WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delivered the following speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate today on the 2007 Emergency Supplemental Funding bill:
Mr. President, I rise in support of H.R. 1591, the Fiscal Year 2007 Emergency Supplemental Funding bill, and urge my colleagues to support it as well.
But first I thank and congratulate Senator Byrd, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Representative Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and indeed all the conferees to this important conference for their tremendous work.
They have delivered us a bill that we can and will proudly send to the President.
A bill that honors and provides for our courageous men and women in uniform.
A bill that doesn’t forget the emergencies Americans face at home while these wars rage abroad.
And a bill that makes us more secure by charting a new, more sustainable course in Iraq so that we can find a responsible end to the war and return our focus to the global challenges that lie ahead.
President Bush requested $91.5 billion for continued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We provide every penny of that request and more.
Our bill matches the President dollar for dollar on the equipment and training he requested for the 140,000 troops in Iraq and 20,000 deployed in Afghanistan – including hundreds from my home state of Nevada.
But our bill doesn’t stop there because we recognize his request shortchanges our troops and our security in a number of critical areas.
For example, with roadside bombs accounting for over half of the fatalities suffered by our troops in Iraq, Democrats have added $1.2 billion for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles.
At a time when the health care needs of thousands of our soldiers and veterans are being ignored, Democrats have added $2.1 billion to ensure that all of our troops receive the quality care they have earned.
These funds will improve the unconscionable conditions at Walter Reed and other medical facilities around the country — and greatly enhance the care provided to those who suffer from brain trauma and post traumatic stress disorder.
And, at a time when our citizen soldiers have been pushed to their limit and most Guard and Reserve units lack the equipment they need to conduct their mission, our bill would provide an additional $1 billion to purchase the equipment they need.
Mr. President, despite the fact that a majority of the American people disapprove of this Administration’s Iraq policy, this bill clearly takes good care of the men and women who are serving us courageously in Iraq.
And just as clearly, anyone who opposes this legislation would set back efforts to support our troops.
But as we provide for our troops engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we believe we also have an obligation to address emergencies facing Americans here at home.
Rebuilding the Gulf Coast and aiding displaced residents is an emergency.
President Bush has made several trips to this devastated region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina always with a single message – this country and his Administration have a responsibility to help the victims of this tragedy.
We agree with his sentiment and are determined to keep his commitment to help. That’s why we provide nearly $7 billion for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Thousands of family farmers and ranchers from virtually every state in this country are also suffering the affects of extreme drought or damaging weather conditions. This is an emergency.
We rely upon these Americans for much of the nation’s food supply and believe we have an obligation to help them when disaster strikes. That’s why we provide $3.5 billion to help address some of the losses suffered by farmers and ranchers.
More than five years after the terrible terrorist attacks of 9/11, we know that gaps remain in this nation’s homeland security efforts. This is an emergency.
That’s why we provide more than $2 billion for port security, mass transit security, airport security and several initiatives to address the shortcomings identified by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.
Tens of thousands of children across this country will lose their health care in the next several months if nothing is done. This, too, is an emergency.
That’s why we provide more than $650 million to keep the State Children’s Health Insurance Program running.
All of these non-military investments are crucial priorities – but fully funding our troops and changing the course of the war in Iraq are this bill’s primary goals.
No one wants this nation to succeed in Iraq and the Middle East more than I do. But I know that after more than four years of mismanagement and incompetence by this Administration, there is no magic formula or silver bullet that will lead to the victory we all desire.
Yet I also believe there is a way forward that gives us our best chance to end the war responsibly while protecting our strategic interests, strengthening our security, and better positioning us to provide the long-term assistance Iraq will need for years to come.
This way forward is consistent with our military leaders are telling us, including General Petraeus — who repeated again yesterday that this war can only be won politically, not militarily. Our path has five key components:
First, immediately transition the U.S. mission away from policing a civil war– to training and equipping Iraqi security forces, protecting U.S. forces and conducting targeted counter-terror operations.
Second, begin the phased redeployment of our troops no later than October 1, 2007 with a goal of removing all combat forces by April 1, 2008, except for those carrying out the limited missions I just mentioned.
Third, impose tangible, measurable and achievable benchmarks on the Iraqi government so that they will be held accountable for making progress on security, political reconciliation, and improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis who have suffered so much.
Fourth, launch the kind of diplomatic, economic and political offensive that the president’s strategy lacks, starting with a regional conference working toward a long-term framework for stability in the region.
Fifth, rebuild our overburdened military, ensure that only battle ready troops are sent into battle, and give them the manpower and support they need to face the daunting challenges that lie ahead. Congressman Murtha pointed out last night that we are currently paying 126,000 independent contractors to supplement the work of our soldiers. Contractors that aren’t held to the same standards or accountability our troops are, yet many earn more than our Secretary of Defense. This is unacceptable.
This supplemental funding bill was forged by listening – to members of Congress from both parties, to military experts, and most importantly, to the American people.
It was forged through thoughtful negotiation. And it was forged with a firm resolve that we must do what is right for our troops, our nation’s security, and Iraq’s future.
Once we pass this bill, we will send it to the President’s desk. We know he has threatened to veto this legislation. But in the same spirit of compromise and bipartisanship with which the bill was written, we hope the President will reconsider his intransigence and his refusal to listen to the American people.
This is a good bill. It provides for the safety of our troops abroad. It helps Americans recover from emergencies that have plagued us here at home. It sets us on a new course, away from a civil war with no end in sight toward a responsible phased redeployment that holds Iraqis accountable.
This is a responsible plan for redeployment – not a precipitous withdrawal. Troops in harm’s way will always have the resources to do the mission their leaders ask of them.
It directs our attention to eliminating Al Qaeda, addresses refugee and humanitarian crises, and launches the diplomatic and political “surges” necessary to prevent regional instability.
And it allows us to provide the longer-term investments in the political solutions that are needed in Iraq, prevents the jihadists from being able to claim victory over America, and begins to restore America’s prestige, power and influence in the region.
Some would tell you that there is no alternative to the President’s course — they say the only choice is “stay the course or fail.” That there is no “plan B.” With all due respect, they are wrong. The choice is in our hands.
Today we have the chance to support our troops, represent the will of the people, and lead America back on a responsible path.
If the President refuses to change direction, America risks being bogged down in Iraq for years, not months.
For a President that took the country to war under false pretenses, he now needs the courage to admit his policies have failed and work with us to bring the war to a responsible end.
This bill gives him a path forward. I hope he follows it.