Today the Senate passed the conference report to the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 by a vote of 51-46. The legislation provides $124.2 billion in emergency funds primarily to support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; ensure continued recovery for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; providing first-class health care for wounded veterans; address critical gaps in homeland security; and provide emergency disaster assistance for farmers. This fact sheet provides an overview of the key provisions, which – unfortunately – President Bush claims he will veto when the legislation reaches his desk.
U.S. Military Operations and Emergency Defense Funding
Full funding for U.S. troops. The conference report provides emergency funds to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. It includes funding for 140,000 troops deployed in Iraq and 20,000 in Afghanistan and as well as funds for the escalation force of 21,000 combat troops and 4,729 support personnel in Iraq and 7,200 troops in Afghanistan.
Addressing National Guard equipment shortfalls. The legislation provides $1 billion above the President’s request to address shortfalls in critical Guard equipment. General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, has testified that the readiness of National Guard forces is at a historic low, with 88 percent of units in the United States rated as unready. Further, General Blum has reported that the Army Guard has only 40 percent of its equipment stock, a shortfall which he says is compromising the quality of force training and limiting the Guard’s ability to quickly respond to domestic disasters. (General Steven Blum, testimony before the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, 1/31/07; Congress Daily, 3/28/07)
Protecting our troops against improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The conference report includes $1.2 billion in additional funding, for a total of $3 billion, to provide our troops in Iraq with mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs. These vehicles are fitted with V-shaped hulls that can better-protect against roadside bombs, which currently account for about 70 percent of U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq. Since the Marines issued their first urgent request for MRAPs in May 2006, military demand for these vehicles has grown to nearly 8,000. The $1.2 billion in additional emergency funds will ensure that more than 2,000 MRAPs reach our troops by the end of this year. (Congress Daily, 3/29/07; USA Today, 3/28/07; USA Today, 3/29/07)
Military housing requirements. The legislation includes an additional $1.1 billion above the President’s request for military family housing necessary to fund requirements identified by military leaders.
Ensuring military readiness. The conference report includes a provision that, subject to a Presidential waiver, would ensure adequate rest time between tours of duty for active duty and Guard and Reserve forces and would require that tours of duty in Iraq not be extended beyond a year.
Securing and Stabilizing Iraq
Revised strategy for Iraq. The conference report includes a provision for changing course in Iraq. The legislation calls for a gradual redeployment of troops in conjunction with concerted efforts to train and equip the Iraqi security forces and to build regional and international support for the Iraqi government. The legislation directs the President to certify that the Iraqi government is meeting diplomatic and security benchmarks. If he makes that certification, the bill requires that deployment begin no later than October 1, 2007, with the goal of completing the redeployment within 180 days. After that period, a limited number of U.S. forces would remain inside the country for force protection, training and equipping Iraqi troops, and targeted counterterrorism options. The legislation also includes requirements that the U.S. commander provide regular progress reports to Congress on the progress of the Iraqi government in assuming control of the country and also on the status of the redeployment efforts. The conference report does not include any restriction on funding for the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.
With this provision, Congress has demanded a change in U.S. policy in Iraq that would transition the mission of U.S. forces and advance a new comprehensive economic, diplomatic, and political strategy to bring stability to the country and bring to a close the United States’s open-ended commitment in Iraq. This new direction would allow the United States to refocus much-needed resources on hunting down Osama bin Laden, stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan, and countering the threat of al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks.
Iraq reconstruction and State Department operations. The conference report provides $2.86 billion for Department of State and Foreign Operations funding in Iraq, which is $338 million below the President’s request. It includes $1.574 billion for the Economic Support Fund.
- Responsible reconstruction. The legislation provides increased levels of funding for community development programs in Iraq. Instead of funding large infrastructure projects that have been characterized by waste, fraud and abuse, and have failed to bring tangible results, Congress has made these capacity-building initiatives a priority, which are more likely to bring real improvements in the lives of Iraqis and empower the Iraqi people to assume greater responsibility for their country’s future.
- Refugee crisis. The conference report provides $45 million for Iraqi refugee programs and an additional $45 million for programs to support programs for internally displaced Iraqis. According to the United Nations, an estimated 1.9 million Iraqis have been internally displaced as a result of the war, while another 2 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries, including an estimated 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and 800,000 in Jordan. (BBC News, 3/20/07)
- Enhanced oversight and accountability. The legislation also includes critical measures to enhance oversight of Iraq reconstruction. It provides $40 million, which is $5 million above the President’s request for oversight initiatives in Iraq, including the $35 million for the Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR); $1.5 million for the State Department Inspector General not requested; and $3.5 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). No funding was requested by the President for agency inspector generals. Further, the conference report requires the Secretary of State to certify that specific benchmarks on certain reconstruction funds be met prior to the obligation of 50 percent of funds.
