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Barbara M.
Democrat MD

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  • Military Construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

    Posted on 2015-09-30

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    Read More about Military Construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016--Motion to Proceed

    MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Ms. MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I understand the pending business is that we are discussing the motion to proceed to the VA-Military Construction bill, and I rise today to urge my colleagues to vote against this motion to proceed. And why? Well, because, quite simply, this is a parliamentary maneuver. This isn't a real deal to get to real benefits and real help for America's veterans or to modernize our military bases. This maneuver, quite simply, is a scam. The Republican leadership knows we do not have enough resources for our veterans. This bill is inadequate. And to bring up an appropriations bill before we have a new budget deal is really just a hollow gesture.

    We passed a continuing resolution. I am so pleased we did that so we would not have a government shutdown. We do not need a government shutdown. It is not in our national interest, it is not good for the economy, it is not good for our standing in the world, and most of all it is not good for the way we need to help the American people, whether it is in the area of national security or economic security.

    Having passed the CR, it is well known that the leadership on both sides of the aisle and the President want to negotiate a new budget deal. So what does that mean? A new budget deal gives the Committee on Appropriations a top line--something called a 302(a). A 302(a) tells the Committee on Appropriations what it can spend. We can't spend over a 302(a) unless we waive the Budget Act. And the whole purpose of the negotiation for the budget is to lift the cap through responsible, bipartisan, bicameral negotiations and to come up with additional revenue by either cuts or new revenue.

    My advice to my colleagues is don't go through trying to pass the bill when we know we are going to be getting a new allocation to truly try to meet America's needs. We all say we love our veterans. Everybody wants to wear yellow ribbons, and we all want to go to Veterans Day observations and so on. But I believe you show your support for veterans by deeds and in this case by putting forth the help we do need for our veterans.

    The bill pending now shows we need a new budget agreement. We need to cancel sequester--these across-the-board draconian cuts--so we can keep our promises to our veterans. Cloture on the motion to proceed is Washington-speak in order to filibuster a debate. The real debate here is whether the Senate will move forward with spartan Republican budget levels or whether we will come up with a new deal that will enable us to lift the cap we have and move ahead to getting a real deal. The Senate passed the bill to keep the government open. Now we need a budget deal that lifts the caps to make sure we have a 50-50 split between defense spending and domestic spending, acknowledging that domestic spending also meets national security needs.

    This bill is a perfect example. Military construction doesn't come out of DOD. There it is, in a domestic bill, and it is in the same subcommittee as funding our veterans. In terms of funding our veterans, the bill before us has an unacceptable cut of over $850 million from the VA, yet at the same time VA costs are rising.

    What am I talking about? Well, let's go to the new hepatitis C drugs that are causing veterans to seek treatment and really get the help they need. This inhibits us from buying the lifesaving drugs we need. Then there is the cost of the caregiver program. Those costs have nearly doubled since the original fiscal 2016 estimates that we received. And who are these caregivers? They are wives, spouses, parents taking care of really sick wounded warriors. You know those pictures we see when we have a concert for a fundraising drive for a veterans charitable organization--those men who are bedridden, many who can't talk, and some who have traumatic brain injury or some causing injury that causes paralysis--your heart goes out to them, and we have families taking care of them. Those families need help. The cost for that care is doubling. Yet this bill doesn't take care of it. We say: Oh, a grateful nation never forgets. Well, we seem to forget when it comes time to voting on the budget.

    We have held in the Committee on Appropriations hearing after hearing. The VA's Secretary McDonald testified that the budget request for hepatitis C is too low by as much as $1 billion. In fiscal year 2015 alone, the VA spent close to $700 million just on hepatitis C drugs. I think we need to be able to give veterans the medications they need.

    Veterans care should not be held hostage to artificial budget caps, and veterans in the audience watching this should understand this is not a single-year problem. This cap will be in place until 2021. Remember, we are not funding an agency; we are funding help for our veterans. We want to reduce that backlog. We want to make sure our hospitals are fit for duty. We want to make sure there are no waiting lists for veterans. We want to be sure that the way they showed up for America, we are showing up for them. These veterans deserve to know that promises we made will be the promises we keep.

    I am asking my colleagues to get serious. Let's get a real budget deal. I [[Page S7042]] know the Republican leadership has been in contact with the President. We need our Democratic leadership to be a part of that conversation. I am the vice chair of the Committee on Appropriations. This is the committee that puts the money in the Federal checkbook. I want to be complimentary about the chairman, the distinguished gentleman from Mississippi, Senator Cochran. We know how to move bills, but what we need are the right allocations given to us so we can make the right decisions.

    Now, can we make some trims here, can we make some strategic cuts? Yes, but we need a new budget deal that lifts the caps. So I therefore will vote no on the motion to proceed, which is parliamentary-speak, but by voting no on the parliamentary maneuver I am saying we vote yes in meeting the compelling national needs we have.

    Let's get a new budget deal, let's lift the caps, let's do it in a responsible way, and let's help move America forward.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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