Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent all Members may have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material on the pending legislation.
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, we have a tough problem before the House today. We have a war which the majority of this House despises. We have a war that we do not have the power to end so long as the President is as obstreperous as he has been on the subject. That means that we have to find a way to try to manage this problem in a way that sends a clear message to the public that they are the only ones who can, in fact, muster the power to change direction on this war by electing a President who will get us
out of this war. It also means we have to manage it in such a way that we set the table for the new President to give him at least a few months to think through how he is going to proceed to extricate us from this war and to get his ducks in a row on Iraqi policy. Therefore, we are taking the Senate bill and we are asking the House to consider three amendments and work their will on it.
The first amendment is very simple. It's an up-or-down vote on providing the funding to pay for the equipment and to pay for the salaries for the troops as long as they are going to be in the war situation. That money will be estimated to run out by June of 2009.
The second amendment would simply be an up-or-down vote on the conditions that the House believes should appropriately be attached to the spending of that money, many of which the House has seen before. Those conditions will, among other things, require that virtually every unit sent to the war be fully combat ready. They will provide that no one who works for the United States may engage in interrogation techniques that are at variance with the Army Field Manual. In plain language, no torture.
The conditions will also say that there shall be no long-term security agreements entered into with Iraq without submission of those agreements to the United States Senate for their consideration. It will establish a timetable for extricating ourselves from combat by setting a goal, not a firm date but a goal, of 18 months from the date of enactment.
Also, we have added two conditions which would have the effect of requiring Iraq to provide a dollar-for-dollar match for any of the redevelopment and reconstruction activities that are being carried out by the United States Government. The effect of that would be the functional equivalent of turning 50 percent of what we provide to Iraq into loans. We've done it this way because we have faith that the loans would ever be repaid, and this way we guarantee that the Iraqis, who are now about to
develop very large surpluses in their own budget--they will have to meet these costs up front on an equal basis before the United States proceeds to expend its own money. And it would also require that the American military be provided gasoline in Iraq at the same subsidized price as the Iraqis are being subsidized. We don't see why the United States troops who are defending that country ought to have to pay a premium.
Then we will have a third amendment, again up or down, on the other administration requests. Those include food aid. We've increased the international food aid recommended by the President by $745 million. Anybody who has read the newspapers or watched television for the last 2 weeks understands why that is a moral necessity. We have also included the administration request for the Louisiana levies exactly as they have requested it as fiscal 2009 money. We have responded to a request from the
Bureau of Prisons to provide $178 million so that they do not have to lay off prison guards and other personnel in the U.S. prison system. The Secretary of Commerce has requested that we provide additional funding because they run into technology problems at the U.S. Census Bureau; so we have responded to that with a $210 million appropriation.
We have also added $2.2 billion in military construction funds above the President's request to fully fund the administration's 2008 BRAC requests. We have also included $210 million for military child care centers, which the President from that rostrum told the country he was for but neglected to ask the money for in his budget this year.
There are no Members' projects whatsoever in this bill. In the military construction portion of the bill, for instance, there are 121 facilities that are provided for; 111 of those were specifically asked for by the White House, and the others were identified by the committee as top service priorities after testimony from the military services.
There's only one proposal that could be really considered a specific project earmark, and that is one hospital which the Assistant Secretary of Defense asked to be included in the recommendations, and we're providing planning funds for that facility.
In addition, the other items in that third amendment to be considered would deal with the following:
If we're going to fight the war, we happen to believe that we ought to provide a ``thank you'' to the people who have fought it, especially because there has been no sense of shared sacrifice in this country. The only people who have been asked to sacrifice are military families again and again and again. So what we are doing is including the Webb bill, which would provide for the equivalent of a full-boat 4-year education at a public university for persons who have spent 36 months on active
duty, and the benefits are scaled down in accordance with time served. It's long past time that we do that.
We have also included emergency funding for unemployment compensation so that for persons who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, they will have an additional 13 weeks available to them.
We have also in this amendment recommended delaying the administration's rules changes in Medicaid that have been so controversial, and we include two contractor reforms which the House had already passed.
The main difference, Mr. Speaker, between this bill and the administration's bill is that we pay for everything in the bill except the unemployment compensation provision and the President pays for virtually none of his requests.
Now I prefer to pay for the entire war if we are going to have it. I don't think we ought to have it. But if we were going to have it, I thought we ought to pay for the whole thing. So did Mr. Murtha and Mr. McGovern. So we introduced legislation to pay for the whole war with the war surtax. We lost that argument. That is not in this bill.