- Coordinator for Iraq Assistance. The legislation creates the new position of Coordinator for Iraq Assistance and requires that the Coordinator be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
The conference report provides $919.9 million for reconstruction programs and State Department operations in Afghanistan, which represents an increase of $199 million above the President’s request. Additional funds are provided for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, rural counter-narcotics initiatives, development, agriculture and humanitarian assistance. These initiatives are focused primarily in provinces targeted by the Taliban. The bill also includes $79 million for security at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Department of Justice Counter-terrorism Initiatives
Emergency Funding for the Justice Department’s Efforts to Fight the War on Terrorism. The legislation provides nearly $316 million in emergency funds, which is $142.5 million above the President’s request, to the Department of Justice (DOJ), which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
- Law enforcement training and counter-drug operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conference report provides emergency funding for the DOJ’s work to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation allocates $1.65 million to the DOJ’s criminal division to help train law enforcement officers in both countries. Last year, the Iraq Study Group recommended that the Justice Department, well-versed in civilian law enforcement, help build the Iraqi justice system, which has been crippled by increased crime, a lack of training, and corruption. The bill also provides $12.2 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is $3.7 million above the President’s request, to continue anti-drug operations in Afghanistan, where the production and smuggling of opium supplies the international drug trade and helps finance terrorism.
- FBI training, equipment, and operational support. The legislation allocates millions toward helping DOJ agencies protect Americans from future terrorist attack at home and abroad. It provides $268 million in emergency funds, which is $149.7 million above the President’s request, to the FBI for necessary equipment, training, and operational support. This includes support for the FBI’s new Render Safe program, a currently under-funded program, which disarms Weapons of Mass Destruction in the United States. The measure also provides $10 million for the FBI to implement the Office of Inspector General’s recommendation pertaining to the FBI’s use of National Security letters. Further, the bill provides $4 million to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to train explosives experts to better detect IEDs.
- Bringing suspected terrorists to justice. The conference report supports the DOJ’s efforts to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those who would harm our nation and its interests. The legislation includes $5 million for U.S. attorneys to prosecute terrorism cases in the U.S., which is equal to the President’s request; $6.45 million in funds for the U.S. Marshals Service for court and witness protection in Iraq and Afghanistan and increased court security in the U.S. for high threat terrorist trials; and $1.7 million to the DOJ’s National Security Division to prosecute high threat detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Care for Our Returning Troops and Veterans
The legislation provides more than $5 billion to ensure that returning servicemembers and veterans are provided the health care they have earned and deserve.
Defense Health Program. The conference report allocates $3.3 billion in funds for military health care, which is $2.1 billion above the President’s requested amount. These funds are necessary to address current funding shortfalls in the program, including: $661 million in unbudgeted and unrecovered fees; $500 million to eliminate “efficiency wedge savings” and reinvest in military hospitals; $20 million to repair substandard facilities at Walter Reed; and $100 million for brain trauma injury; and $900 million for brain trauma injury (BTI) and post traumatic stress disorder treatment and research (PTSD).
Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). The legislation provides nearly $1.8 billion to meet the needs of our nation’s wounded veterans, not requested by the President. Key allocations include: $229 million to treat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; $100 million for initiatives to improve veterans’ mental health services; $52.8 million to establish at least one new Level I polytrauma center and to provide support for polytrauma programs for treating severely injured veterans; $25 million for prosthetics; $20 million for substance abuse programs; $20 million for Vet Centers and Readjustment Counseling; and $10 million for rehabilitation programs for blind veterans.
