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Barbara M.
Democrat MD

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  • Omnubus Legislation

    by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

    Posted on 2015-12-18

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    MIKULSKI. Madam President, I rise to speak on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, otherwise known as the omnibus bill.

    I wish to report to my colleagues in the Senate that the House has passed the bill this morning with a robust vote of 316 to 113. Three months ago it was unclear if we would be at this positive point. We were uncertain if we could get a budget deal that would lift the caps for defense and nondefense spending, it was unclear if we could cancel sequester, and it was unclear if we could avoid a government shutdown.

    I am happy to say today that we have completed our work, and we have done it in the traditional style of this institution and also of the Appropriations Committee and by working on a bipartisan basis. The chairman of the committee, the Senator from Mississippi, Mr. Cochran, and I worked across the aisle to get the job done. I thank him for the leadership he provided the committee, for his professionalism, and for the ability and the fact that we could work, both he and I, together. I thank both of our staffs for working with civility and candor.

    For the third year in a row, we left no appropriations bill behind. We negotiated and we compromised. We compromised without capitulation of our principles, which has always been a strong tradition of the Appropriations Committee.

    As we bring this bill to the floor, I urge all of my colleagues to vote for this bill. I want to do it on the basis of content and on the basis of merit.

    Now, I will tell you what this bill does. First of all, it does a lot to protect the United States of America. We know that right now America feels on edge. We know our leadership needs to provide clarity, consistency, and specificity, but most of all, we need to provide the resources that our institutions need so they can protect our country.

    This bill provides $606 billion for the national defense of the United States of America and to support, train, and equip our troops; to deal with the new threats of biosecurity and the rising efforts of ISIL so we can follow through with our vow to defeat and destroy them.

    We have a must-do list to make sure our troops have the best weapons and know that the troops and families are supported. We looked out for their health care and Tricare, and we looked out for the food that they need to buy in their commissaries.

    We know that protecting America is not only accomplished in the Defense Department. It also lies in the important agencies that do the tough work. We have adequately capitalized the State Department and provided money for embassy security so we can protect our embassies and those who work with them abroad. We have also funded Homeland Security. We have approved close to $11 billion so that the Coast Guard can protect our ports and waterways, and we have added $50 million in new grants to counter violent extremism. We also made sure that we have given TSA, or the Transportation Security Administration, the equipment and people it needs to protect travelers with all of the airport screeners that have been requested. At the same time, we have funded the FBI, which is doing such an able job of rooting out the terrorists, including the lone wolf threats that are emerging in our own country.

    I want to particularly do a shout-out to the FBI in the Baltimore district for uncovering a plot in our own home State of Maryland where someone was organizing and planning a lone wolf effort.

    I also wish to thank my colleagues for what we did in the budget deal. This bill provides $65 billion more to meet our national security needs, support compelling human needs, and promote the middle class. We made sure we kept our promises to our veterans. We have a $1.3 billion increase for veterans health care to meet their health [[Page S8843]] needs, the educational needs we promised them, and to deal with this backlog of disability benefits.

    We are not only looking to the past, we are looking to the future. We have made robust funds available in our innovation area, whether it was the Department of Energy or the National Institutes of Health, which is in my home State. On our committee and across the aisle--Senator Patty Murray, the ranking member, and Senator Roy Blunt, the chairman of the HHS committee--we renamed the National Institutes of Health the ``National Institutes of Hope'' because of what it does to find the cures and the breakthroughs for Alzheimer's, on which we have almost doubled the research in order to break the code on how we can find a cure or a cognitive stretch-out. We have added $2 billion because we worked together, because we know that when we want to find the cure for cancer, Alzheimer's, autism, we need to be able to do that.

    We looked also at working out other compelling needs, such as Head Start, child care and development grants in which we have added more money, and we make the first payment to fund the programs for elementary, middle, and high school.

    We also meet the physical infrastructure needs, where we have increased our funding in the T-HUD bill for Transit New Starts to $2.2 billion.

    We increased the funding for the HOME Program. Instead of cutting it by 90 percent, we increased it by $50 million, to $950 million.

    We have also looked out for our ports, creating jobs by keeping goods moving through the full funding of the harbor maintenance trust fund and the Army Corps of Engineers.

    This is about jobs. This isn't about money; this is about jobs. In my own home State of Maryland, the Port of Baltimore is an incubator for jobs. It keeps people going, whether it is the people who work to bring the ships in, whether it is the longshoremen, the tugboat operators, or those who benefit from the goods and services coming into our port or leaving our port. It is the ports that create our jobs, and we in Maryland are ready for the new ships coming through the newly built Panama Canal. We know this is a big deal that could help our communities all over America if we invest in our ports.

    I know many of our colleagues also want to know about riders. We faced hundreds of policy riders, some of which were highly controversial. We did the best we could with them. But while everybody talks about one item or this item, I want to talk about some of the ones we were able to deal with.

    We prevented double-trailer trucks from taking over our highways. We protected women's health against devastating riders. We also made sure those who regulate our financial institutions so that we never have another meltdown like we had 8 years ago are taken care of, and we looked out for the environment.

    The appropriations bills are good bills, and I could go over more items, but I see that the chairman of the committee is on the floor. I again reiterate my appreciation to Senator Cochran and his very able staff.

    I also want to comment about the other side of the dome. Working with Congressman Hal Rogers, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Ranking Member Nita Lowey has indeed been a very professional relationship. I wish that now, with new leadership in the House, they could function like the Appropriations Committee. Do we disagree? Yes. The Presiding Officer is a member of that committee, and she knows we are ready to duke it out when we have to. But we put it all out on the table. We discuss it. We debate it.

    We had an open process with amendments in our committee. We have worked to resolve conflict by actually meeting and discussing with each other. We need the same thing with our colleagues on the other side of the dome. That is what we mean when we say we want to get back to regular order.

    Thanks to the budget deal we have now, I do hope that next year we can bring bills up one at a time for debate, discussion, and amendment. I hope we can do that. But I also hope the tone of the Appropriations Committee is adopted. We can make sure we advocate for our States and for our viewpoints, but we can do it in a way that it gets done.

    I want to conclude by thanking my entire staff, Chuck Kieffer and Jean Toal Eisen, the staff on the other side of the dome, and all of those who worked for me. I want to recognize Shannon Kula and Rachel MacKnight, as well as Brigid Houton and Mara Stark Alcala and Jean Kwon.

    Madam President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Mississippi.

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