulty intelligence. They deserve so much more for their sacrifice and their service.

Last month, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a newspaper in my district, carried a story titled, ``GIs Voice Disillusionment With the War.'' It outlined the frustrations of our troops, some on their first tour, others who have served again and again.

One account exemplifies the frustration, and I will read it. ``In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here to fight this war,'' said Sergeant First Class David Moore, a self-described ``conservative Texas Republican'' and platoon sergeant who strongly advises an American withdrawal.

``Now,'' he says, ``95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.''

Mr. Speaker, that is directly from the front. This is not something that has been run through the administration's spin machine. This is the unvarnished truth from the troops in the trenches.

One more account comes from Staff Sergeant David Safstrom. According the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Staff Sergeant Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents. He said, ``In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place. There was no sectarian violence. Saddam was gone. We were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.''

But now, Mr. Speaker, on this third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber's body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

``I thought,'' he said, ``'What are we doing here? Why are we still here?''', said Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the 1st battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. He had changed his mind.

Mr. Speaker, let me be clear, I and every one of my colleagues support the troops. We honor their bravery and we commit to ensuring that they receive all of the promised benefits as a result of their service to our Nation.

I believe that the best way we can stand up for our troops is to bring them home. It is past time for a fully funded and safe redeployment. We will not back out of our commitment to the Iraqi people. We will work with them to increase their security forces and to help in reconstruction.

But we must face the facts. The situation on the ground may be worse than it ever has been before. Military leaders are conceding that the so-called surge is not working, and it may never.

The administration has even said that we needed to look at the situation in Iraq like that of Korea, and we have been there half a century. That is simply not an option.

Let's do the right thing. Let's do the sensible thing. Let's bring our troops home. We owe it to them and we owe it to our Nation.


5:17 PM EDT

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-FL 20th

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the important legacy of Virginia Graeme Baker, a 7-year-old child who was the unfortunate victim of entrapment by a residential spa drain.

On June 15, 2002, Graeme attended a pool party with her entire family, her mother Nancy and her four sisters. Everyone was having a great time swimming, when all of the sudden, one of Nancy's daughters came running to tell her that Graeme was in the spa. Nancy ran to the edge of the spa, and all she saw was dark and bubbling water.

Her daughter, frantically crying and pointing into the tub, insisted that Graeme was there. Nancy jumped into the spa and saw Graeme with her eyes pinched closed, her hair and limbs moving with the current of water from all the jets on the side. Graeme was entrapped by the powerful suction of the drain spa and could not free herself.

Nancy pulled and pulled with all her strength to help her daughter. It eventually took the strength of two adults to free Graeme from the spa. It was sadly too late; Graeme passed away in the hospital later that afternoon.

I can only imagine the immeasurable grief that her mother and Graeme's entire family went through. Today, Mr. Speaker, is the fifth anniversary of Graeme's death, and I want to take this moment to acknowledge the enormous loss suffered by the Baker family.

Following Graeme's death, Nancy and her father-in-law, former Secretary of State James Baker, became and still are tireless advocates for children and children's safety. When I met Nancy, I was immediately taken by her tragic story of the loss of her daughter.

I was most affected by Nancy's incredible desire to ensure that what happened to Graeme did not happen to any other child. Nancy has channeled all of her energies into raising the issue of pool and spa drain entrapment, a hidden hazard responsible for hundreds of injuries and numerous deaths, to a national audience. Her passion is an inspiration to me, and I am proud to sponsor the Pool and Spa Safety Act, H.R. 1721, in memory of Graeme Baker.

I want to acknowledge and thank my colleague Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, the lead Republican sponsor of this bill, Chairman Bobby Rush and Chairman John Dingell for their support of this badly needed legislation.

The progress made on the Pool and Spa Safety Act would not be possible without the hard work of the entire Baker family. I hope my colleagues, Mr. Speaker, join me in honoring Virginia Graeme Baker, a remarkable little girl, and her mother Nancy whose dedication and tenacity is truly making the world a safer place for all of our children.