- Military and veterans’ care facilities. The situation at Walter Reed has placed a spotlight on the systemic neglect at military hospitals and VA health care facilities across the country. In recent congressional oversight hearings, the Army acknowledged that many of the problems at Walter Reed exist at military facilities nationwide. Former Army Surgeon General Lt. General Kevin Kiley told the Armed Services Committee that, “what’s going on at Walter Reed in terms of the frustration of the staffs and the patients is probably mirrored to some extent in most of our other facilities, as I hear commanders talk to us about these issues.” Further, the VA-ordered investigation in the wake of revelations at Walter Reed uncovered more than 1,000 reports of substandard conditions at 1,400 veterans’ care facilities. The legislation will provide the funding and resources needed to repair and ensure proper maintenance of military and veterans’ health care facilities. (Washington Post, 3/22/07; Armed Services Committee Hearing, 3/6/07)
- Returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. For the past several years, the Bush Administration has consistently underestimated the health care needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In Fiscal Year 2007, the VA underestimated the number of veterans who would access the VA health care system by 100,000 patients, or nearly 100 percent. Similarly, VA projections in this year’s budget request are expected to fall short of actual demand by approximately 50,000 patients. The $229 million in emergency funding provided in this legislation will ensure that the VA will be able to address funding shortfalls to meet the needs of these veterans without impacting the services for other VA patients. (Appropriations Committee Minority Staff, 3/29/07; Veterans’ Affairs Committee Majority Staff, 2/05/07)
- Mental health care needs. According to VA data, more than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking VA health care services report mental health disorders. And as troops are faced with repeated and extended deployments, mental health problems are expected to increase dramatically among these veterans, particularly Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Funds provided in this legislation are critical to meeting the needs of current veterans and also building the capacity of the Veterans’ Health Administration to plan and prepare for the future needs of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. (Veterans Health Administration, November 2006; Associated Press, 9/23/06)
- Polytrauma treatment and rehabilitation. Many service members are returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with severe injuries – most notably Traumatic Brain Injury – which require specialized care and extensive rehabilitation. Currently, the VA does not have adequate measures in place to ensure that these injured veterans are provided the care they need. H.R. 1591 will provide funding to support research initiatives and establish new polytrauma centers and support rehabilitation programs that will address the critical needs of these veterans.
Hurricane Katrina Recovery
The conference report provides a total of $6.9 billion for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More than nineteen months since the failed federal response to the disasters, much remains to be done to ensure the recovery of the region’s infrastructure, economy, and housing. Levy repairs remain incomplete; violent crime has escalated significantly; New Orleans has recovered less than half of its pre-Katrina population; while more than one hundred thousand Louisiana residents continue to wait for federal funds that would allow them to rebuild their homes. According to a recent study by the University of New Orleans, more than 30 percent of the city’s residents who have returned say that they are considering leaving, given the slow recovery effort. (Associated Press, 2/9/07)
This legislation provides resources to advance recovery initiatives. Key appropriations include:
- $4.61 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund. This allocation, which is $1.21 billion above the President’s request, is necessary to address the needs of communities impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. $320 million is included to cover the costs of Community Disaster Loans that communities in the Gulf Coast impacted by the hurricanes cannot afford to repay.
- $1.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. These funds are necessary to complete levee and interior drainage projects and implement interim flood and storm damage reduction measures in Mississippi and Louisiana.
- Nearly $1.6 billion in order to waive the match requirements. Funds provided in the bill will allow for the waiver of match requirements for public and individual assistance efforts related to recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which is consistent with other major disasters, including 9/11.
- $50 million to fight violent crime in Gulf Coast states. Violent crime has increased markedly in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In New Orleans, the murder rate has risen considerably, with 161 reported homicides last year – more than 4 times the national average for cities of similar size. At the same time, its criminal justice system is dangerously understaffed and its police force is down about 300 officers from its pre-Katrina level. (Associated Press, 2/9/07; Associated Press, 1/10/07)
- $110 million for fisheries and disaster recovery in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast. These funds are vital to implement sustainable approaches to fishery redevelopment for the seafood and fisheries industries hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.
- $60 million to support Gulf Coast education. As state and local officials struggle to rebuild this region, they are facing a severe shortage of teachers. The bill includes $30 million for higher education institutions impacted by the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005 and $30 million to attract teachers back to elementary and secondary schools in the Gulf Coast Region.
Filling Dangerous Gaps in Homeland Security
The conference report includes $2.25 billion in funding necessary to address dangerous vulnerabilities on our borders, in our transit systems, and in our national preparedness. Highlights of homeland security investments include:
Transportation security. The legislation includes $325 million for rail and transit grants necessary to protect our mass transportation systems against the threat of a terrorist attack. Since 9/11, the Bush Administration has provided less than $750 million of the estimated $6 billion necessary to secure our nation’s transportation systems, despite the fact that mass transit has repeatedly been targeted by terrorists, including al-Qaeda and its affiliated networks, in London, Madrid, Moscow, Tokyo, and Mumbai.