I felt that if we weren't going to pay for the war up front, then there should be no requirement to provide an offset to provide the additional GI Bill expanded benefits, which are the equivalent of only about 6 percent of the cost of this war so far. But I lost that argument, too.
And so this bill does pay for the expansion of GI benefits. And it pays for that in probably the best way possible, by asking the most fortunate citizens in our society, those who individually make $500,000 or more a year, or as a couple who make $1 million or more a year, we are asking them to help out in the form of a patriot premium by, in essence, asking them to pay a one-half of 1 percent surtax in order to finance the GI Bill expansion.
As I look at this bill, what we are doing is we are asking people who, on average, have gotten a $126,000 annual tax cut to take a tiny portion of that [Page: H3936]
tax cut to help us make life better for the persons who have been doing the most in order to preserve the way of life which has enabled those people to do so well in life. And I make no apology for it.
Ninety-nine percent of the appropriated dollars in the bill--99 percent of the appropriated dollars in this bill--are being requested by the administration.
This war, Mr. Speaker, has screwed up our economy. This war has injected chaos in the lives of military families all across the country. We make no apology in trying to use this vehicle to respond to the needs of the two groups in society who have been hit the hardest by this war; one being those who have lost their jobs because of the turmoil we have had in the economy because of the war and other factors, and second, the military families whom we believe ought to be treated about as well as
the GIs were when they came back from World War II. This war has now lasted longer than World War II. And we think we have an obligation to respond to what is actually out there on the ground in communities all across the country.
We can debate our political philosophies. We can debate our economic theories. We can behave like little budgeteers, arguing about this comma and that comma, this offset and that offset. But in the end, we are dealing with the lives of human beings. We are dealing with the lives of families. We are dealing with people who have sacrificed incredibly much with their family members being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan once, twice, three times. Kids are not seeing their parents.
I represent a city of 37,000 people. We have had almost 35,000 casualties in this country. It is as if 4,000 people in my hometown were killed, and virtually every other person in that hometown wound up in a VA hospital. That is the human toll that has been paid so far just by Americans on this war.
So this is a process which will give Members the opportunity to vote up or down on the major pieces that comprise this legislation.
And I urge the House to move forward.
I, myself, will be intending to vote against the first amendment. I will be voting for the second and the third amendment. I hope that every Member here today exercises his conscience. That is what they are supposed to do.
With that, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. LEWIS of California. I very much appreciate your recognizing me to respond to my friend, David Obey.
I am going to speak just a little bit out of order, for two of my colleagues on the floor, David Obey, the chairman of the committee, and my colleague, Mr. Murtha, the chairman of the Defense Subcommittee, have shared with me, I thought, over some years, the traditional order of this House. I've seen how the committee system works, especially in the Appropriations Committee, making certain that all Members, Democrats and Republicans, had an opportunity to provide input. And
now to have us move so far away from that traditional order by way of this process today is a great disappointment to me.
I can't help but wonder if maybe there is some lack of commitment to regular order that I had never perceived before. For example, my colleague from San Diego, the chairman of the VA Subcommittee, if he had been given an opportunity, could have marked up and had hearings and otherwise on the VA portions some time ago.
This supplemental came from the President well over a year ago. We have had plenty of time to exercise the process in the way that maximizes Members' involvement, remembering that those Members are elected to represent their people at home.
And so the procedure we are going through today has undermined that representative process.
I think many of my colleagues, particularly those who serve with me on the Appropriations Committee, know that I have a great deal of respect for the senior Senator from West Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Robert Byrd. While he and I may disagree on issues from time to time, it is fair to say that we both share a deeply held love and respect for this institution.
Senator Byrd also reveres the established traditions and precedents of the committee he leads. He understands that we will only truly know what is in the supplemental if it is exposed to the light of day through the regular order committee process. No one, not even the Senate majority leader, is going to tell Senator Byrd to abdicate his devotion to regular order or his responsibility as chairman of his beloved Appropriations Committee.
Unfortunately, the adherence to regular order has now been completely abandoned on the House side of the Capitol. Both Chairman Obey and Speaker Pelosi, the sole authors of the House supplemental before us today, have dismissed as ``a nonissue'' those bipartisan voices calling for full committee consideration of this critically important legislation.
In conversations with both Republicans and Democrats in the House, it is widely felt that the Democrat leadership has unfairly and wrongly circumvented the House Appropriations Committee process.
Further, the House majority has chosen to proceed under a closed rule, eliminating any and all amendments on the House floor, and is intent on bypassing a conference committee with the Senate. In effect, the Democrat leadership has eliminated every conceivable opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to represent the views of their own constituents.
