11:54 AM EDT

Peter Welch, D-VT

Mr. WELCH of Vermont. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that

(1) it be in order at any time for the Speaker, as though pursuant to clause 2(b) of rule XVIII, to declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union for consideration of 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, which shall proceed according to the following order:

The first reading of the bill shall be dispensed with.

All points of order against consideration of the bill are waived except those arising under clause 9 or 10 of rule XXI.

General debate shall be confined to the bill and shall not exceed 1 hour equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Appropriations.

After general debate the bill shall be considered for amendment under the 5-minute rule.

Points of order against provisions in the bill for failure to comply with clause 2 of rule XXI are waived.

Notwithstanding clause 11 of rule XVIII, no amendment to the bill may be offered except:

Pro forma amendments offered at any point in the reading by the chairman or ranking minority member of the Committee on Appropriations or their designees for the purpose of debate;

An amendment by Mr. Hayes regarding funding for BRAC 2005;

An amendment by Mr. Blumenauer or Ms. Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida regarding funding for BRAC 1990;

An amendment by Mr. Price of Georgia regarding funding for VA medical services; [Page: H6519]

An amendment by Mr. Franks of Arizona regarding the conduct of studies of missile defense;

An amendment by Mrs. Capito regarding the submission of a report on the implementation of the Office of Rural Health;

An amendment by Mr. Garrett of New Jersey regarding funding for extended care facilities;

An amendment by Mrs. Drake regarding a report on pending disability benefit claims;

An amendment by Mr. Brown of South Carolina regarding a report on ALS;

An amendment by Mr. Hall of New York regarding awards for certain VA employees;

An amendment by Mrs. Musgrave or Mr. Salazar regarding the Pinon Canyon maneuver site;

An amendment by Ms. Jackson-Lee of Texas regarding medical centers in underserved urban areas;

An amendment by Mrs. Blackburn regarding e-commerce;

An amendment by Mr. Donnelly regarding implementation of GAO recommendations related to claims processing;

An amendment by Ms. Harman or Mr. Upton regarding purchase of light bulbs;

An amendment by Mr. Pearce regarding reimbursement of travel expenses for VA employees;

An amendment by Mr. Conaway or Mrs. Drake regarding deficit spending;

An amendment by Mrs. Capito regarding interoperable medical records;

An amendment by Mr. Moran of Kansas regarding funding for VA medical services;

An amendment by Ms. Corrine Brown of Florida regarding funding for the Gainesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center;

An amendment by Mrs. Wilson of New Mexico regarding funding for service dogs for disabled veterans;

An amendment by Mrs. Wilson of New Mexico regarding funding to create a commission concerning women veterans;

An amendment by Mr. Moran of Kansas regarding funding for certain VA offices;

An amendment by Mr. Smith of Nebraska or Mr. Salazar regarding funding for the VA Office of Rural Health; and

An amendment or amendments by Mr. Edwards regarding funding levels.

Each such amendment may be offered only by the Member named in this request or a designee, shall be considered as read, shall not be subject to amendment except that the chairman and the ranking minority member of the Committee on Appropriations and the Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans' Affairs, and Related Agencies each may offer one pro forma amendment for the purpose of debate; and shall not be subject to a demand for division of the question in the House or in the Committee

of the Whole.

Each amendment shall be debatable for 10 minutes, equally divided and controlled by the proponent and an opponent. An amendment shall be considered to fit the description stated in this request if it addresses in whole or in part the object described.

When the Committee rises and reports the bill back to the House with a recommendation that the bill do pass, the previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill and amendments thereto to final passage without intervening motion except one motion to recommit with or without instructions.

During consideration in the House of H.R. 2642 pursuant to this order, notwithstanding the operation of the previous question, the Chair may postpone further consideration of the bill to such time as may be designated by the Speaker; and

(2) House Resolution 480 is laid on the table.

11:54 AM EDT

David Dreier, R-CA 26th

Mr. DREIER. Mr. Speaker, reserving the right to object, I rise to congratulate my very good friend from Vermont for moving through this so expeditiously. I want to say we are very supportive of moving ahead with this very, very important piece of legislation which is designed to focus on our Nation's veterans. We look forward to moving as expeditiously as possible to completion of this.

Mr. Speaker, with that, I withdraw my reservation.

11:55 AM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material on H.R. 2462, and that I may include tabular material on the same.

11:56 AM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, we now have before us the fiscal year 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill which will ensure the largest increase in VA health care spending in the 77-year history of the Veterans Affairs. There is $6 billion over the 2007 level of funding, and $3.8 billion over the President's request for 2008.

Mr. Chairman, this bill sends a clear message to America's servicemen and -women, their families and our veterans that a grateful Nation deeply respects their service and sacrifice.

The national commander of the Disabled American Veterans, Bradley Barton, went to the heart of what this bill is all about when he described it as ``keeping faith with America's veterans.''

The bill means our servicemen and -women will have more effective training facilities which will save lives and help them carry out their military missions. It means our military families, who sacrifice so much for our Nation, will have better housing, health care and day-care facilities.

This bill means we will honor our veterans in a meaningful way by providing them the health care and benefits we promised them when they put on our Nation's uniform.

It means we will have more qualified doctors and nurses to improve medical services to our veterans and to reduce waiting times for doctors' appointments. For veterans with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, mental health care issues and lost limbs, it means renewed hope to rebuild their lives.

For homeless veterans, it means the dignity of not having to live on the streets, and it means hope for the future. For veterans in rural areas and those who serve in the Guard and Reserves, this bill means needed care will be closer to home. For the 400,000 veterans, including combat wounded vets, who are having to wait far too long to have their benefits cases reviewed, it means over 11,000 new VA case workers to reduce the unacceptable delays in receiving earned benefits.

Mr. Chairman, before I mention some of the details of this bill, I want to express some much-deserved thanks. I want to begin with Chairman Dave Obey, the gentleman from Wisconsin, for his unwavering commitment and [Page: H6520]

strong leadership in seeing that America's veterans will receive a much-deserved historic increase in VA health care funding.

[Time: 12:00]

Our subcommittee's work simply would not have been possible had it not been for Chairman Obey's personal and strong leadership.

Second, Speaker Pelosi made it clear from day one this year that keeping our promises to veterans would be the highest of priorities in this Congress. By working with Chairman Obey, along with Budget Committee chairman John Spratt and VA chairman, Mr. Filner, the Speaker made good on her word and millions of veterans will be the beneficiaries.