Baggage screening and air cargo security. The conference report includes $815 million for Explosive Detection Systems (EDS) procurement and installation at U.S. airports. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is years behind federally mandated deadlines for installing EDS at airports across the country. This has left passenger flights vulnerable to terrorist threats: between October 2005 and January 2006 GAO investigators were able to smuggle bomb components past federal screeners at all 21 airports they targeted. The funding provided by this legislation would allow the TSA to meet the backlog of priority funding requirements for in-line baggage screening at the nation’s top 25 airports. (Congressional Research Service, RL33512, 7/5/06; Seattle Times, 3/19/06)
Additionally, the legislation includes $110 million to improve air cargo security. Today, according to the Department of Homeland Security, most air cargo carried on passenger aircraft is not screened for explosives, leaving passenger flights at risk for terrorist attacks. Funds included in this legislation will allow the TSA to increase the number of air cargo inspectors from 300 to 450; complete vulnerability assessments at high volume airports; and fund critical equipment and technology for air cargo screening.
Port and border security. The conference report includes $190 million for Port Security Grants to provide for a total of $400 million in Fiscal Year 2007 funding (the full amount authorized in the SAFE Port Act). The bill also provides $115 million for the Secure Freight Initiative and SAFE Port Act implementation and $120 million for increased security on the Northern Border, including funds for additional planes and helicopters.
Chemical security. The legislation includes $12 million for chemical site security, necessary to ensure compliance with DHS standards. It also clarifies that the new federal standards for securing chemical facilities do not preempt state standards if those standards are more rigorous than the federal standards.
Disaster preparedness. The conference report includes $100 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants to update state and local emergency plans. The Department of Homeland Security’s Phase II Nationwide Plan Review completed this past summer found that only 10 states have sufficient disaster response plans in place. (Department of Homeland Security, 6/16/06)
Pandemic flu. The legislation includes $798 million in emergency funding for pandemic flu and disease control training activities. A recent study conducted by the Trust for America’s Health (TAH) concluded that many states are not prepared for a flu pandemic. TAH found that only 15 states are at the highest preparedness rating for providing emergency vaccines and medical supplies; 40 states face a shortage of nurses; half of U.S. states do not have adequate hospital bed capacity; and many also lack sufficient capacity to test for biological threats and track disease outbreak information. And in a more recent study, the TAH warned that a severe flu pandemic could kill 2.25 million people and could spark an economic recession. (Trust for America’s Health, Ready or Not?, 12/06; CNN, 3/23/06)
Agriculture disaster assistance
The conference report contains $3.5 billion in disaster assistance for farmers. Agriculture producers across the nation suffered from a series of natural disasters during the 2005 and 2006 production years, ranging from excessive rainfall to drought and wildfires. Significant agricultural losses from heavy snowfall and unexpected freezes have also occurred in several Western states this year. Last year, the Secretary of Agriculture designated nearly 80 percent of all U.S. counties as agriculture disaster areas. This is an emergency that must be addressed as expeditiously as possible in order for many farmers to secure needed financing for their operations during the current crop year and to ensure that thousands of farm families are not forced from the land.
The legislation provides $400 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in Fiscal Year 2007, including $200 million for formula grants and $200 million in contingency funding. Since 2001, home heating costs have increased by 59 percent, and the price of electricity to cool homes in the summer has increased by 29 percent.
Meeting National Health Care Needs
State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The conference report includes funding (capped at an amount not to exceed $650 million) to address Fiscal Year 2007 shortfalls in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Currently, as many as 14 states expect to run out of money to provide SCHIP coverage and health care to children in the coming months. These shortfalls would force states to make difficult choices: scaling back eligibility for the program, reducing benefits, raising co-payments and other charges to patients, or cutting payments to health care providers. Without Congressional action to provide additional SCHIP funds, thousands of children are at risk of losing their health coverage – and with it their access to medical care.
Protection for safety net providers. The legislation includes a provision prohibiting the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) from implementing for a one-year period a proposed Medicaid rule (published January 18, 2007) that would dramatically alter the ability of states and public hospitals to offer health care to millions of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. If implemented, the proposed rule would impose a highly restrictive new limit on Medicaid payments to public providers, allowing states to reimburse only a narrow set of the costs these providers incur. This provision is fully paid for.