I find this sadly ironic, for it was Nancy Pelosi in 2006 who outlined the new Democrat majority's governing philosophy. And I will quote her: ``Bills should come to the House floor under a procedure that allows open, full, and fair debate consisting of a full amendment process that grants the minority the right to offer its alternatives, including a substitute. Bills should be developed following full hearings and open subcommittee markups.''
As the body knows full well, we have had not an open process, let alone full and fair debate. Nor have we had any amendment process. Nor have we had any hearings whatsoever. So, I ask the Speaker, what has changed?
In an October 20, 2006 press release, then-minority leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to then-Speaker Hastert, ``The voice of every American has a right to be heard. No Member of Congress should be silenced on the floor.''
My colleagues know that I have expressed grave concerns about Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey being the sole authors of this legislation without any input from other Members with considerable expertise in these subject matters. I am not alone in expressing this concern.
Last week, my dear friend and colleague, Marcy Kaptur, voiced her displeasure with Chairman Obey and her own leadership. She said, ``Leadership, by keeping the supplemental too close to the vest and not going through a committee markup, has failed to engage the broader membership. It does disenfranchise the voice of people who don't come from leadership locations.''
I just happen to be the ranking member on this full committee. I saw the text and the heart of this proposal only yesterday in the early part of the afternoon. They have had it for months in the works, but have chosen to ignore entirely the minority in this connection. My colleagues know that I have expressed grave concern about this process before.
The House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, has said that it is disingenuous for Republicans to speak out over the Iraq war supplemental bypassing the Appropriations Committee process. He suggested that the House Republicans, while in the majority, had engaged in similar practices. This argument would be convenient if it were, in fact, true. However, we all know that facts are stubborn things.
According to the April 29 edition of the Politico, ``There have been about three dozen emergency spending bills in the past 20 years, and a handful has passed without input from the Appropriations Committee, including billions in Hurricane Katrina aid and post-September 11 funds. But none of the Iraq war funding bills has bypassed the appropriations panel in the process.''
Have there been occasions where supplemental spending bills have not been [Page: H3937]
considered by the full committee? Sure there have. But on those rare instances, such as the aftermath of September 11 and so on, there was bipartisan consensus on the need to act quickly. And we did so by working together.
In no circumstance, to my knowledge, did either the Republican majority or the Democrat minority that preceded it ever deny either the opposition party or even members of its own party a seat at the table in writing such critical legislation.
Yet here we stand today, debating the merits of a bill that only a handful of Members have even seen. Very, very few Members know what is in this legislation.
I ask you, anybody in this room, have any of you, besides David Obey, had a chance to really read this bill and know what's in it in detail? You're going to be asked to vote on it anyway, regardless of that lack of input.
Members of the House, Republicans and Democrats, deserve to have their voice heard. By the end of the day, not one Member will have an opportunity to offer an amendment or propose any alternative ideas to this body for a vote.
What are Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey afraid of?
This is the fifth time since January 2007 that this majority has brought a supplemental appropriations bill to the House floor under a closed rule, violating the entire tradition of the appropriations process.
In order for the people's voices to be heard, it is fundamental that the representatives' voices are heard. What is happening here is that we are beginning to lay a pattern to destroy the representative process that allows the people to be heard through the people they send here to represent them in the first place.
Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey have effectively said to virtually every Democrat and Republican serving this great body: ``Your voice is irrelevant, and your input is not welcome.'' Again, what are Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey afraid of?
I believe this practice of circumventing our traditional committee process and ignoring the voices of rank and file Members and their constituents is detrimental to the health of the legislative process. It puts in place a process wherein a handful of powerful legislators become ``the Great Deciders'' of what should or should not be included in this almost $250 billion spending bill. This is not the ``House of the Few Great Deciders.'' It is the ``People's House.'' It is the House of Representatives.
We fail to recognize this at our great peril.
On May 24, 2002, my friend and my chairman, Mr. Obey, said, and I quote, ``What a shame, when the legislative process is corrupted to polarize a product that should have been used to forge national unity.''
These words are particularly true today as Chairman Obey and Speaker Pelosi put partisan interests ahead of the interests of the Members of the House and ahead of the people of this country. We can do better. And ladies and gentlemen, we must do better.
We can do better, and, ladies and gentlemen, we must do better. Vote ``no'' on this package and send it back to where it belongs.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 2 minutes.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from California. Those are some of the nicest words he has ever said about me, and I appreciate them deeply.
Let me also say that I think his speech simply bears out that because they can find no real substantive fault with the legislation, they have to fall back on whining about process.