I want to extend a very personal, special salute and expression of thanks and gratitude to our subcommittee's ranking member, Mr. Wicker of Mississippi. He, a veteran, has had valuable input into this bill and has been a vital part of making this historic day for our veterans a reality. His leadership has been instrumental in crafting this legislation.

His ideas and strong support for our veterans our troops and their families have made this a much better bill, and at every step he and I have worked hard to continue a long, bipartisan tradition of working in behalf of our troops and our veterans, a tradition for which we have great respect.

Last, but certainly not least, is the professional, dedicated staff I want to thank, a staff that has worked together on a bipartisan basis to do what is right for our veterans and troops. I believe they deserve our thanks by name: Carol Murphy, Tim Peterson, Walter Hearne, Donna Shabaz, Mary Arnold, Liz Dawson, Dena Baron, Jamie Swafford, as well as John Conger from my staff and Susan Sweat from Mr. Wicker's office. They're a first-class team, and it's a privilege to work with them.

Let me mention a few specifics about the bill. Overall, the bill totals $64.7 billion in discretionary spending. As I said, but it bears reemphasizing, it provides the largest increase in VA health care funding in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration, $6 billion more than fiscal year 2007.

For the first time in the 21-year history of the veterans independent budget, which is developed by AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and supported by 52 other veterans and military organizations, this bill meets and actually even exceeds that independent budget request.

The Veterans Health Administration, which includes medical services, medical administration, medical facilities and medical research is funded at $37.1 billion, $2.5 billion more than the President's request and $294 million above the veterans independent budget.

Compared to the administration's request, this bill provides a number of increases: $604 million more for new initiatives in the area of mental health, including PTSD and for traumatic brain injury; $71 million more for veterans substance abuse programs; $23 million more to provide shelter for an additional 2,300 homeless veterans; $12.5 million more to expand outpatient rehabilitation services for the blind; $508 million more for medical facilities maintenance. That might not sound important

to some. Its goal is to see that we never have a Walter Reed Annex 18 tragedy, like occurred in the Department of Defense health care system, happen in the VA health care system.

We also provide a minimum of $15 million for joint programs with DOD to improve access to care, to ensure a more seamless transition for veterans going from the Department of Defense into the Veterans Administration system.

Mr. Chairman, the subcommittee heard from many sources about the need for more VA medical research, particularly in the areas of greatest impact for our Afghan and Iraq War veterans, research such as traumatic brain injury and mental health. That is why we significantly increased the VA research budget for the first time in the last 10 years.

The subcommittee also heard from many who talked about the need to increase funding for extended care facilities for elderly and severely disabled veterans. So we took action on a bipartisan basis, more than doubled the programs to allow four new facilities to be built, as well as to address all currently identified life/safety needs at those facilities.

Let me be clear, Mr. Chairman, along with this historic level of increased funding, we intend to increase the subcommittee's bipartisan oversight of these taxpayer funded programs. Oversight is absolutely essential to ensure that the VA spends the money wisely and for the highest priority needs of our vets.

That's why this bill includes funding for the Office of Inspector General to hire 50 additional people. And it includes $5 million to establish a toll-free telephone number and Web-page-based link that makes it easier for veterans to provide feedback on the quality of their health care. We want veterans receiving health care to be part of the system of checks and balances to improve the already first-class medical care veterans across America are receiving.

On the military construction side of this bill, the bill also strongly supports our active duty, Guard and Reserve servicemen and women and their families. The bill provides $21.4 billion in military construction, family housing, and the Base Realignment and Closing program funding. This is $207 million above the President's request and $5.1 billion above fiscal year 2007.

This total funding level is unprecedented, largely due to three factors: BRAC, the proposal to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, and the rebasing of troops from Germany and South Korea back to the United States.

We fully fund the President's request for BRAC at $8.2 billion. We've also increased the subcommittee's oversight of the MILCON funding with new reprogramming and notification requirements, especially in the area of BRAC funding. We want to work together on a bipartisan basis to see that our military construction dollars go to the highest priority needs.

The bottom line in this bill is it honors the promises made to our troops, our veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they earned when they put on our Nation's uniform.

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

11:57 AM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, we now have before us the fiscal year 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill which will ensure the largest increase in VA health care spending in the 77-year history of the Veterans Affairs. There is $6 billion over the 2007 level of funding, and $3.8 billion over the President's request for 2008.

Mr. Chairman, this bill sends a clear message to America's servicemen and -women, their families and our veterans that a grateful Nation deeply respects their service and sacrifice.

The national commander of the Disabled American Veterans, Bradley Barton, went to the heart of what this bill is all about when he described it as ``keeping faith with America's veterans.''

The bill means our servicemen and -women will have more effective training facilities which will save lives and help them carry out their military missions. It means our military families, who sacrifice so much for our Nation, will have better housing, health care and day-care facilities.

This bill means we will honor our veterans in a meaningful way by providing them the health care and benefits we promised them when they put on our Nation's uniform.

It means we will have more qualified doctors and nurses to improve medical services to our veterans and to reduce waiting times for doctors' appointments. For veterans with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, mental health care issues and lost limbs, it means renewed hope to rebuild their lives.

For homeless veterans, it means the dignity of not having to live on the streets, and it means hope for the future. For veterans in rural areas and those who serve in the Guard and Reserves, this bill means needed care will be closer to home. For the 400,000 veterans, including combat wounded vets, who are having to wait far too long to have their benefits cases reviewed, it means over 11,000 new VA case workers to reduce the unacceptable delays in receiving earned benefits.

Mr. Chairman, before I mention some of the details of this bill, I want to express some much-deserved thanks. I want to begin with Chairman Dave Obey, the gentleman from Wisconsin, for his unwavering commitment and [Page: H6520]

strong leadership in seeing that America's veterans will receive a much-deserved historic increase in VA health care funding.

[Time: 12:00]

Our subcommittee's work simply would not have been possible had it not been for Chairman Obey's personal and strong leadership.

Second, Speaker Pelosi made it clear from day one this year that keeping our promises to veterans would be the highest of priorities in this Congress. By working with Chairman Obey, along with Budget Committee chairman John Spratt and VA chairman, Mr. Filner, the Speaker made good on her word and millions of veterans will be the beneficiaries.

I want to extend a very personal, special salute and expression of thanks and gratitude to our subcommittee's ranking member, Mr. Wicker of Mississippi. He, a veteran, has had valuable input into this bill and has been a vital part of making this historic day for our veterans a reality. His leadership has been instrumental in crafting this legislation.

