Mr. President, I rise today to express my support for H.R. 2642, the Fiscal Year 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.
This is an important bill, one that makes the necessary investments in caring for our veterans, in improving the quality of life for our military families, and in building and improving the facilities integral to our military’s current and future mission and our national security.
The legislation provides $64.7 billion in discretionary funding, which is $4 billion above the President’s budget request.
Frankly, the President’s request was insufficient, so I support the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation.
The bill offers substantial new investments in health care for America’s veterans and takes into consideration the unique needs of our servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. By increasing critical investments in medical services, which include treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans; providing the funding necessary to hire new claims processors to address the VA’s backlog; and investing in VA repair and maintenance necessary to prevent another Walter Reed-type situation, the bill addresses key shortcomings in our veterans’ health care system.
The bill also addresses key quality of life and mission-related needs for all U.S. troops and their families.
I’m grateful it includes $265 million for construction of facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Patuxent River, Suitland, Fort Detrick, and Fort Meade in recognition of the growing and critical role these Maryland installations play in our national defense.
As stated in the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission Report, the primary goal for the 2005 BRAC process was military transformation.
While acknowledging the need to save money, the Commission went beyond a business model analysis, giving military value criteria priority consideration.
Of critical importance to communities in Maryland and to citizens across the nation, the bill provides
$8.17 billion for BRAC 2005 to implement the base closures and realignments that the Commission determined are critical to our military’s current and future mission.
This includes over $700 million for the construction of crucial facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Indian Head, Andrews Air Force Base, Fort Meade, and the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center.
Given the critical nature of these appropriations, Mr. President, you can imagine my concern when I read the Statement of Administration Policy on this bill.
President Bush, it seems, thinks that such investments in our veterans and our military infrastructure are “excessive”.
While he has indicated that he will not veto H.R. 2642, he has threatened to veto other appropriations bills unless we find ways to cut spending in those measures equal to the spending – $4 billion – in this bill that exceeds his request.
This administration, which has consistently underestimated the resources it would take to fund our military and care for our veterans, promises that it is “closely tracking the ongoing cost of providing for our veterans.”
When it comes to bases, troops, and veterans, we shouldn’t be cutting corners or scrambling later to make up for earlier mistakes.
It is our duty to pass this bill and fully fund the veterans’ initiatives and military construction projects it contains.
I applaud Senators Byrd, Cochran, Johnson, Hutchison, and Reed and my other colleagues on the Appropriations Committee for their excellent work and look forward to quick passage of this critical legislation.