I would suggest that the gentleman from California is the last person I will take lectures from when it comes to talking about an open appropriations process. I was not chairman when the Appropriations Committee when, after the conference was closed and the work was done and the names are on the conference report, I was not the chairman of the committee who allowed 30 pages of unrelated new language not seen by anybody to be inserted in that conference report which insulated the pharmaceutical
industry from suit if their products damaged their customers.
I was not the chairman of the committee when the committee, after the conference was closed, and after it was finished, inserted anonymously, anonymously, in the dead of night, language which changed the definition of organic foods on the agriculture bill and led to nicely enriched profits for certain people in this society.
All I can say is that the gentleman may not like the fact that we couldn't finish discussions as fast as we wanted to on this bill. He says he has only been able to see the text for the last day or so. Let me simply suggest that at least the text he reads is the text that will be in the bill after we vote on the bill, which is more than you can say for what happened under his stewardship on several locations.
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 additional minute.
Let me simply make the point, there is virtually nothing in this bill that hasn't been around here for months. This is not new material. The President's war request has been around here for months, as the gentleman himself has indicated.
The unemployment compensation provision that we are providing in this bill already passed the House on one occasion. The Webb bill has been around for months, and it has the support, and, in fact, the sponsorship of the majority of the House and wide bipartisan support in the Senate as well.
I would suggest, I think the question is, the Pentagon is saying you've got to get the money to the troops, because they're about to run out of money and won't get paid. Yet our friends on the other side are asking us to follow a process which would have taken a much longer period of time.
You can't have it both ways. This is a fair process.
Mr. YOUNG of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding the time to me, and I am here to comment on the defense part of the package, the request by the administration, the issue of procedure.
Chairman Murtha was very outgoing and worked together with the minority and me, as the ranking member, in drafting this bill. We have always done that. When I was chairman, we did that. When he was chairman, we did that. The defense part of this bill is a good package. That's amendment No. 1.
As a matter of fact, we actually followed the process, and we went to the subcommittee, and the subcommittee members had a full discussion of the defense part of this bill, and the subcommittee members on both size of the aisle agreed that we had produced a pretty good bill, and it met most of what the administration had asked for.
Then we reported it on to the full committee. That's where the process broke down. The process up to that point, while it was at the subcommittee level, the process worked fine, regular order, just like it was supposed to.
But then all of a sudden the process did break down. I don't know to what extent any other Members might have been involved, but this Member, as the ranking member on the subcommittee, was not involved.
There were subsequent meetings, despite the fact it hadn't gone to the full committee, it hadn't gone to the floor of the House so that the Members could express their interest, either by amendment or by debate. There was a meeting between the leadership in the House and the Senate on the defense [Page: H3938]
package where it was actually conferenced, a conference agreement was reached. There was no conference, but a conference agreement was reached, and that is
my understanding of what is in this bill today.
As Mr. Lewis has said, we just got the actual language of what is in this package last night. So it does take a little time to read all of these bills and to understand.
But I think the defense part of it, there may have been an additional change after that preconference conference, or whatever it was, I don't know that. That might have happened.
But I support amendment No. 1, and I believe that we have done a good job in providing for our troops.
The largest portions of amendment No. 1 will deal with pay, military personnel costs, what it takes to maintain the lives of our members of the military and their families. The other very large part of this package is operations and maintenance, something that is essential to keep the military going.
So I support this package, but I really am concerned about the process as well. I like the package, but there may be some Members on this side of the aisle or on that side of the aisle who would like to see some changes, who would like to have an opportunity to debate what is included in that package, who might want to offer an amendment that could be productive, that may be something we would all support.
But we all know, because the opportunity to do that just isn't there. It is a little strange place.
My friend--and I think everyone knows that Mr. Obey and I are friends, and that we have a strong respect for each other, and we have worked very well together in our respective positions--but he mentioned early on that we moved very quickly after September 11, 2001, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the airplane that flew into the Pentagon, and the airplane that flew into the ground in Pennsylvania in Mr. Murtha's district that very likely was directed at this
United States Capitol, where the Defense Subcommittee was in session working on the Defense appropriations bill. But we didn't know what was happening there. We didn't know what was next.
If you recall, all of the airplanes flying in and around the United States were grounded because we didn't know if additional airplanes had been hijacked, we just didn't know the extent of the attack that we were experiencing, the terrible, vicious terrorist attack against an innocent Nation. So we did move quickly, and we appropriated $3 billion----
Mr. YOUNG of Florida. I thank the gentleman.