His ideas and strong support for our veterans our troops and their families have made this a much better bill, and at every step he and I have worked hard to continue a long, bipartisan tradition of working in behalf of our troops and our veterans, a tradition for which we have great respect.

Last, but certainly not least, is the professional, dedicated staff I want to thank, a staff that has worked together on a bipartisan basis to do what is right for our veterans and troops. I believe they deserve our thanks by name: Carol Murphy, Tim Peterson, Walter Hearne, Donna Shabaz, Mary Arnold, Liz Dawson, Dena Baron, Jamie Swafford, as well as John Conger from my staff and Susan Sweat from Mr. Wicker's office. They're a first-class team, and it's a privilege to work with them.

Let me mention a few specifics about the bill. Overall, the bill totals $64.7 billion in discretionary spending. As I said, but it bears reemphasizing, it provides the largest increase in VA health care funding in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration, $6 billion more than fiscal year 2007.

For the first time in the 21-year history of the veterans independent budget, which is developed by AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and supported by 52 other veterans and military organizations, this bill meets and actually even exceeds that independent budget request.

The Veterans Health Administration, which includes medical services, medical administration, medical facilities and medical research is funded at $37.1 billion, $2.5 billion more than the President's request and $294 million above the veterans independent budget.

Compared to the administration's request, this bill provides a number of increases: $604 million more for new initiatives in the area of mental health, including PTSD and for traumatic brain injury; $71 million more for veterans substance abuse programs; $23 million more to provide shelter for an additional 2,300 homeless veterans; $12.5 million more to expand outpatient rehabilitation services for the blind; $508 million more for medical facilities maintenance. That might not sound important

to some. Its goal is to see that we never have a Walter Reed Annex 18 tragedy, like occurred in the Department of Defense health care system, happen in the VA health care system.

We also provide a minimum of $15 million for joint programs with DOD to improve access to care, to ensure a more seamless transition for veterans going from the Department of Defense into the Veterans Administration system.

Mr. Chairman, the subcommittee heard from many sources about the need for more VA medical research, particularly in the areas of greatest impact for our Afghan and Iraq War veterans, research such as traumatic brain injury and mental health. That is why we significantly increased the VA research budget for the first time in the last 10 years.

The subcommittee also heard from many who talked about the need to increase funding for extended care facilities for elderly and severely disabled veterans. So we took action on a bipartisan basis, more than doubled the programs to allow four new facilities to be built, as well as to address all currently identified life/safety needs at those facilities.

Let me be clear, Mr. Chairman, along with this historic level of increased funding, we intend to increase the subcommittee's bipartisan oversight of these taxpayer funded programs. Oversight is absolutely essential to ensure that the VA spends the money wisely and for the highest priority needs of our vets.

That's why this bill includes funding for the Office of Inspector General to hire 50 additional people. And it includes $5 million to establish a toll-free telephone number and Web-page-based link that makes it easier for veterans to provide feedback on the quality of their health care. We want veterans receiving health care to be part of the system of checks and balances to improve the already first-class medical care veterans across America are receiving.

On the military construction side of this bill, the bill also strongly supports our active duty, Guard and Reserve servicemen and women and their families. The bill provides $21.4 billion in military construction, family housing, and the Base Realignment and Closing program funding. This is $207 million above the President's request and $5.1 billion above fiscal year 2007.

This total funding level is unprecedented, largely due to three factors: BRAC, the proposal to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, and the rebasing of troops from Germany and South Korea back to the United States.

We fully fund the President's request for BRAC at $8.2 billion. We've also increased the subcommittee's oversight of the MILCON funding with new reprogramming and notification requirements, especially in the area of BRAC funding. We want to work together on a bipartisan basis to see that our military construction dollars go to the highest priority needs.

The bottom line in this bill is it honors the promises made to our troops, our veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they earned when they put on our Nation's uniform.

[Page: H6521]

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

12:06 PM EDT

Roger Wicker, R-MS 1st

Mr. WICKER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to begin the debate by thanking Chairman Edwards for all the hard work he's put into preparing this legislation. I congratulate him on his first bill as chairman of Military Construction-VA, and I appreciate his kind words made just a few moments ago. Mr. Edwards has continued the excellent bipartisan relationship that this subcommittee has enjoyed for years. The chairman held many, many hearings this spring, perhaps more hearings on the VA accounts

than any previous subcommittee with jurisdiction over this issue.

Mr. Edwards has previously thanked our staff for their diligent work to prepare this bill and has mentioned them by name. I will thank them once again by name. They include Liz Dawson, Dena Baron, Jamie Swafford and Susan Sweat on the minority staff, and Carol Murphy, Walter Hearne, Tim Peterson, Donna Shabaz, Mary Arnold and John Conger on the majority staff. They have worked very hard on this measure, but their work is just beginning.

As most of us know by now, there's much left to do in conference on this bill. For the first time in the history of the subcommittee, for the first time since 1958, the military construction portion contains no specific recommendation for projects. While I remain disappointed that no projects were included in this appropriation, I am pleased that last night we reached an agreement that will restore the transparency and openness begun by the Republican majority in the last Congress with regard

to earmarks in the remaining appropriations bills.

I want to make sure my colleagues understand that there is very little to the military construction portion of this bill. Unlike some appropriations bills, such as the Homeland bill we passed earlier today which include funding for specific agencies, offices and programs in addition to projects, the MILCON appropriation consists almost entirely of projects.

Pursuant to yesterday's agreement, specific detailed funding amounts for the following programs will have to wait until conference: Base Realignment and Closure needs; initiatives to restation 70,000 troops and their families from Europe and Korea to the United States; projects necessary for increasing the active duty Army by 65,000 and the Marine Corps by 27,000; relocating Marines from Okinawa to Japan; consolidating U.S. forces south of Seoul, South Korea; establishing enduring bases in Afghanistan

and Djibouti; new runways, control towers, National Guard readiness centers, and projects in the Middle East or Afghanistan where we have soldiers in harm's way. All of these specific details will have to wait until conference, Mr. Chairman.

In addition, we know that quality-of-life issues are a priority for our military; yet, no specific initiatives such as modernization of unaccompanied housing, construction of new medical facilities or much-needed child development centers, which we continuously heard in our hearings was the primary quality-of-life issue for our soldiers and their families, none of these are included in this bill.

