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Murray Helps Pass Supplemental Spending Bill that Demands a Change of Course in Iraq, Meets Needs of America's Troops and Veterans

Mar 29 2007

Emergency Spending legislation ensures that America's troops have what they need; Includes over $4 billion for the care of veterans and returning service members

Washington State to receive emergency funding for repairs to roads damaged by flooding, port security, and rural school fundi

(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) helped pass a $121 billion emergency supplemental spending bill that changes course in Iraq, ensures that service members who are there have the resources they need, and provides veterans and service members with increased funding for their care when they return home. The legislation was passed by a vote of 51-47. The bill will now be reconciled with the House-passed version. President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation.



Iraq

To change Iraq policy, the bill calls for the President to start redeploying troops from Iraq within 120 days and sets the goal of having most U.S. troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. The bill says that Congress supports the troops, says that circumstances have changed since the 2002 force authorization, sets benchmarks to be met by the Iraqi government, and says that U.S. troops should not be policing a civil war.



"After four years and more than 3,000 American lives, it's time for the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country. Our troops have done everything we've asked them to do, and now it's time to start bringing them home," Murray said. "This bill recognizes that it's going to take a political solution to solve Iraq's civil war."



Caring for our Troops

To support veterans and injured service members, the bill includes over $4 billion for their care including $1.76 billion for veterans programs and $2.5 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD). The funding will go toward programs and services that Senator Murray has worked to include in prior funding legislation including increased mental health care treatment, increased investment for the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), improvements to VA and DoD facilities, and additional claims processors to eliminate long waiting lines for benefits.

"For the last four years the Bush administration has conducted this war with little regard for the tremendous strains it is placing on the VA, our veterans and their families. Today, we are putting an end to their neglect," said Murray. "The days of ignoring our troops as a cost of this war are over."



"This bill ensures that the lessons of Walter Reed are not forgotten," "Murray added. "We have a moral obligation to ensure that when our troops get back from the battlefront they are given first-class care every step of the way."



In the wake of a VA report that detailed dilapidated facilities across the country, Senator Murray also included language in the bill that requires the VA to provide a report to Congress detailing facility deficiencies and the agency's plan to correct them.



Emergency Flood Repairs

The emergency appropriations bill also included $35.9 million in federal funding to help Washington state repair roads and highways that were damaged by record flooding in November 2006.

"Last year's record floods devastated communities and destroyed roads throughout the region. This funding will help communities recover and will help rebuild roads that are vital for transportation and public safety," Murray said.



Port Security Funding

The legislation passed today also includes $295 million to speed implementation of Senator Murray's landmark SAFE Ports Act. This funding will support cargo screening overseas, hire new Customs officers, establish new security measures across the country, and fully fund Port Security Grants.

"Last year, we enacted a comprehensive new cargo security system to protect our country from terror attacks, but the President has failed to fully fund it. We can't delay implementing the SAFE Ports Act, and that's why I fought for the funding it requires," Murray said.

Secure Rural Schools

A five-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program that will keep forest communities from losing irreplaceable funds for schools, roads, and basic services was also included in today's legislation. Senator Murray, and other Northwest lawmakers supported the extension of this critical program.

"As a former educator, I am committed to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn, regardless of where they live," said Murray. "By establishing a five-year extension of this critical program, our amendment gives rural counties the peace of mind that comes with sustained support. Our rural communities can now move forward with plans to improve education, upgrade roads, and provide critical public services."

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Senator Murray spoke on the Senate floor immediately after the supplemental passed. Her comments follow:

Mr. President, the Senate has just made a tremendous effort in moving forward to make sure that we support our troops in every sense of the word, and I want to thank all of my colleagues who voted aye in moving this forward.



It is important to remember that this is an emergency supplemental bill. I've heard others on the other side call it a war supplemental. It is true, indeed, that over the last several years the President has insisted that we pay for the war in Iraq on an emergency supplemental, but I would remind everyone that there are countless emergencies across this country. We, as Democrats, believe that it is critical that we address those concerns:

  • whether it's our agricultural industry which has faced drought and severe weather,


  • family farms who have been just inundated, unable to continue to provide the crops that each one of us rely on to feed our families,


  • or whether it's our veterans who, Mr. President, as you well know as a member of the Veterans Committee, have been left behind time and time again.


We all know of the Walter Reed issue that hit the paper several weeks ago, but this is not a new issue for many of us who have been following this for sometime. We have men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are coming home with severe Traumatic Brain Injury. They have been lost in the system. We are now starting the fifth year of this war, and to date, this President has not planned and supported funding to make sure that those men and women - whether it's Traumatic Brain Injury, whether they've lost a limb, whether it's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or whether it's just coming home and being able to find another job, are being paid attention to. In this supplemental, we say we're going to pay for all costs of the war and certainly paying for those men and women who have paid the ultimate price and their families and taking care of them is part of that cost of war. And Mr. President, in this critical bill that Democrats voted for, we make sure that they are part of this.



So we provide funding to repair the facilities at Walter Reed and also make sure that across the country, the Walter Reed syndrome is paid attention to and those veterans' facilities that we've gotten the report from - 1100 citings of mold on the walls, of bats that are not being gotten rid of in the VA facility, of peeling paint and mold on the walls. These kind of conditions are not ones that we, as Americans, should allow. Mr. President, in the supplemental bill we say we're going to take care of those and we require specifically that the VA come back to us in 60 days and identify every one of those 1100 citings and say whether they have fixed those facilities or not and if they have not. We want to know the exact costs because we're not going to let those men and women sit in those deplorable conditions.



