Insular Areas and Freely Associated States Energy Development—Continuedby Senator Susan M. Collins
Posted on 2014-12-13
COLLINS. Mr. President, I wish to speak on the fiscal year 2015
Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act that is
currently before the Senate.
For the last year, members of the Appropriations Committee have worked hard to develop bipartisan bills that establish priorities and responsibly fund the government. While I would have much preferred each of these bills to have been brought to the floor individually so they could be debated and amended, passage of this compromise legislation to keep government open and provide vital services to Americans who depend on them is essential.
While the legislation funds nearly all government operations, programs, and agencies through the remainder of the fiscal year, notably, this bill funds the Department of Homeland Security only through February 27, 2015, giving Congress time to thoughtfully respond to the President's unilateral action on immigration. While I supported the bipartisan legislation to reform our immigration laws that passed the Senate last year, I believe President Obama's recent Executive action on immigration circumvents Congress and undermines the separation of powers in our Constitution. This bill gives Congress time to formulate an appropriate response.
In addition to the regular funding contained in this bill, the legislation also provides more than $5 billion in emergency funding to address the Ebola crisis at home and abroad. The scope and urgency of this crisis require continued attention, and this funding will build on the important initial investment for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services that Congress provided in September.
I want to highlight the important work that Chairman Murray and I have accomplished as the leaders on the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee on Appropriations. Over this past year, Senator Murray and I worked together to craft a bipartisan bill that includes input from Members on both sides of the aisle and provides the necessary resources to meet our nation's transportation and housing needs. Every Member of Congress has unmet transportation and housing needs in his or her home State, from crumbling roads and bridges to a growing population of low income families, elderly, and disabled individuals in need of housing assistance.
There are a number of key programs that I would like to highlight. With regard to transportation infrastructure, we secured funding to address the safe transportation of crude oil and other hazardous materials by rail, strengthening three components: prevention, mitigation, and response. These safety measures will help to prevent disasters like the horrific derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last year--so very close to the Maine border.
We also provide $500 million for the TIGER program, an effective initiative that helps advance transportation infrastructure projects. We all have seen firsthand how TIGER projects create jobs and support economic growth in our home States. In fact in Maine this highly competitive program has supported more than $90 million in funding for roads, bridges, ports, and rail projects.
Turning to air travel, the aviation investments included in the bill will continue to modernize our Nation's air traffic system and keep rural communities connected to the transportation network. These investments are creating safer skies and a more efficient airspace to move the flying public.
Also included in the bill are provisions I authored, which were adopted by the Appropriations Committee by a bipartisan vote of 21 to 9, to respond to potential safety concerns related to DOT regulations governing truck drivers. As a result of unintended consequences of these regulations, more trucks have been forced on our Nation's roads during the most congested morning hours--when commuters are traveling to work and children are traveling to school. The bill provides temporary relief until the DOT Secretary conducts a comprehensive study on the impacts of these unanticipated outcomes.
In addition to these transportation programs, our bill provides sufficient funding to keep pace with the rising cost of housing programs for our most vulnerable families. More than four million families will continue to receive critical rental assistance for housing. Without it, many of these families would otherwise become homeless.
The bill reflects our strong commitment to reduce homelessness and includes more than $2 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants. Since 2010, we have reduced overall chronic homelessness by 21 percent and veterans' homelessness by 33 percent. This program works. That is why we build on these successes and provide an additional 10,000 HUD-VASH vouchers to serve our Nation's veterans.
While we continue to help families in need, we also recognize the struggles facing our local communities. Boosting local economies is critical to job creation and helping families obtain financial security. Our bill supports these local development efforts by providing $3 billion for the Community Development Block Grants program. This is an extremely important program for States and communities because it allows them to tailor the Federal funds to support local economic and job creation projects.
Other provisions of the bill make equally important investments in our national security, energy infrastructure, veterans, and health and human services.
For our military and our national security, I particularly appreciate that the bill fully funds the Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 and Zumwalt- class DDG-1000 destroyers. The destroyers are known as the real workhorses of the fleet and are critical to maintaining the robust forward naval presence our nation requires especially in a time of increasing threats to our security. The continued support of the destroyer programs is also a strong testament to the hard work and dedication of the men and women at Bath Iron Works in Maine. Bath-built truly is best built.