Specific projects and earmarks will no doubt be included in the Senate version of this bill, and I hope Chairman Edwards and Chairman Obey will work with Mr. Lewis and me to make sure that House Members' initiatives will receive equal consideration at the conference level and are not disadvantaged by our airdropping of these projects into the conference. I would point out that the bill is different from other appropriations bills in that military construction projects

have an added layer of examination, having already undergone scrutiny by the Department of Defense.

It is my hope that our colleagues will not offer amendments today that may decrease the military construction accounts. Though this bill today does not detail how these accounts will be used, the accounts will provide for many important military projects that our troops need.

Now, with regard to the VA portions of the bill, the VA is receiving the largest increase in the Department's history, an increase of $6.7 billion over the last fiscal year level. All of us in this body are deeply grateful for the sacrifices and service our veterans have provided this Nation, and this generous increase is appreciated by Members on both sides of the aisle. We do have concerns about the VA's ability to absorb so large a funding increase in one fiscal year. We are determined to

work with VA officials in this effort as part of our oversight responsibilities.

The bulk of the increase is going to boost medical services, medical facilities and construction for the VA. The bill increases the VA's discretionary funding by more than 18 percent over the fiscal year 2007 level. It is important to remember that the increase in this bill is in addition to the $1.8 billion this Congress just provided to the VA in the supplemental. When considered together, the supplemental funding and the funding in this bill amount to a 23 percent increase for the Department

of Veterans Affairs' discretionary accounts.

Chairman Edwards has indicated that we will be conducting oversight hearings later in the year, and I'm glad to know that. Hearings will be needed to ensure that the funding we have provided actually gets to the veterans and does not languish in an administrative account. Mr. Chairman, we all want to make sure our veterans receive the care they deserve, but we will have to be diligent in our oversight in order to get this funding where it is intended, to our veterans.

The President has indicated he will sign this bill even though it exceeds his budget request by some $4 billion. However, he has stated that offsets for these increases should be found in other appropriations bills. I agree with him, and I call upon my colleagues across the aisle to work with us and find these savings elsewhere.

I think it is important to point out that, though we have some concerns on our side of the aisle about the feasibility for this large 1-year increase, it has been in large part Republicans that have a track record of meeting veterans' needs. During the period of Republican majority from 1995 to 2007, VA funding increased by 96 percent from $38.2 billion to $74.5 billion. I would point out that in the final decade of the last Democratic majority, veterans funding increased by less than half as

much, about 42 percent, Mr. Chairman.

Similarly, Republicans led the way to increase spending per veteran by over $1,800 when we held the majority, while the Democrats managed to increase per-veteran spending by $411 during a similar period of their majority. It was also a Republican Congress that passed the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996, which expanded eligibility for millions more veterans to access VA health care.

I point out these things to make sure my colleagues understand the historical record on veterans' issues. And in truth, Mr. Chairman, funding for our veterans has always been a bipartisan issue.

I support the bill on the floor today. It continues in the bipartisan tradition. It's not a perfect bill in my opinion, but our subcommittee has a good work product, and I'm proud of the combined efforts of Republicans and Democrats to continue the longstanding tradition of support and commitment for the men and women who have served our great country.

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

12:15 PM EDT

David R. Obey, D-WI 7th

Mr. OBEY. I thank the gentleman.

Mr. Chairman, as we all know, we have been mired in a god-awful war in Iraq for almost 5 years. What bothers me most about it, except for the deaths that occur on a daily basis, what bothers me most about it is that there is virtually no sense of shared sacrifice in this country in dealing with that war.

The only people who are being asked to sacrifice are military families, and they are being asked to sacrifice again and again and again. They are being sent back to Iraq and to Afghanistan again, again, and again. Not much sacrifice is being asked of anybody else.

We hear politicians prattle about the need to stand behind the troops. You betcha, we certainly should. [Page: H6527]

But we need to stand behind the troops not just when the bands are playing. We need to stand by those troops when they come home, and they are injured, and they are sick, or they may have lost their job, or they may have lost their spouse; and that's what this bill tries to do.

I think we need to put in context how we got here. It has been a struggle to see to it that we have adequate funding in veterans medical care programs.

Two years ago, on this side of the aisle, we were given information from people within the Veterans Administration that their veterans health care budget was going to fall $2 billion short. We tried to put that money in the budget. We were then in the minority. We were blocked by the majority then, except for one fellow. The Republican chairman of the Veterans' Committee sided with us, he agreed with us that we needed that $2 billion in additional money.

What happened to him? Not only did the then-majority party leadership fire him as chairman, they took him completely off the committee because he told the truth. We finally got that money, but we had to get a double hernia to finally pry that money out of the administration.

Then we had, as you know, the budget process collapse last year, and no domestic appropriation bills were passed by the then-majority party. In fact, this very bill, the Military Construction bill, was held up in the Senate by two Members of the Republican Party who put a hold on it because they didn't like certain earmarks that were on the bill.

So the bill never passed. When we took the majority, the very first thing we did was to make veterans health care a number one priority, and we added over $4 billion to that account, made it the number one priority. Then we added additional funding of over $3 billion in the Iraqi supplemental, and now we have added this money today to make this the largest increase for veterans health care in the history of the country.

When we did that, the White House announced it was going to veto the bill. Now, finally, they have had a St. Paul conversion on the road to Damascus. I welcome the White House on board the bandwagon.

But as Golda Meir said to Anwar Sadat when he finally came to Jerusalem a long time ago: ``What took you so long?'' I am glad the President has finally changed his view.

But the President continues to say, ``Well, now, I may not veto the bill, but you have got to have offsets. You have to find compensating savings.''

Why do we single veterans out for that requirement? There were no offsets that the President required when he decided that this year we were going to spend $57 billion to provide tax cuts to people who make over $1 million a year and pay for it all with borrowed money. No offsets around then. Do you see them? I don't see any offsets in sight for that.

So what do we get? Finally, we get grudging acceptance from the White House that after they stuck us in this miserable war, and after they sit there with no clue about how to get out, at least they are now grudgingly going to recognize that we need the funds in this bill to deal with veterans medical care.

This bill ought to pass unanimously. It is far past the time that we put our votes where our mouths are in terms of long-term funding for veterans health care. I am proud of the fact that I provided the allocation to the subcommittee so that they could do that.

We are taking funding from $49.7 billion last year to $64 billion this year. Now, green eyeshade people may say, ``Oh, that's too much.'' You know what? In my view, nothing is too much for people who have risked everything on behalf of this country. Finally, over the last 2 years, we have been able to get funding up to begin to meet our obligations in this area.

