Senator Byrd has asked me to fill in for him today, and I've been around here long enough to know that when your Chairman asks you to do something, you say yes. I'm looking forward to having him back here with us shortly, and I share his passion for making progress on the supplemental.

The agreement before us takes the responsible path on some of the most pressing issues of our day - the War in Iraq, the needs our veterans and injured service members, homeland security, and the pressing needs of hard-hit communities here at home.

On Iraq, the American people want a new direction, and we are providing it. It has been four years since the President sent our troops into Iraq. More than 3,300 Americans have sacrificed their lives in Iraq, and nearly 25,000 have been wounded. Our service members have done everything we've asked them to do. They deserve better than to be stuck in the middle of a civil war.

It's clear that the conflict in Iraq requires a political solution, not a military solution. This agreement provides a new direction that will show the Iraqis that our commitment is not endless. It sets us on a path with the best chance of achieving success in Iraq, and it is the responsible thing to do. An open-ended commitment of U.S. troops will prevent the Iraqis from reaching the political solution that only they can reach.

In addition, we are providing more funding for our troops than even the President himself has sought. This bill includes over $100 billion for the Department of Defense, which is nearly $4 billion more than the President's request for our troops. We provide critical funding for vehicles that will help protect our troops from IEDs and ambushes.

With our service members fighting overseas and with their tours being extended, we have an obligation to make sure they don't have to fight for healthcare or benefits when they return home. This agreement meets the needs of our injured service members and our veterans, who have paid the price for the President's failure to plan for the war and its aftermath. It provides $1.8 billion for the VA to provide first-class health care to our wounded. The President did not request any of that veterans funding, but we think it's important to meet our commitment to our veterans.

As we deal with the situation overseas, we cannot neglect our needs here at home. That's why this agreement provides:

  • $6.9 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina;

  • $1.8 billion for veterans' healthcare;

  • $20 million to repair Walter Reed Hospital;

  • $650 million for the SCHIP children's health program to address the shortfall facing children in 14 states;

  • And $2.25 billion to secure the homeland, including - port and border security, transit security, screening for explosives at airports, and screening cargo on passenger aircraft.

The White House claims all these investments are somehow unnecessary. I think most Americans would disagree and want us to invest here at home.

In recent weeks, we've heard some false claims about this supplemental that I'd like to correct.

First, we are moving this bill to the President at a rapid pace. In fact, we're moving even faster than the Republicans did last year.

Second, we are doing our job in meeting the needs here at home. Anyone who thinks that domestic needs should be ignored in a war supplemental should look at the past four war supplementals - which were all written by a Republican-controlled Congress, and which the House, Senate and President all endorsed. The emergency war supplementals approved by Republican Congresses included funding for domestic needs in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. As our government spends billions in Iraq, I believe it's our job to also meet the needs here at home.

Finally, if the President vetoes this bill, he will have to explain -

  • why he is delaying funding to our troops overseas;

  • why he is blocking funding to care for our injured troops;

  • why he is ignoring the needs of hard-hit communities that are struggling to recover;

  • and why he is standing in the way of the security needs here at home at our ports, airports, and borders.

I encourage all Members to approve this conference report, so we can get this bill down to the White House.