So we did move quickly, and on the third day after September 11, we produced a bill. Mr. Obey and I wrote that bill together, we consulted with each other, we had a couple of disagreements, we worked those out. We had some accountability in the bill.
We then had a meeting with Senators, and on the third day we had worked together, Republicans and Democrats, to produce a bill that sailed through the House, sailed through the Senate, signed by the President. That's the way it was done. The process was not the regular order, but it was a process done in consultation with both parties and any Member that wanted to be included.
While I do support amendment No. 1, I think the process is terrible, I think the process is inexcusable. I cannot support the process, but I think we have a good package on amendment No. 1, which is to pay for the national defense requirements in this supplemental.
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Murtha), the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Mr. MURTHA. Well, as Bill Young said, we worked together when he was chairman. When Jerry was chairman, we worked together.
The only thing I disagree with, when it comes to the floor, I am not sure I like to hear a lot about amendments. I mean, you know, I like to see it try to work in a hurry.
But, anyway, I am concerned, when I heard the other day the Secretary of Defense say that the United States military must prepare for more fighting, future wars against insurgents and militias, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than spend money and time preparing for conventional conflicts.
Overemphasizing the Department's focus on training and equipment for counterinsurgency missions appears to be simply a rationalization of a short-term budget decision made in the waning months of this administration. I am worried because we have been saying over and over again, let's look beyond Iraq, let's make sure we get the military back to the position where it should be.
These decisions have left the Armed Forces in a degraded state of readiness. Both of us, when Jerry was chairman, when Bill was chairman, we have tried to increase the amount of money for the military to increase our readiness without the support of the administration in many cases.
They have let the facilities, which directly impact service personnel, quality of life, in disrepair. Every place we have gone we have seen the disrepair. They have left many defense acquisition programs broken or badly damaged.
I sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense saying, Mr. Secretary, we have got some real problems here. We have got to fix these procedures by sending a budget up to it. We have got to stop the supplementals, put it in one budget so we can have some semblance of order when we look at these decisions. These decisions fail to take into account the potential missions the U.S. armed forces must prepare for and may have to undertake in the years ahead.
I find these comments questionable that he has made at a time when not one combat unit in the United States is rated as combat ready. We need a national strategy. We have tried to provide a national strategy to identify both near term and long-term threats to this country. We need a vigorous debate to achieve this strategy, and it hasn't happened since the Cold War.
Now, I hope that in the base bill and this supplemental we are moving in that direction. I hope that's what we are going to be able to accomplish.
Now, we spend more money on intelligence than any other country in the world. Put them all together, and we spend more money. I have got Punxsutawney Phil in my district. Punxsutawney Phil comes out once a year, he sees his shadow, and 50 percent of the time he is right.
Well, I will tell you, I wouldn't say that the intelligence effort that we spend so much money on is any more than that, because so many things have not been right.
I am concerned that if we don't pay attention to what we know, we who have been here a long time, we are not going to be prepared not only to fight a war, but to prevent a war. We can no longer be the world's policeman, and I think all of us understand that.
We need to rebuild our diplomatic alliances, and we need to restore our international credibility. Our military and diplomatic force must include the strengths of our allies. We cannot do it alone.
Now, let me say in this bill we have $3.6 billion for C-17s. We produced 34 C-130s. We went through it with the subcommittee in detail. We had to make some changes because the full committee wanted us to make some changes, $3 billion for medium and heavy trucks. I remember when we went to Saudi Arabia the first time, we asked General Schwarzkopf, what was the biggest shortage, and he said trucks.
We have tried to take care of the things we realize need to be done. We put money in for Humvees and Marine Corps facility maintenance, and we put in for medical maintenance. We transferred money to the military construction committee, and they made the decision where that money should go--and $570 billion--no one in Congress, probably in the history of Congress, paid more attention to medical care for the military than Mr. Lewis, Mr. Young and myself. We have tried to be in
the forefront in making sure that they have what they need in order to take care of the troops.
As a matter of fact, we put money in some years ago for a center to take care of the amputees, and it took them awhile to understand that we were serious about it, but it happened. I am proud to say that is working very effectively.
So what we have done under the Constitution is appropriate the money where we think it will do the most good, and we will continue to do that. This is a good bill, and I hope Members vote for it so we can get the money to the troops that they need.
Mr. WALSH of New York. If they know this bill will be vetoed, if they know that our troops need food and ammunition and armor and equipment quickly, and if they know that the families of our troops need a paycheck, following a veto strategy seems to be nothing more than phony, political posturing at the expense of the heroes who, with their families, sacrifice to protect our Nation.