I want to congratulate the gentleman from Texas for helping to lead the way, and I want to express my appreciation to people on both sides of the aisle who stood up for veterans when it was tough, including Mr. Smith of New Jersey, the former Republican chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, who paid a high price for his dedication to the needs of veterans, who paid a high price for putting truth ahead of the partisan wishes of the Bush administration.

12:21 PM EDT

Roger Wicker, R-MS 1st

Mr. WICKER. Mr. Chairman, I yield to my friend from Indiana, the former chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, Mr. Buyer, for as much time as he may consume.

12:22 PM EDT

Stephen Buyer, R-IN 4th

Mr. BUYER. Mr. Chairman, I was sitting here, and I enjoyed the comments of the Chair of the subcommittee, Mr. Edwards, and the comments of Mr. Wicker, and then I was disturbed by the comments of Mr. Obey.

Mr. Chairman, what I would say is he didn't go back far enough. I came here in 1992, and I heard the horror stories of what was occurring in the Appropriations Committee of how individuals would cut veterans programs to fund WIC and other programs. I was deeply disturbed by that.

Then I would watch as the Clinton years would flatten VA spending. I guess the gentleman forgot about that too.

I want to associate myself with Mr. Edwards' comments and Mr. Wicker's comments because this is a bipartisan issue, and I am deeply disturbed about Mr. Obey's comments to try to rewrite history here. Some of the language, inflammatory language, that he used is deeply disturbing to me.

Now, if the gentleman wants to talk about his issues and how he feels about the war, that's one thing; but don't allow those emotions to bleed into how we care for America's veterans. That bothers me.

We talk about how we got here. I recall the movie ``Born on the 4th of July.'' What did they depict in the movie ``Born on the 4th of July''? They depicted a VA system which bothered many people here in Congress. It was then Ken Keyser who worked for the Clinton administration who then thought that the best way we could improve our VA system is to move more people into the system. They set forth the priorities, but then they opened the system to the nondisabled systems.

When we opened that, we didn't really prepare the system for the number of veterans that came into the system. When I looked back here over the last 6 years, my gosh, we have almost doubled the veterans budget.

We also, as we are coping with dealing with the influx of veterans based on eligibility reform, I almost feel like, on the Veterans' Affairs Committee on a bipartisan basis, we are mechanics looking at different subsets of systems within the VA that need a tremendous amount of work.

It's easy for us to always talk about the health side, but there is such a strong disability backlog too. If it were just money, if we could just throw money on it, and that's what would solve it, Mr. Edwards, if that's what you could put in the budget, it would be solved. The reality is that's not what's going to solve it. What's going to solve it will be management practices and accountability. If we don't have that, it's not going to be solved.

The chairman of the committee is now on the floor. When he held a roundtable discussion, he learned that they were giving exams to those who are the case workers out there. When you get only 23 and 27 percent pass rate by the individuals who are actually working on these disability claims, I would say we've got a problem and we have to work cooperatively on those problems.

I want to thank the new majority. I want thank the new majority because you are different from the old majority.

The old majority, when I came here a freshman, and I was in the minority, because that old majority did things a little differently, and those weren't good budgets on behalf of veterans. But when you came now in the new majority, Mr. Edwards, I congratulate you, because you have done what you said you were going to do. I want to personally thank you for that.

But I just want you to know this, Mr. Edwards, there is much work for all of us, because it's not going to be just money alone.

When Mr. Obey brought up the issue about the funding shortfall, what I did is I went in and I began to examine the finance modeling and found the errors in the inputs in the stale data in the model, and that's how we made the corrections. So even though we put in the $1.5 billion, we only spent a third of that, and the other went for carryover.

So there's going to be a lot of management issues, and there's going to be [Page: H6528]

a lot of oversight that we going to have to continue to do. But as a baseline, let me congratulate you, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Wicker, on a very good bill.

12:27 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 1 1/2 minutes.

Let me just take 30 seconds of that and say I thank Mr. Buyer, former chairman of the VA Committee, for emphasizing our work for veterans isn't done when this bill passes. There is a lot of oversight that needs to be done, and we will be working on that on a bipartisan basis.

But let me say I am proud of the new congressional leadership in providing $6 billion increase over 2007 for VA health care, because you can't repair VA hospitals without funding. You can't hire 1,100 new case workers to reduce the intolerable delay of combat-wounded veterans to get their benefits without money.

Money is a necessary, perhaps not sufficient, solution but absolutely necessary to provide the veterans health care and benefits that they have earned by sacrificing for our country.

Mr. Chairman, I yield the balance of my time to Mr. Obey.

12:28 PM EDT

David R. Obey, D-WI 7th

Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman who just spoke has expressed a certain degree of unhappiness with the remarks that I made previously on the floor. I treasure his unhappiness.

The fact is that when Harry Truman was President, he was out giving a speech one day, and someone in the crowd hollered, ``Give 'em hell, Harry!'' And Truman responded, ``I don't give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell.''

The fact is, I am very comfortable with the fact that the previous speaker did not like my comments, because I think maybe that means they hit home. The fact is the previous speaker was the person who was selected by the then Republican Party leadership to replace Mr. Smith after Mr. Smith was, in essence, fired from his job by the majority because he told the truth about the VA health care needs.

So I will be happy to endure the unhappiness of the gentleman with my comments anytime if we can use that unhappiness to get more money for people who sacrificed everything for this country.

12:29 PM EDT

Bill Young, R-FL 10th

Mr. YOUNG of Florida. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding to me, and I want to say that I am very, very proud to be working with Chairman Edwards and Ranking Member Wicker as a member of this very important subcommittee.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is going to have much more responsibility as the months go by, probably more than they realize. One of the reasons is that military medicine has gotten so much better. Medicines are better, medical techniques are better, the ability to evacuate a wounded soldier from the battlefield is much better, and we have intensive care units on our aircraft today so better medical care can be provided to the wounded soldier, marine, and the wounded heroes.

[Time: 12:30]

Because of that many of our heroes are living today who would have died in previous wars and previous battles. But also because of that some of them are hurt worse than normal, and the Veterans' Administration is going to eventually have the responsibility once these heroes leave their military medical facilities at Walter Reed or at Bethesda or some of the other military hospitals.

One of the things that this bill does, and it does a lot of good stuff, and I'm strongly in support of this bill, it increases funding for the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs. And I know that oftentimes we think that the Inspector General just looks at dollars and figures and decides if the money is being spent or accounted for.

