Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Today we continue debate on the Farm Bill. I believe this debate is going well, and I am confident that the bipartisan cooperation that brought this bill to the floor will continue and result in final passage. There has been some concern over the amendments process. I have made it clear that this bill will not fall victim to non-relevant amendments. But I have also made it clear that there will be time for related amendments from both sides of the aisle aimed at further improving and reforming the bill. I had a productive conversation about the amendments process with Senator McConnell last night, and I believe we are on a very positive path.
“Tomorrow, we expect that the Conferences on the Commerce, Justice, State – and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills – will meet. These bills are extremely important to America’s safety and well-being, and I hope that we will move to consider them as soon as possible.
“Today we turn to the Veterans, Labor, Health and Education conference report. Chairmen Harkin and Inouye and their respective ranking members, Senators Specter and Stevens, should be commended for their hard work. There is no reason why this package should not enjoy the same overwhelming bipartisan support that the individual pieces received. Both the veterans and labor, health and education portions of this bill are vitally important to our country. The original VA bill passed the Senate with an overwhelming 92 votes.
“Democrats and Republicans joined together to support this legislation that will address the critical funding shortages that have left thousands of our veterans without the care they have earned for far too long. The Bush Administration has underfunded the VA for years, and the results of this short-shrift and mismanagement have been made painfully clear. The crisis at Walter Reed Medical Center merely highlighted a nationwide problem.
“The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the VA to a breaking point. The number of uninsured veterans has skyrocketed. The personal data of millions of vets has been lost. Thousands of American heroes wait endlessly for treatment, because their claims are caught in a bureaucratic nightmare.
“You can’t say that you support our troops but leave them high and dry when they return home. That’s why our bill includes the largest increase in funding for veterans’ care in history. We provide $3.7 billion more than the President’s request, funds that will go straight to the core of the problem:
- making right the awful conditions at Walter Reed and other veterans’ military facilities;
- ensuring that veterans’ personal data is safeguarded;
- researching Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and other all-too-common illnesses that our returning troops face;
- and most importantly, greatly expanding the number of claims managers and health care workers to provide our heroes with the efficient, high-quality care they have so bravely earned.
“The Labor, Health and Education portion of the bill also passed the Senate with a bipartisan 75 votes. When that bill originally passed the Senate I applauded my Republican colleagues for joining with us in such great numbers to support a bill of such great importance to our country’s domestic well-being. The Labor, Health and Education bill makes significant investments in education:
- to support No Child Left Behind programs like Title I grants;
- to educate children with disabilities; and
- to help families pay for college with Pell Grants and other aid.
“It supports our economy and the well-being of our workforce with:
- job training programs for adults, young people, and dislocated workers; and
- funding for the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health.
“It makes critical investments in health care, including:
- local health care centers, to improve access to care and train nurses and other health care professionals;
- new funds for medical research to study diseases like diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimers;
- fighting poverty with Community Service Block Grants and Social Services Block Grants;
- programs like Head Start, that keep kids healthy and start them on the path to a good education; and
- helping working families cope with ever-rising energy prices.
“And it works in tandem with the VA portion to support our America’s veterans with:
- funds for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which helps veterans cope with depression, PTSD and other mental health conditions;
- support for the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Program, to help returning troops find good jobs when they return home;
- Eeergency and hospital care, rehabilitation, education and long-term support for Americans with Traumatic Brain Injuries, many of which are products of military service; and
- care for homeless veterans, which comprise an outrageous 23% of America’s homeless population.
“These are not Democratic or Republican priorities. They are American priorities. We all want to keep our economy strong and growing. We all want to provide children with the keys to unlock a future of limitless opportunity. And we all want to give every American the chance to share in the blessings of our great country.
“The bill now before us reflects those ideals in a responsible way. Yet President Bush has threatened yet another veto. In fact, he threatened to veto all 12 appropriations bills before they were even written. He has already vetoed children’s health insurance and is threatening to veto the Farm bill, bipartisan legislation that both sides of the aisle have worked so hard together to write. In the seventh year of his Presidency, after having rung up record deficits and debt with his tax and spending policies that were rubberstamped by a Republican Congress, President Bush has suddenly decided to act like he has newfound fiscal discipline.
“Given his fiscal record, everyone should understand the President’s latest stand is driven by partisan politics rather than a desire to pursue proper fiscal policy. I understand that. I am sure many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle understand it. We all do. But it is irresponsible. His failed Presidency has left him with little else to become relevant.
“But he should not attempt to score political points on the backs of our veterans, who have given so much to our country and received so little in return. He should not attempt to score political points on the backs of working families, who are struggling mightily after seven years of his failed economic policy. He should not attempt to score political points on the backs of children in need of a good education, those who are ill and in need of a cure or those who are homeless and in need of a place to sleep. He should not – and we must not let him.
“Some Republicans are seeking to separate the two bills – to force a vote just on the VA bill, and a vote just on the Labor, Health and Education bill. In doing so, they are blocking passage of two bills that they supported overwhelmingly. Ninety-two Senators voted for the original VA bill. Seventy-five Senators voted for the original Labor-H bill.
“How can you say, after voting for both of those bills, that you will not support the passage of the bill now before us? With the same bipartisan support that has brought this bill to the floor, we can pass and send it to the President. We can get this aid to veterans before Veterans Day. We can start investing in America’s domestic priorities right away. We must not dance around the reality of the situation. President Bush wants these bills separated so that he can pressure us to make even deeper cuts in education, health care and homeland security.
“He is asking us to make a false choice. We do not need to fund our veterans at the expense of health and education. We can and we must do both. The President – and his Republican allies here in the Senate – are sure to recycle their well-worn language that we are holding up funding for veterans. That is plainly untrue. We stand ready to pass this bill today. We stand ready to make right the awful conditions many veterans face as a result of this Administration’s neglect. But we will not take from Peter to pay Paul. We need not make that choice.
“Clearly, the 92 Senators who voted for the VA bill believe it sets the right priorities for America. Clearly, the 75 Senators who voted for the Labor, Health and Education bill believe it, too, sets the right priorities for America. What we have before us now are the same priorities. They haven’t changed. I urge all my colleagues to do just what they have done already: support this bill so that we can send it to the President and give our veterans and all Americans the care and investments they deserve.”