The Bush Administration has spent the last six years talking about, yet failing to fulfill its commitment to, our troops and veterans. While touting its support for our servicemen and women, the Administration has pursued policies that have stretched our military to the breaking point, left our soldiers to shoulder the burden of its failed Iraq strategy, and fallen short of its responsibility to our veterans and wounded soldiers.
By contrast, since Democrats gained majority control in the Senate, we have demonstrated our commitment to honoring our country’s obligation to our servicemen and women. In less than six months, Senate Democrats have taken significant steps to begin to reverse the Bush Administration’s record of failure by calling for a change of course in Iraq and providing funds to better support our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, address critical equipment shortfalls, improve veterans’ access to benefits, and enhance the quality of health care services for soldiers and veterans.
Senate Democrats’ New Direction for America: Advancing a New Strategy for Iraq
Senate Democrats demanded a change of course in Iraq: to remove our troops from Iraq’s civil war and repair our dangerously overstretched military. The BushAdministration’s failed Iraq strategy and mismanagement of our military have resulted in critical equipment and training shortfalls; forced repeated deployments and extended deployments for U.S. forces; led to recruiting and retention challenges; and left our country without a strategic reserve. Democrats believe it is time to put an end to the Administration’s flawed Iraq strategy and unsustainable military policies. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental conference report sent to the President on May 1, Democrats included a provision that called for a gradual redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq, 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 directed the President, within 120 days of enactment, to begin to redeploy troops from Iraq, with a goal of having only a limited number of troops remaining in the country on March 31, 2008. With this provision, Democrats demanded a change in 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’ open-ended commitment in Iraq. Unfortunately, the President chose to veto this legislation, against the advice of many military experts and the will of the American people.
Democrats remain committed to forging a new direction in Iraq that will put an end to the Bush Administration’s failed strategy and open-ended military commitment. In the second version of the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill,Democrats took a critical step forward in holding the President and the Iraqi government accountable for Iraq’s future and advancing the goal of changing course in Iraq. The bill conditions U.S. economic support for the Iraqi government on its progress toward achieving key political benchmarks, including: the formation of a Constitutional Review Committee and the completion of the constitutional review; the implementation of legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of the oil resources of the people of Iraq; the implementation of legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions; and the implementation of legislation to establish an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections. The bill also requires the President to report to Congress on the Iraqi government’s success in meeting these benchmarks. If the established goals are not achieved, the legislation would require, subject to a presidential waiver, that $1.6 billion in economic support funding be withheld from the Iraqi government.
In the months ahead, Senate Democrats will continue to take every opportunity to push for a change of course in Iraq. While ensuring continued counter-terror operations inside Iraq and further training of Iraqi security forces, Democrats’ comprehensive plan for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops will allow us to turn our attention and resources to the more critical fight against al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, remove our troops from policing Iraq’s civil war, and work to restore the readiness of our military forces.
Senate Democrats’ New Direction for America: Supporting, Honoring, and Caring for Our Troops
Democrats have provided full support for our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill, Democrats fully-funded the President’s requests for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which included funding to support the troops currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as funds for OIF/OEF escalation forces.
Senate Democrats have worked to address critical National Guard equipment shortfalls. National Guard readiness has fallen to record lows under the Bush Administration’s stewardship. According to General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, 88 percent of Guard units in the United States are rated as unready, a situation that he says is compromising the quality of force training and limiting the Guard’s ability to quickly respond to domestic disasters. Earlier this month, General Blum stated that Guard “equipment is at an all-time low.” He reported that non-deployed National Guard units have just 53 percent of the equipment they need to respond to state emergencies and only 49 percent of the equipment they would need for combat. After years of Bush Administration neglect, Senate Democrats have moved to fill in these dangerous equipment shortfalls so that we may work to restore the readiness of our Guard units. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill, Senate Democrats secured an additional $1 billion in funding, above the requested amount, to address shortfalls in critical Guard equipment. (General Steven Blum, testimony before the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, 1/31/07; Associated Press, 6/6/07)
Democrats have secured funds to ensure better treatment for wounded soldiers. Under Bush Administration policies, soldiers have struggled to get the quality medical care and treatment they deserve. They have faced substandard conditions at Department of Defense and VA medical facilities, endured long lines and bureaucratic delays in accessing health care, and struggled to get critical mental health treatment. Democrats are committed to reversing this record of neglect to ensure that our wounded service members receive the quality care they deserve. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill, Senate Democrats led the effort to provide $3 billion in funds for military health care, which is $1.9 billion above the amount the President requested. In addition to providing funds for Walter Reed and investing in military hospital improvements, the bill allocates $900 million for brain trauma injury (BTI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment and research.
Senate Democrats have provided additional funding to better protect our troops on the battlefield. According to the Pentagon, 70 percent of U.S. military casualties in Iraq are caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Although Marine Corps officials have been requesting Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) – vehicles that reportedly could reduce IED casualties by two-thirds – since February of 2005, it was not until March of this year that the Marine Corps Commandant made MRAPs a top funding priority. The Marines are now requesting 3,700 of these vehicles and the Army is seeking as many as 17,700 MRAPs. Senate Democrats have taken the lead to get additional MRAPs to our troops in the field as soon as possible. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental Senate Democrats added $1.2 billion above the requested amount for a total of $3 billion to provide our troops in Iraq with MRAP vehicles. These emergency funds will ensure that an 2,000 additional MRAPs reach our troops by the end of this year.
Senate Democrats’ New Direction for America: Fulfilling Our Commitment to Veterans
Senate Democrats passed a Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution for Fiscal Year 2007 that fills critical gaps in funding for veterans’ health care left behind by Republicans. Under the joint funding resolution, Senate Democrats provided a total of $32 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care, which is an increase of $3.5 billion over Fiscal Year 2006 levels, and the funding level approved by the Republican-passed Continuing Resolution during the last Congress. These funds will help to improve mental health services, enhance inpatient and outpatient care for veterans, and also allow the VA to better address its backlog of pending benefits claims.
Senate Democrats secured critical funds for veterans’ health care in the 2007 supplemental appropriations bill. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill allocates nearly $1.8 billion in funds to the VA, not requested by the President, to accommodate the increasing number of new veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, improve mental health and readjustment counseling services, and fund new polytrauma centers for the severely injured. These funds are critical to ensuring that the VA has the capacity to care for the increasing number of veterans who suffer from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Senate Democrats led the effort to provide $3.5 billion in increased funding to veterans for Fiscal Year 2008. The Senate’S.2008 Budget Resolution allocated $43.1 billion for veterans, which is an increase of $3.5 billion over the President’s request. This amount represents 98 percent of the funding level requested in the Independent Budget, a plan developed by four leading veterans’ service organizations. The resolution also rejected the President’s proposal to impose new fees and higher co-payments on certain veterans, which, according to veterans’ service organizations, would have driven an estimated 200,000 veterans to leave the system and discouraged more than one million veterans from enrolling in VA health care.