The Inspector General from the Department of Veterans Affairs does a really great job, not only in doing that, checking the dollars, but also in checking for fraud. And it is amazing how much fraud the IG has uncovered in the last couple of years, costing upwards of hundred of millions of dollars to the taxpayer, and taking it away from the veteran who needs it and the hospitals and the medical professionals who need this money to care for the veterans.

But also, another part of their responsibility is the care that the veteran receives in the VA hospitals. They look at this very closely, and if and when the medical care in the hospital is not appropriate and not proper, they report this to the proper authorities.

The investment that Chairman Edwards has made in the Inspector General's Office in this bill will pay us back many, many times over in what they recover than we have invested. So this is a good bill.

If you wanted me to pick out something that I didn't like about it, I'm sure that I could. But the part that relates to the Department of Veterans Affairs, this is a good bill, and it deserves our support.

12:32 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, let me just first say that there's no Member of Congress who's spent more time visiting our wounded troops in the hospitals or at our veterans hospitals than Mr. Young and his wife, Beverly; and he and his wife are an inspiration to all Members of Congress as we try to work together in support of our troops and our veterans. And I thank you, sir, for your heartfelt and deep commitment to our troops and our veterans and their health.

Mr. Chairman, I'd like to yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Filner). Mr. Filner is not only the Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee in the House, he has been a tremendous champion this year in fighting to see that we received $11.9 billion increase in funding for veterans since January.

12:33 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, let me just first say that there's no Member of Congress who's spent more time visiting our wounded troops in the hospitals or at our veterans hospitals than Mr. Young and his wife, Beverly; and he and his wife are an inspiration to all Members of Congress as we try to work together in support of our troops and our veterans. And I thank you, sir, for your heartfelt and deep commitment to our troops and our veterans and their health.

Mr. Chairman, I'd like to yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Filner). Mr. Filner is not only the Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee in the House, he has been a tremendous champion this year in fighting to see that we received $11.9 billion increase in funding for veterans since January.

12:33 PM EDT

Bob Filner, D-CA 51st

Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, I thank the committee for doing so much for veterans in this bill. And I want to add my thanks to Congressman Young from Florida. He and his wife, Beverly, have been an incredible inspiration. So we want to say on the record from our side of the aisle how much we appreciate you and your wife's efforts on behalf of our veterans. Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, what this bill does and what our previous bills that we have passed here, the continuing resolution that we've had for this year, the supplemental for the war, added more than 30 percent to the health care budget from last year for the health care of our veterans. That's an unprecedented increase, and it comes at a time when we have unprecedented needs. So your work, Mr. Chairman, has been incredible for all of the veterans and their families in this Nation.

No matter where we stand on the war, and there's a lot of divisiveness in this House about the war, we are united in saying, through this bill, that when every young man and woman comes back from Iraq or Afghanistan, they are going to get all the love, the care, the attention, the dignity, the honor that a Nation can bestow; and we are committed to that.

And we are committed, not only to those veterans who are just coming back, but to those who are with us from World War II, from Korea, from Vietnam, from the first Persian Gulf war. We're going to take care of them all.

We do not think that the problem with the Veterans' Administration is that there are too many veterans. We think we have to get the resources into the VA, and then have the accountability that it's spent wisely.

We have an administration that says, support the troops, support the troops, support the troops; but when they come home, as we have seen in Walter Reed and other places, too many times they're on their own. They slip through the cracks.

Virtually everyone who comes back from this war has evidence of either brain injury or PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and we simply don't have the resources to treat them. There are waiting lists. There are people told to call back, go home.

We had a young Marine in Minnesota who went to his hospital because he thought he had PTSD because he was thinking of suicide. What happened? He was told he was 28th on the waiting list, to go home. And he went home and committed suicide. That is a crime and we are not going to commit those crimes on our returning heroes. We are going to look at not only the brain injuries, not only the PTSD, but to make sure the backlog of pension disability claims is taken down to zero, where it's now at 600,000.

We've got a lot of work to do. We've got a lot of work to handle all these heroes from World War II to the present, [Page: H6529]

and with your budget, Mr. Chairman, we're going to be able to do this. We thank you. And we're going to work to get the accountability and the work done that lets these heroes know that their Nation is worthy of their sacrifice.

12:37 PM EDT

Roger Wicker, R-MS 1st

Mr. WICKER. Before I yield to my friend from Indiana, I too want to join my colleagues in commending my friend from Florida, Bill Young, and his wife, Beverly, for constantly, consistently visiting our veterans, our wounded veterans at Walter Reed and Bethesda and at veterans facilities, and for day in and day out and week in and week out and year in and year out, being as supportive of our Nation's veterans as any couple probably in the entire United States.

Mr. Chairman, I yield to my friend from Indiana (Mr. Buyer) an additional minute.

12:37 PM EDT

Roger Wicker, R-MS 1st

Mr. WICKER. Before I yield to my friend from Indiana, I too want to join my colleagues in commending my friend from Florida, Bill Young, and his wife, Beverly, for constantly, consistently visiting our veterans, our wounded veterans at Walter Reed and Bethesda and at veterans facilities, and for day in and day out and week in and week out and year in and year out, being as supportive of our Nation's veterans as any couple probably in the entire United States.

Mr. Chairman, I yield to my friend from Indiana (Mr. Buyer) an additional minute.

12:38 PM EDT

Stephen Buyer, R-IN 4th

Mr. BUYER. Picking up off the comment that Mr. Edwards had made in his opening statement about management, I think you're right on point. Good management of the resources and accountability is what's essential.

So when the chairman just spoke in the well and said, well, we don't have the money, that's not entirely correct because the GAO came back in 2005 and 2006 and said, we gave them sufficient resources allocated toward mental health, but they didn't even spend around $60 million that you had already given them in those cycles.

Mr. Edwards, you worked on those budgets. So it's not just giving them the money; that was my point made earlier.

So when Mr. Filner made the comment, they don't have the money; we had given them the money, then they didn't utilize it. And so I agree with Mr. Filner when he gets his angst about how it is that you don't spend money we gave you, yet you've got waiting lines.

It goes back then to the management question about the resources in which we get them, and that's where I'd like to work with you and work with the chairman of the committee.

12:39 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, let me just take 1 minute, if I could, to respond.

Again, I would reemphasize, we must work closely together in Congress to see that the VA spends the money we appropriate for them and for our veterans, that they spend it wisely, effectively and efficiently. And we will work very hard on that.

