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(Washington, D.C.) – In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) said she will vote for the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, which provides $82 billion for U.S. troops and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Murray expressed her disappointment that the bill does not include funding for veterans healthcare and that Real ID, a far-reaching immigration provision, was added to the must-pass bill without debate or a vote before it reached the Senate floor.



Senator Murray's full speech follows:



Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the Supplemental appropriations bill, which funds our military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall, I support this bill because I think we need to get this money out to the troops. But I do have several concerns about what it leaves out, and how it was put together. I'm particularly troubled that I and other Senators were denied a promised opportunity to debate and vote on some very controversial immigration changes that have been attached to this bill.

Funding for Troops



First, I know how important this funding is to our troops overseas. In March, I traveled to Iraq to meet with troops from Washington state. To a person, each of them was a dedicated professional who was putting duty above their personal well being. They need our support and they deserve every resource that our grateful nation can provide. As the daughter of a disabled World War II veteran and the representative for hundreds of thousands of Washington state veterans and military families, I support every dollar in this aid bill to help our troops protect themselves and complete their dangerous missions successfully.



Lack of Funding for Veterans



Second, I am very concerned that when all of these new veterans come home and need medical care they’re going to be pushed into a VA system that doesn’t have the medical staff, facilities or funding to care for them. That is why I fought to include funding within the Supplemental to pay for a critical cost of war – the care of our nation’s veterans. I am extremely disappointed that Republicans in the Senate have decided that funding for veterans healthcare is not an emergency and not a priority. By denying the crisis at the VA, they are ignoring our responsibility to fully provide for the men and women who are risking their lives for our freedom. Our veterans, our military and our future recruits deserve better. Taking care of our veterans is part of the cost of a great military.



Real ID Provision



Next, Mr. President, I am very troubled by how far-reaching and unrelated immigration rules got attached to this bill without a vote and without an opportunity to debate. The Real ID provision has ramifications for privacy, states’ rights and immigration policy. I am disappointed that it has been rammed through as an attachment to desperately needed funding for our troops.



Denied a Vote



Many of us are scratching our heads about how this Real ID provision ended up in the conference report. I know I didn't vote on it. I know there wasn't even a discussion of it in conference, but somehow – here it is – included in this must-pass bill.



I served on the conference committee. I want to share with my colleagues exactly what happened in the conference meeting so they will understand why the sudden appearance of the Real ID provision is so surprising to many of us. When the conference committee met, the Chairman gave assurances to the minority that we would be able to vote on several provisions when the conference met again.



But the conference never met again – leaving no opportunity for the minority party to vote – much less to strike these provisions.



Let me share the specifics. In our second meeting, Senator Durbin asked Chairman Cochran for his assurance that we would get a chance to vote on these immigration changes – and other open items -- before the supplemental was sent to the floor. In fact, I want to read a portion of a transcript from that meeting. This discussion took place on Thursday, April 28th.

Senator Durbin: "I would also like to say to my colleagues, if this bill contains -- as I believe it does -- the Real ID Act, I would like a vote on that so that we can be on the record on an issue that has never been brought before committee in the Senate. My question to you is this, Mr. Chairman: there have been times when conference committees of this magnitude have recessed and never been heard from again. The next thing we find is a conference committee report on the Floor on a take it or leave it basis. Can we have your assurance that we will return for votes on amendments such as those we have debated today and those that I have mentioned?"





Here was Senator Cochran's response to Senator Durbin:

Senator Cochran: "Senator, I would be glad to make the assurance that if there is work to be done, if there are open items to be considered, that we can consider those in conference. I am not prepared to make a commitment as to when that will be. I don’t want to lead you to believe that I am going to surreptitiously or in secret reach an agreement on the other side without consulting with all the conferees on the Senate side. I think everyone in this conference has a right to participate in this discussion and I wouldn’t want to cut off anybody’s right to participate."



Now I've worked with Senator Cochran for many years, and I know him to be a man of his word. Mr. President, to me that exchange meant that we would have an opportunity to vote on the Real ID provision, but that never happened. To me, that is wrong. The Real ID provision will have dramatic and far-reaching changes and yet it has never been brought before a Senate committee and was never voted on in the Conference.



Mr. President, that is why I did not sign the final conference report, which is unusual for me. I did not sign it because I believe the process was flawed, and we were denied an opportunity to debate and discuss these immigration changes before they were brought to the floor as part of a must-pass bill.



We are all very concerned about our security, but this received very little debate. Before Congress mandates these kinds of changes, we should have a more informed debate. In fact, it begs the question – why was this added to a must-pass bill without any debate? Probably because it couldn’t withstand a rigorous and open public debate. But that's what we should have on this issue, and I'm disappointed that the Majority denied us that opportunity.



I also want to note the irony that the Senate is about to allow a technical fix to immigration-related language that was included in the supplemental – which I agree needs to be fixed - but the Democrats in the conference committee were not provided any opportunity to fix the any other immigration provisions. I want to reiterate my frustration with how the Real ID Act was included, and that we were not given the same consideration regarding that language.



Real ID - Impact on Washington State



Let me add that the Real ID provision has unique impacts on my home state. This section on immigration is particularly troubling to me because Washington state has proactively enacted several laws to protect the privacy of Washington state residents. While I understand the need for increased security, I don't think Washington state's law should be completely overridden by this provision especially with no chance for debate and discussion. We know this bill is going to pass because our troops need the funding that it includes. I am already working with communities and officials across Washington state to help find a way to implement these new requirements. And I will continue to push the Administration to provide the funding necessary to make these changes without piling new burdens onto our already cash-strapped states.



It is unfortunate that at a time when we should be focusing on the needs of our troops and veterans, the majority party is using the Supplemental aid bill as a vehicle to legislate on subjects that have not received the debate and attention they deserve. But at the end of the day, we cannot afford to fail in our missions abroad. With hundreds of thousands of troops sacrificing everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan, I support this Supplemental bill and I will continue my work to fight for their care as they return home.