Mr. President, under this bill, we address the issue that has faced many of our soldiers who have returned home, who have Traumatic Brain Injury. Many of us saw the Bob Woodruff special several weeks ago. A reporter who was in Iraq suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. He has struggled with his recovery and now did an amazing story on the news to let all of us know what is happening, not just to him but to men and women across this country as they come home.



Mr. President, it is true that when a soldier is in a vehicle that is immediately affected by a blast, they often know that they have Traumatic Brain Injury. But it is also true that soldiers who may have been 100 or 150 yards away from that blast may also receive an injury and not know it.



Mr. President, you and I both know that we talked to these men and women when we go home and their wives normally say us to, my husband can't remember where he put a piece of paper that I just handed to him, not knowing that he has been a victim of a blast and that injury has caused brain damage. We need to make sure that those soldiers are treated and are treated well and that we have the research and the capability to make sure they're not lost when they come home from service to this country. That funding is in this bill, and that funding was just voted on by a majority of Senators in this body, and we're going to keep working to make sure it's there.



We also have in this bill money for Katrina. Mr. President, it was -- it seems like a long time ago now that our country was stunned by the impact of Katrina and other hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. And Americans across the country said: what are we going to do? And we know that since that time there have been major stumbles. As Democrats, we are not stepping back from this. We believe that that is as much an emergency as what the President has asked for when he calls this an emergency supplemental and only focuses on Iraq, the war and the reconstruction effort there. We have a reconstruction effort that is absolutely critical here in this country. Democrats are standing up and saying, we're going to take responsibility and pay for it. There is $6.7 billion in here for the victims of

Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Mr. President, I believe that that is just as much critical emergency spending as the reconstruction dollars that the President has asked for in the supplemental, and that's why we are supporting this bill.



This bill also addresses the issue of homeland security. Now, we have heard a lot of rhetoric, Mr. President, about homeland security and protecting our own. That it is an emergency -when it comes to the fact that that funding has not been there. Rhetoric protects no one here at home. We provide $2 billion, critical infrastructure dollars, for port security, mass transit security and explosive detection equipment at our airports. We are putting this into this bill because it has not yet been funded, and across this country Americans are at risk without the funding that we're putting in here.



We've heard a lot of talk on this floor over the last several days about extra pork-barrel spending. Well, I would say to all of my colleagues that the $4.2 billion that is provided here for Americans, here at home, not for reconstruction efforts out in the world but for right here at home, $4.2 billion.



And Senator Boxer from California was out here just yesterday showing tremendous pictures of the agriculture disasters that have occurred in California. These are farmers who we rely on as Americans, who we rely on when we go to our groceries stores to be able to buy food to feed our families. If their farms are lost because they don't have the support after a disaster here at home that has affected them, every one us suffers. As Democrats, we say that is as much as an emergency as what we're putting into this bill for reconstruction in Iraq. We need to reconstruct here at home.



Mr. President, on this side, we're playing catch-up. For a number of years now we have seen emergency supplementals that are just war supplementals. We are saying across the country, as Democrats, we know we have to invest in ourselves. We have to invest in our future. We can only be as strong abroad as we are at home. And if we abandon our farmers and we abandon our children because they don't have healthcare -- and there's SCHIP funding in this; and if we abandon our Gulf Coast residents, who have not yet been able to rebuild their homes and their infrastructure; And if we abandon our veterans when they come home and don't take care of them; And if we abandon our military personnel and don't provide the proper equipment and supplies; then we are not doing the job that we've been sent here to do.

We are proud of the supplemental bill that we're putting forward. In addition, we are taking a major step forward and saying that we are no longer going to idly stand by without any debates, without any discussion, without any consequences and move continuously to increase the War in Iraq. We have said it is time for us as a nation to tell the Iraqi people they need to stand up for themselves. That language is critical in this bill. Mr. President, we have worked with colleagues on all sides to put together what I think is a very important and critical bill for us here in America, here at home.



We are going to work very hard now in conference with our House colleagues to come together with a bill to bring back to the Senate and send to the President. Now, I understand that the President is saying he's going to veto the bill. But I ask the President to listen to us and to sit down in a way that we're supposed to do here in Congress and work with us to find an agreement to move this bill forward that we can all agree to. Mr. President that is my hope for us here. It is my hope for Americans across this country. I'm proud of the bill that we've put before us. It addresses critical infrastructure investments here at home. And I hope that as we move forward in this process, in a few weeks we'll be able to have a conference committee bill that will be sent to the President that he will agree to and that we can then move on to the other issues facing this nation.



Mr. President, I also want to take this opportunity to thank a number of people who worked on this bill, particularly Chairman Byrd, who has led us throughout this debate. I want to thank Senator Cochran, my ranking member, who's been out here on the floor during late, late nights working with us to help us keep an orderly process. I also want to thank all of our full committee staffs -- Terry Sauvain, Bruce Evans, all of their staffs who have just worked countless hours. I'm not sure they even went home last night before they came in this morning to help us work to the point that we are today. And I want to thank all the staff of all the appropriations subcommittees that have worked very, very hard on this bill. Mr. President, I also want to thank our floor staff because without their work and their support none of us would be able to complete the work they do. They are the silent workers who sit in front of us, and they have done a tremendous job to help get us through this process.



At the end of the day, Mr. President, I want my colleagues and I want America to know, we in the majority here in the United States Senate believe that an emergency spending bill should be just that. There are numerous emergencies across this country, investing in Americans that have suffered tremendously. We are working hard to make sure their issues are finally addressed. And importantly, we are telling the President that our veterans and those who serve us in Iraq and Afghanistan, when they come home, their issues are going to be addressed as part of the cost to the war and as part of this emergency supplemental.