But I don't want it to go unsaid that the VA needs and our veterans deserve the additional funding, the $6 billion more for VA health care spending, $6.7 billion more than last year for all veterans programs. The VA and our veterans need and deserve that money. The increased funding in this budget, that I'm proud to say the new Congress has made its top priority, is something that is needed, not only to provide better benefits, reduce waiting times for benefit consideration, reduce waiting time

for doctors appointments, improve mental health care services and PTSD services for our veterans, this money is needed to improve the, frankly, unsafe conditions at some VA hospitals. And construction projects are needed there, so the money is needed. We'll work together on the management and oversight.

Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentlelady from Kansas (Mrs. Boyda). Mrs. Boyda has been a leading and tireless voice in this Congress, supporting full BRAC funding in this bill, as well as the veterans funding in this bill.

12:41 PM EDT

Nancy Boyda, D-KS 2nd

Mrs. BOYDA of Kansas. Mr. Chairman, I'd just like to share a couple of freshman stories here. I am one of the new kids. And when I campaigned, I actually campaigned for 3 years. And you can image what I heard about veterans issues. It was about access mainly.

Our veterans hospitals in Kansas are good, but they only had a certain amount of money, and getting access, waiting times, waiting lines was just a tremendous problem.

So when I got here, I went to Chairman Filner's office with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, and I said, listen, I need to know what we're going to do for veterans, what's going to happen. And listen, I want to know the truth. Don't tell me something. Don't let me go home to Kansas and then come back and not be truthful.

He said, Mrs. Boyda, we are going to take care of our veterans.

And then when we did our first continuing resolution and put $3.5 billion immediately into that pipeline, I heard something that I just absolutely couldn't believe, and that was someone who said, that's just a down payment. So I actually began to have faith that people in Congress do what they promise to do.

Let me tell you another quick story, too, and that was when I spoke with Chairman Edwards and he was telling me about what was going on, because I have been a tireless advocate for this. He said, Nancy, we're going to get this done, and we are going to do an historic funding for this, and we're going to get that done by June.

And then the next thing we're going to do is spend the next 6 months on oversight because we have to make sure that those funds are used in a way that makes a difference to our veterans, and we have to make sure that every cent of that that we have appropriated we can do the best we can to make sure that those funds are used appropriately.

So I am thrilled to be here with the new Democratic majority that is keeping its word to veterans, and saying that we're not only funding, but I believe that we will go and do the oversight that's needed to make sure those funds are used for the best benefit of our veterans.

Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, for your leadership.

12:43 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 2 minutes. And I will yield to Speaker Pelosi for the remainder of the time that I don't use of this 2 minutes.

For the record, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to read into that record what a number of America's most respected veterans and military organizations have said about this bill.

The American Legion called it ``an impressive commitment to this Nation's servicemembers, veterans and their families.''

The Independent Budget, made up of numerous veterans organizations across the country, said, ``This is a much-needed investment in health care and the benefits delivery system for our Nation's sick and disabled veterans.''

The Military Officers Association of America referred to the funding in this bill as ``an extraordinary level of funding.''

AMVETS, ``The level of funding will ensure that returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to receive priority health care and other VA services.''

The Disabled American Veterans called it ``keeping faith with America's veterans.''

Mr. Chairman, several years ago, then Minority Leader Pelosi made a commitment to America's veterans, she said, if she became Speaker, that supporting those who have sacrificed for our country in uniform would be the highest priority of hers and of this Congress. Speaker Pelosi has kept that commitment. And the beneficiaries of that promise kept will be millions of veterans who will receive better health care, who will receive better job training, better homeless care for those

200,000 veterans that tonight, in America, will go to bed without a roof over their heads.

We would not be here today, about to pass the largest increase in VA health care spending in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration, had it not been for Speaker Pelosi's personal commitment at the Budget Committee level, at the 302(b) allocation level for our subcommittee and specifically pushing this legislation. I salute her, along with the veterans organizations of America, for her leadership on behalf of our veterans, our servicemen and -women, and their families.

Mr. Chairman, I yield the balance of my time to Speaker Pelosi.

12:45 PM EDT

Nancy Pelosi, D-CA 8th

Ms. PELOSI. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for his kind words and for his more than extraordinary leadership on behalf of America's veterans while they are in the service, in terms of the quality of their life which is addressed in this legislation, and when they become veterans, and how he has had the well-being of America's veterans as a priority for so long in his political year.

Mr. Chairman, today is probably one of the top three happiest days of my official life, because today is a day where, under the leadership of Mr. Edwards, Mr. Spratt, Mr. Obey, Mr. [Page: H6530]

Skelton, Mr. Murtha, this Congress of the United States is able to keep its promises to America's veterans. It's a day of respect for them.

In the military, soldiers say, we will not leave any soldier on the battlefield. We say, when they come home, we will not leave any veteran behind. That is why, under the leadership of Mr. Edwards in his capacity as a leader on this issue, and I will add Mr. Filner's name to those I'm commending, but a person of the focus and values of Mr. Edwards kept this issue front and center.

For the past 4 1/2 , 5 years, we have met on a regular basis with the veterans organizations and representatives of veterans from across the country. We asked them what their priorities were, because their needs were so great; and frankly, their concerns were so neglected for the last few years that we said, we cannot try to do everything. What are your priorities? This was when we were in the minority.

Their first priority, the first couple of years there was the concurrent receipt issue, this veterans disability tax, which we made some progress on. And the next term, which was the last term, we were still in the minority. We still took a piece of what their agenda was, and that was survivors' benefits. All of these were important to the veterans, but there were many more concerns that we had.

So it wasn't until the Democrats assumed the majority that we could keep the promise of America to America's veterans. That's why it was so thrilling to be with the representatives of the veterans groups, some of them I will name, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, that's the American Veterans, then the Iraq and Afghan Veterans of America, to be with them and other representatives of veterans a couple

of days ago when we stood in front of the Capitol and announced that today, with this vote, under Chairman Chet Edwards' leadership, we would be giving the largest increase in the history of our country and in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration.

Why is that necessary? Because there is a backlog of several hundred thousand cases at the VA. That's an injustice. That's an immorality. And there were needed more case workers to address a 2-year backlog, if you had an issue, you went there and you had to wait 2 years if you were a veteran.

Well, the veterans were there when they were needed. They heeded the call. They came to our defense, and now we're saying, wait 2 years for us to consider your case. Just not right. Just not right.

So in preparation for a possible Democratic majority where we could work in a bipartisan way, the veterans put together a budget, again emphasizing their priorities.

