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David R. Obey, D-WI 7th
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, we've heard a lot of comments tonight about what there should or should not be in this legislation, and I agree with many of those comments. And honestly, just once, acting as chairman of a committee, I would like to put together a bill which reflects my priorities. But that is not usually what chairmen have to do in this place.
What we have to do is try to find a consensus that will gather 218 votes and be sustained over time. And on this bill, there are some peculiar problems because, very frankly, we have a very different constituency in this House for continuing the war in Iraq than we have for most of the other items in the bill and, therefore, we had to find a way to allow each and every Member of the House to express his or her opinion. We had to try to find a way to allow each and every Member to vote their convictions
in a way which would not keep the House tied up in knots for another 6 months.
Now, the way we did that was to adopt a procedure under which we took a conference report pending between the Senate and the House, and used that as the device by which each House would express their preferences, and we would work our way to a solution.
Our committee is often criticized because we wind up producing omnibus appropriations in which everything is thrown into one package, and people are forced to vote up or down on the entire package. What we tried to do this time was to do just the opposite, to disaggregate these issues so that people would have a chance to vote separately on the major propositions in the legislation.
And that is why the House sent to the Senate originally three amendments. We sent one amendment that would fund the operations for Iraq and Afghanistan. We sent a second amendment which stipulated the conditions under which the first amendment money could be expended. And then we had a third amendment which laid out, basically, other domestic priorities or associated military priorities that we thought were important. And we sent it to the Senate, and it included a number of items about which
questions have been raised tonight.
In addition to the expanded GI benefits for veterans and unemployment compensation, we tried to protect the Medicaid safety net by having a moratorium on seven Medicaid regulations.
We also had a number of restrictions on Iraq policy, one requiring that any money that is expended for reconstruction by the State Department or USAID be matched dollar for dollar by the Iraqi Government so that they [Page: H5667]
would begin to pick up a fair share of the cost of redeveloping their own country.
We also had language with respect to trying to assure that there would be no permanent bases in Iraq. We had funding $2.2 billion above the President's level for military construction and veterans' hospitals, and we fully funded BRAC.
Someone asked earlier on the floor today why did we have $178 million in this war supplemental for the Bureau of Prisons. Very simple. Because the executive agency asked for the money because if we don't, there are going to be prison guards laid off because there has been a heavier than expected Federal prison population. And that may not be an emergency to Members of Congress, but if you're one of those prison guards who's working shorthanded under dangerous situations, you don't want to have
people laid off in those Federal prisons.
And so we sent that package over to the Senate, and the Senate added roughly 37 additional items which cost $10 billion and which the House felt, in many instances, did not accurately reflect emergency expenditure funds.
So the Senate sent those amendments back to us, and among other things, they stripped out totally the conditions on the war. That is why I will personally vote against amendment No. 1 because I would vote for that amendment provided that we had a set of reasonable conditions in defining what our national policy is in Iraq. Absent those conditions, I don't intend to vote for that amendment.
But I do intend to vote for the second amendment, and I want to take just a moment to explain what was in it. Primarily, we do three important things: We, first of all, create a new program to provide greatly expanded education benefits for American veterans under the GI Bill. We have some Members of this House who are unhappy about the fact that that is not paid for. I am among them. But I would point out that the entire war is not being paid for. Mr. Murtha and I and Mr. McGovern
tried to offer the House an opportunity to vote to pay for the entire war. We did not, frankly, find much enthusiasm for that on either side of the political aisle.
But we stipulated that we felt that if that war was going to be fought, even though I personally think it's the most misguided war since the War of 1812, nonetheless, we felt if the war was going to be fought, at least we ought to pay for it so we didn't pass the cost down to our grandkids.
That has not happened.
My point is simply that if we aren't going to pay for the war, then I feel no particular guilt about saying to the GIs who have fought the war that we aren't going to provide you with the equivalent of a 4-year college education because we have had no sense of self-sacrifice in this country except on the part of military families. They've been asked to sacrifice again and again and again while the rest of us have been asked to go shopping or swallow a tax cut. And I think that's illegitimate.
We lost the argument on funding the war, and it just seems to me that it is a peculiar view of proportion if people get exercised about not paying for the GI Bill expansion but don't get exercised about not paying for the war. It would take over 50 years of paying benefits under this new expanded GI Bill. It would take more than 50 years to spend as much money on veterans as will be spent in a 2-year period in Iraq.
And so I make no apology. While I would prefer that it be paid for, I make no apology for the fact that, in the end, it wasn't. This is the only way that we could get the United States Senate and the administration to accept the expanded GI Bill. And I think we owe it to those veterans to provide it no matter what the budgetary niceties are.
Secondly, with respect to unemployment compensation. We wound up essentially--and I want to thank Mr. Rangel especially for the work he did in conference yesterday. The House initially sent over a package which provided 13 weeks of expanded unemployment benefits for every State in the country and then provided an additional 13 weeks on top of that for States with high unemployment rates.
The administration, as you know, Mr. Speaker, did not want that. They objected to it. So we looked for various ways to try to salvage as much of that as we could.
In the end, we adopted changes which bring the cost of that down from about $10 billion to $8 billion. So we have retained 80 percent of the original unemployment compensation provision.
We've made two changes. We have agreed with the administration's request to require 20 weeks of work history if a person is going to be eligible for that, and we also dropped the second step, the targeting of those benefits. We will have to deal with that issue on another bill in another venue.
The third issue that was causing great controversy was the fact that we were trying to place a moratorium on seven Medicaid regulations that the administration was trying to impose that would cut services to seniors, families, and those with disabilities. In the end, we got six of those seven in the package. I think that's doing pretty well.
Because of the new disasters that we have had around the country, certainly most visible in Iowa recently, the administration agreed to $1.8 billion in disaster funding. This bill comes in considerably higher than that at $2.65 billion.
That's basically the outline of what we have done. And there are several other items in the bill. One that Members should be aware of, if we do not get our appropriation bills done by the end of the fiscal year--that has been known to happen from time to time around here--if that doesn't happen, then if we were to proceed for a short time on a continuing resolution, Israel would wind up receiving $170 million less than the President's budget. We did not want that to happen. And so we are including
in this bill a provision which guarantees that as of October 1, that even if we were to pass a continuing resolution at last year's level, Israel would not be accidentally shortchanged by that action and they would get that additional $170 million.
There are a number of other provisions in the bill, but I think most Members are familiar with them. Most of these items have been around for quite a while.
And so with that, Mr. Speaker, I would like to reserve the balance of my time.