The bill also includes funding for the procurement of 38 F-35s and for four additional aircraft. The F-35 is vital to maintaining air superiority, and components of the aircraft are built by skilled workers at Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems in Saco, Hunting Dearborn, Inc. in Fryeburg, and Fairchild Semiconductor in South Portland. Neither the bill, nor the report, recommends an unnecessary study of an extra engine for the F-35 fighter, which would have wasted billions of dollars.
Turning to our Nation's public shipyards, I am pleased that this bill funds our Navy's facility maintenance and modernization efforts, including projects at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, ME. The agreement contains language I secured that ensures the capital investment for the Navy's four public shipyards, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, is funded at the level required by law.
For the men and women serving in uniform all over the world, the bill also rightly rejects many of the President's proposals that would have imposed burdens on many servicemembers and their families.
For our Veterans, I am pleased that this bill provides funding for the highly successful Access Received Closer to Home program, or ARCH, which provides critical care to our veterans living in rural areas, including those living in Northern Maine. The ARCH pilot [[Page S6812]] program provides VA-covered health care services through non-VA providers and has been crucial to increasing access to care for rural Maine veterans.
The funding bill also provides additional resources to implement the reforms included in the recently enacted Veterans Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act.
We must increase our investment in biomedical research, and this bill provides $72 million in new funding for Alzheimer's Disease research, treatment, and caregiver programs. This important step takes us closer toward the goal of doubling funding for Alzheimer's research and eventually reaching the level of $2 billion a year in federal investment. This is the amount that the chairman of the Alzheimer's Advisory Council has said will be necessary if we are to reach our goal of having a way to prevent or effectively treat Alzheimer's Disease by 2025. At a time when Alzheimer's is costing our Nation $214 billion a year, including $150 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid, we are spending less than $600 million a year on Alzheimer's research. While this bill does take a step forward, clearly we need to do more given the tremendous human and economic toll this devastating disease takes on our Nation.
In addition, this funding bill makes important investments in agricultural research and extension activities, from potatoes to wild blueberries to aquaculture and forest products, while maintaining a commitment to nutrition and food security. The agreement finally allows all fresh vegetables, including the fresh, white potato, to be included in the WIC program while USDA carries out an evaluation of the nutrient value of all vegetables, helping to ensure that any long-term policy is transparent and reflects the latest science.
This bill also makes important commitments to our energy infrastructure and provides robust funding for the Department of Energy wind program. This program funds the offshore wind demonstration projects, including the R&D project being carried out by the University of Maine. Federal seed money is helping overcome barriers to the development and implementation of new and innovative technologies, such as deepwater offshore wind, which can position the U.S. as a global leader in innovative clean energy.
To help address the high cost of residential energy, particularly for those living in northern, rural States like Maine, funding is provided in this bill for the Weatherization program. This program plays an important role in permanently reducing home energy costs for low-income families and seniors. Moreover, the funding included for LIHEAP will help ensure that many of our most vulnerable families and seniors do not have to choose between paying for heat and paying for other necessities such as food or medicine.
Helping to meet the water infrastructure needs of smaller states and regions is another vital piece of our National infrastructure. This bill includes funding for the operation and maintenance of Army Corps projects at smaller harbors, which are the economic lifeblood for many rural communities, a fact not fully accounted for under the Corps' budget metrics, which tend to favor larger ports.
The bill also continues to support our nation's fisheries, which are so important to the economies of our coastal communities, particularly in Maine. From funding for annual stock assessments, surveys and monitoring, and cooperative research, the bill supports key State and Federal partnerships. It provides funding to ensure fisheries data collection accurately reflects stock sustainability and funding for NOAA to invest in the science and research necessary to sustainably manage our fisheries in a way that continues to support our fishing fleets.
Finally, I am pleased to see that the bill includes full funding for the Trade Adjustment Assistance programs that are so important in Maine, and for which Senator King and I both advocated. As we continue to deal with the recent job losses at paper mills in Maine, this assistance to displaced workers is extremely important.
Completing action on this bill will keep government open and provide essential services to Americans who depend on them. While there are aspects of this compromise legislation that should have been subject to debate and amendment in an open process by the full Senate, including provisions that affect significantly multi-employer pensions and our campaign finance laws, we simply cannot allow a government shutdown. For that reason, I will be voting for this compromise legislation, and I urge my colleagues do so as well.