Washington, DC–Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following statement on the Floor of the U.S. Senate on the Conference Report on the Supplemental Appropriations Bill. The legislation offers much-needed funding troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, for victims of Katrina, and for preparations for the Bird Flu. Unfortunately, Republicans have also stripped away much-needed funding to secure America’s ports, to support America’s veterans, and to help America’s farmers.
Senator Reid’s speech, as prepared, is below.
M. President, I rise in support of the conference report on the supplemental appropriations bill.
Let me begin by congratulating both the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committees, Senator Cochran and Senator Byrd, for their outstanding leadership in the development of this legislation. They both have worked hard and put in long hours to get to this point, and – along with their excellent staffs – they deserve tremendous credit for their efforts.
M. President, this conference report will provide funds needed to support the brave men and women who risk their lives every day in Iraq and Afghanistan on behalf of their country. The legislation will provide assistance to those in the Gulf Coast still struggling to recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It also will help bolster border security, and prepare for the threat of bird flu. These matters are all vitally important, and so I expect the conference report to win broad support here in the Senate. It should.
But while I strongly support the goals of this legislation, M. President, I also have serious concerns about it.
First, it’s long past time to stop pretending that the war in Iraq is a short-term emergency and to start including it in the budget.
It’s been more than three years since this war began, and President Bush has made it clear that he intends to continue it for some time. This isn’t a temporary or unexpected emergency. It’s an ongoing cost. And it ought to be in the budget.
Some in the Administration may think that, by keeping the war out of the budget and relying on stop-gap spending bills, they can hide the war’s true costs. But, M. President, who’s kidding whom? Americans aren’t stupid. They might not know the exact amount, now well over $300 billion, but they know the war is costing massive amounts of taxpayer dollars. So I would urge the Administration to stop the gimmickry. Let’s be straight with the public, include the war in the budget, and fund operations through the normal appropriations process.
Another concern of mine, M. President, is that this conference report excludes several important proposals from the Senate-passed bill.
For example, M. President, the Senate included $648 million to bolster port security. You would think that protecting our ports would be a priority for this Congress, given the ongoing threat of terrorism and the grossly inadequate safeguards at our nation’s ports. But the House leadership completely rejected any additional funds for port security. And our nation will be less secure as a result.
Similarly, House conferees almost completely eliminated the relief that the Senate proposed for farmers who have been suffering from recent drought conditions. Many of these farmers, particularly in the Midwest, are struggling financially, just as are farmers in the region directly affected by Katrina. Yet they will be shut out from any assistance under this legislation.
Unfortunately, these aren’t the only Senate proposals that got dropped in conference. For example, conferees eliminated the Senate’s proposal to beef up VA medical care for our nation’s veterans. And they dropped another proposal to provide compensation to health professionals, first responders, and others who may be harmed in the future by an experimental flu vaccine.
M. President, why was the majority leadership so opposed to improving port security, or helping our farmers, or our veterans? Well, they said they were concerned about cost.
But, M. President, it’s hard to take such statements seriously when you consider what else happened in the Senate last week.
At the same time that the majority was stripping a few hundred million dollars to bolster port security, they proposed spending $1 trillion to provide a windfall to a handful of our nation’s wealthiest families.
At the same time they were dropping assistance to farmers, they proposed spending more than $14 million to give a tax break to Paris Hilton.
At the same time they were eliminating support for veterans medical care, they proposed spending $164 million to provide a tax break for the family of a former Exxon CEO.
All of this new spending, I would add, would have been paid for by more debt, largely from countries like China and Japan.
So much for the majority’s commitment to fiscal responsibility.
Sadly, M. President, when it comes to helping average Americans and the middle class, Washington’s leaders are all for spending cuts. But when it comes to spending billions on tax breaks that explode the debt, they insist that no billionaire be left behind.
Finally, M. President, I want to express my concern about the inclusion of the so-called deeming resolution in this conference report.
For those unfamiliar with budget lingo, a deeming resolution is a mechanism for setting the total level of discretionary spending for the upcoming fiscal year, totally apart from the normal budget. It’s used only when the normal budget process completely breaks down. A deeming resolution is an admission of failure, and it should be used only as a last resort. Yet here we are, only a few weeks after the House completed its budget, and the majority is already throwing up its hands in defeat. Apparently, they’re not even going to try to produce a budget. It’s a sad commentary on the state of affairs here in Washington.
I also would note, M. President, that this deeming resolution has no place in this conference report. Neither the House nor Senate bills included a deeming resolution. And the figure provided for the Appropriations Committee is substantially below the amount provided in the Senate budget resolution after significant debate. Yet this new funding level, which ultimately will have an impact on millions of Americans, was approved by conferees behind closed doors, with no public input. This isn’t the way to set budget policy in America.
So, M. President, there is much to be concerned about in this conference report. We shouldn’t be funding the war through stop-gap emergency measures. We shouldn’t have dropped critical funding for port security, veterans and farmers. And we shouldn’t have abandoned the normal budget process by including a deeming resolution that ignores the will of the Senate.
Still, for all its problems, at the end of the day, this legislation is vitally important. We must support our troops. We must assist the Gulf Coast. We must tighten border security, and prepare for a possible bird flu outbreak.
That’s why I will support this conference report, M. President, and it’s why I expect the Senate to approve the legislation by an overwhelming vote. But we can and must do better.