[Time: 12:45]

And when they did, we took that budget. Congress worked its will on it through the appropriations process to bring us to the floor today. Every one of us in the committee, it was a bipartisan unanimous vote, 56-0, in the Appropriations Committee.

I hope we will have a similar vote today because, as Mr. Edwards said, starting with the budget process under Mr. Spratt to the larger Appropriations Committee under Chairman Obey and now to this moment on the floor under Chairman Edwards' leadership, we were able to give the biggest possible bipartisan vote to this increase. And it is paid for.

When Democrats took control of the House, we instituted pay-as-you-go, no new deficit spending, no increase to the deficit. So that is why this is especially, especially, important because this says that even within the constraints, those budgetary constraints, veterans aren't the priority. In our budget the two leading priorities were America's children and America's veterans. In the appropriations process, we are able to honor that blueprint set forth in the budget again without adding to the

deficit, without increasing the deficit. That makes it harder, but that signaled in a very important way that when we talk about our priorities and we say that veterans are in the forefront of them, they are in the lead in terms of the values that we have, a reflection of America's values that, even though there are difficult budgetary constraints, veterans come first.

This is an issue in urban America. It is a big issue in rural America. In rural America, 75 percent of the people know somebody closely who is serving or has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everybody in our country knows many people who have served in the military. Four of my brothers served in the military.

We all have a dedication to our veterans. It is more than, though, just talking about it. We had to act upon those words, act upon those values. And I thank Chairman Chet Edwards for giving us that opportunity today to reward our heroes with something that we are giving to them. It is something that they deserve, have been deprived of, but that has come to an end.

So I hope we have a unanimous vote on this to show the bipartisan support for veterans that I know exists in our Congress. I am just very, very proud that we were able to deliver on the promise once we took the majority of the House.

12:54 PM EDT

Stephen Buyer, R-IN 4th

Mr. BUYER. Mr. Chairman, the only thing I would note, as I listened to the Speaker speak in the well, is that when the Republicans presented their budget proposal as an alternative, we spent $8 billion more than the majority in the 10-year scope, actually in the 5-year budget plan, $8 billion more. And we did it without increasing taxes.

So what everybody needs to understand here is, yes, we are increasing money here to veterans, but these are also the very same veterans which are about to be taxed.

12:54 PM EDT

Roger Wicker, R-MS 1st

Mr. WICKER. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Just in closing, the Speaker of the House just said what a happy day this is for her. It is a happy day for me and for Members on this side of the aisle also, Mr. Chairman.

Why on a bipartisan issue do we have to sound so partisan sometimes in supporting the bill?

The Speaker mentioned that veterans funding had been so neglected for the past few years. I will again point out to Members of the House, Mr. Chairman, that during the period of Republican majority, in working with our friends across the aisle and funding VA, we increased funding by 96 percent during that period, from $38.2 billion annually to $74.5 billion. And during the final decades of the Democratic majority, the increase was only half that much.

The Speaker mentioned the concurrent receipt issue. Of course it was during the speakership of Speaker Hastert that the House of Representatives enacted concurrent receipt legislation. And as a matter of fact, the previous speaker, Mr. Buyer, was the author and prime mover behind that legislation, and he deserves credit.

The point is this is a bipartisan issue. There is bipartisan support. I expect after discussion of a few amendments, Mr. Chairman, that we will have a near unanimous vote in favor of this bill. I will certainly be voting for it, as will the leadership of the Appropriations Committee.

12:57 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I will not use all 5 minutes.

And I think, as my colleagues have noticed, my comments have been very bipartisan today. I am proud that the bill that we put together was supported on a unanimous bipartisan basis in the committee. I am also proud as a Democrat that the new Democratic leadership, led by Speaker Pelosi, has made funding for veterans health care and benefits a top priority in this Congress.

I would just point out, in response to some of the comments made, that the first comments made referencing Republicans or Democrats were made by the minority in today's debate when the comment was made that Republicans have primarily supported veterans. And in comparisons of past increases between Republican and Democratic Congresses, I am not going to get into all that.

I would like to point out for the record that under the previous leadership of the Congress, the concurrent receipt problem wasn't even brought to the floor of the House until, led by Democrats, we almost had 218 signatures on a discharge position to override the previous Speaker of the House, who had not let the concurrent receipt bill get to the floor of the House.

But having said that fact, I am here to say we are proud to work with Mr. Wicker and work with our colleagues to see that we do have a historic increase in veterans health care spending in this bill, unprecedented in the history of the VA and in the history of our Nation. I am glad to see that the administration has reversed its threat to veto this bill because they were concerned it might spend too much on veterans and our military families. I am glad they recognize the error of their

ways, and I commend them for pulling off of that veto threat.

So I just would reiterate what I again today have been saying, and that is I am proud to have worked on a bipartisan basis with my colleague Mr. Wicker and members of our subcommittee and others in this House to see that we got this historic bill on the floor.

[Time: 13:00]

12:57 PM EDT

Chet Edwards, D-TX 17th

Mr. EDWARDS. Mr. Chairman, I will not use all 5 minutes.

And I think, as my colleagues have noticed, my comments have been very bipartisan today. I am proud that the bill that we put together was supported on a unanimous bipartisan basis in the committee. I am also proud as a Democrat that the new Democratic leadership, led by Speaker Pelosi, has made funding for veterans health care and benefits a top priority in this Congress.

I would just point out, in response to some of the comments made, that the first comments made referencing Republicans or Democrats were made by the minority in today's debate when the comment was made that Republicans have primarily supported veterans. And in comparisons of past increases between Republican and Democratic Congresses, I am not going to get into all that.

I would like to point out for the record that under the previous leadership of the Congress, the concurrent receipt problem wasn't even brought to the floor of the House until, led by Democrats, we almost had 218 signatures on a discharge position to override the previous Speaker of the House, who had not let the concurrent receipt bill get to the floor of the House.

But having said that fact, I am here to say we are proud to work with Mr. Wicker and work with our colleagues to see that we do have a historic increase in veterans health care spending in this bill, unprecedented in the history of the VA and in the history of our Nation. I am glad to see that the administration has reversed its threat to veto this bill because they were concerned it might spend too much on veterans and our military families. I am glad they recognize the error of their

ways, and I commend them for pulling off of that veto threat.

So I just would reiterate what I again today have been saying, and that is I am proud to have worked on a bipartisan basis with my colleague Mr. Wicker and members of our subcommittee and others in this House to see that we got this historic bill on the floor.

[Time: 13:00]