Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today regarding three Iraq funding amendments to the omnibus appropriations bill:
“In a short time we will move to vote on three amendments to the omnibus appropriations bill. Each of them takes a different approach to funding the war in Iraq.
“I will vote for the Feingold/Reid amendment, which I have cosponsored and voted for it several times this year. Feingold/Reid is the right approach to begin to responsibly end the war, and I will vote for it again today. The second vote will be on the Levin/Reed amendment. I vote yes on this as well.
“Finally, we will vote on the McConnell amendment, which I will strongly vote against. This amendment simply does more of what Congressional Republicans have done since the war began: It rubber stamps President Bush’s reckless management of the war that has cost us so dearly in lives, limbs and treasure.
“The debate over supplemental war funding is nothing new. Every year, President Bush comes to us demanding more and more funds for Iraq, with absolutely no accountability. This year, he requested a staggering $200 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. At a time when he his allies in Congress are telling us we can’t invest in medical research, education, infrastructure or public safety, they want billions and billions more for Iraq.
“How will our country pay the bill for the Iraq war? A cost that when all is done will likely exceed $2 trillion? The President has no idea. He has no plan or intention to pay the bill. He’s simply sticking it in a drawer like an overdue credit card statement, leaving it to our children and grandchildren to pay for generations to come. That’s not just fiscal irresponsibility, it is fiscal madness. But it is par for the course for a President who inherited record budget surpluses from President Clinton and turned them into record deficits.
“Every year, this war gets more expensive, and the American people deserve to know why. The answer is waste. The answer is fraud. The answer is mismanagement. The answer is incompetence. On President Bush’s watch, the companies he chooses to do business with – like Halliburton and Blackwater – have wasted billions and billions of our tax dollars. The President has allowed billions to be spent on buildings that were never built, projects that were never seen through and contractor military operations that did far more harm than good. That’s why he asks for more every year – because he has grossly misspent the funds he has received.
“This year, we have already passed a $460 billion Defense budget – and this bill includes another $31 billion for Afghanistan and troop protection. Democrats have fully funded the needs of our men and women in uniform and given the President more than enough to conduct the war and begin to bring our troops home.
“But one thing we can’t control is his reckless financial mismanagement. We have held hearings and brought cases of waste and fraud to the light of day. But ultimately, the inability to conduct the war with the billions already allocated is no one’s fault but his. The President and his allies here in Congress will doubtlessly push the panic button and say that if we don’t approve the funds immediately, our troops will suffer. This argument is untruthful and beyond the pale.
“Our Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates – a man for whom I have great respect – told Congress that the Army has enough money to get through the end of February and the Marines have enough funds to get through Mid-March. If President Bush hadn’t wasted untold billions, our troops would be funded for far longer than that. If the President had followed the wishes of the American people by spending the funds we gave him to wind down the war instead of ramp it up, the existing funds would be more than sufficient. But he didn’t. He ignored the calls of the American people to responsibly end the war. And he should accept the consequences of his mistakes by finally changing course.
“But let me be clear: Democrats will never let our troops suffer for the President’s misdeeds. Democrats always have and always will support our courageous men and women in uniform who have given so much and received so little in return. It is Democrats who insisted upon a 3.5 percent across-the-board pay increase for everyone in uniform, which the President opposed. It is Democrats who made right the awful conditions at Walter Reed and other veterans’ health care facilities that took place on this President’s watch. It is Democrats who provided a $3.5 billion increase for veterans’ health care after Republicans underfunded it for years. It is Democrats who passed the Wounded Warriors Act to honor our service members and their families.
“I think we’ve heard enough of the tired old Bush-Republican scare tactics that Democrats are putting our troops at risk. The facts speak for themselves. We have always stood with our men and women in uniform. We always will. But unlike Republicans, we believe that truly supporting our troops means beginning to bring them home to the hero’s welcome they have so bravely earned. My fellow Democrats and I come to the Senate floor more times than I can count to discuss the horrible cost of the Iraq war on our troops, our national security and our reputation in the world.
“We have lost nearly 4,000 young Americans. Tens of thousands more have been gravely wounded. As I have said already, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent – tens of billions have been recklessly wasted – and the total price will climb into the trillions before all is said and done. Our military has been stretched paper-thin. Colin Powell has said our Armed Forces are ‘about broken.’
“Every single one of our available combat units is deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan, leaving no strategic reserves for other conflicts. And as the situation in Iran, the faltering of democracy in Pakistan, and the escalating violence in Afghanistan show, the world can evolve literally over night. We must have the flexibility to respond, but right now we do not. Our troops are being forced into repeated deployments, and the length of those deployments has gotten longer. Military families are deeply strained, military mental health is suffering, and the Armed Forces are reporting problems with both recruitment and retention.
“Just this week, General Casey acknowledged this problem, saying, ‘We are running the all-volunteer force at a pace that is not sustainable.’ Our National Guard is hamstrung in its efforts to keep us safe at home, because much of their equipment has been shipped to Iraq. Every natural disaster, from fire to flood, reminds us of this growing crisis. Yet for all the cost and all the courage of our troops, this war has made us no safer.
“Let me remind my colleagues of the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, which found that Al Qaeda has regrouped and is now directing operations from Pakistan, stronger than ever. Bin Laden remains free, taunting and threatening us with new videos. Afghanistan – once viewed as a great military success – has spiraled out of control. The opium trade there is at an all-time high, violence is at its highest level since American intervention, and recent reports indicate that the Taliban has vastly stepped up its efforts. It’s no wonder that this week has brought new reports that a panicked Bush Administration is conducting a top-to-bottom review to stave off all-out chaos in Afghanistan and the backslide of all past gains. I welcome this review. But as long as more than 160,000 troops remain caught in the crossfire of the Iraqi civil war, our ability to address conditions in Afghanistan – and elsewhere — will be constrained.
“The American people are rightly frustrated that more has not been done to responsibly end the Iraqi war. I share that frustration. But within the confines of a stubborn, obstinate President and a Republican Congress that knows no other way but to carry his water, Democrats have made a difference – and a majority of Senators have consistently voted with us.
“Before Democrats controlled the Congress, the Bush White House conducted the war with total impunity. No dissent was tolerated. The patriotism of those who raised questions was openly attacked. This year, Democrats have brought the President’s recklessness into the harsh light of day. We forced the President to set benchmarks for legislative and political progress and required regular reports on whether those benchmarks were being met. These reports have shown that the surge has failed to reach the objective set forth by the President of political reconciliation. We forced General Petraeus to testify – and he has said repeatedly that the war cannot be won militarily and must be won politically. We brought to light the Blackwater controversy and forced Eric Prince to testify. And we put an end to the duplicitous Republican practice of claiming to support the troops, but failing to protect them in the field or provide for them back home.
“Do I feel that enough has been done? Of course not. Time after time, the Republican minority has had a choice: stand with the President or stand with the American people. Each and every time, they have chosen the President. I urge my colleagues to reject the McConnell amendment. The time for zero accountability is long past. I urge my colleagues to embrace the amendments offered by Senator Feingold and Senator Levin. Let’s send our troops and all Americans a holiday gift: a message that the United States Congress is ready to bring this war, now nearly five years long, to its responsible end.”