A picture of Senator Barbara A. Mikulski
Barbara M.
Democrat MD

About Sen. Barbara
  • Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act of 2014—Continued

    by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

    Posted on 2014-12-11

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    Read More about Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act of 2014--Continued

    MIKULSKI. I rise to speak on the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2015.

    I wish to thank the Democratic leader, the majority leader, for his kind words. But it is not only about his kind words about me, it has been his advocacy to make sure that as we look at the need for funding for the entire government that there would be no government shutdown and no government on autopilot.

    Just a few minutes ago, the House of Representatives did their part. They passed the omnibus spending bill, passing it 219 to 206. It was well debated and the vote speaks for itself. It now comes to the Senate, and I am here tonight to kick off that debate.

    For hours after hours after hours in the past several days, I have heard what is wrong with this bill. I don't dispute my colleagues' analysis, I will debate it, but now we have to start talking about what are the good aspects of this bill and why we did this bill in the first place. Tonight I want to remind people what we are doing.

    First, we are funding the entire U.S. Government's discretionary spending. We have $550 billion in the bill for national defense, to stand for America, to make sure our troops have the best weapons, the best support, and the best medical treatment--$550 billion, for more money for peacekeeping, for money to fight ISIL, to refuel an aircraft carrier. We did our job. You will hear more about that.

    We wanted to also fight Ebola, which had the American people near panic this summer. We said we have a plan, working with the administration, and some of the best scientists and thinkers in our own country, and brave and gallant people such as Doctors Without Borders over there. While they make the cover of Time magazine, they are now going to make the Federal checkbook in the United States of America.

    We have $5.4 billion to deal with Ebola, a huge sum of money to fight it in Africa. It is also to make sure we are ready for any pandemic in the United States.

    We also have a Samaritan set of money to deal--that is my word--with the Samaritan communities who were willing to take the Ebola patients, care for them, treat them, and make sure there was security for them and their surrounding communities. Millions of dollars were spent, whether it was in Nebraska, whether it was in Georgia at Emory.

    My own home State is home to the National Institutes of Health, where a patient flew in to a small rural airport. They were ready to accept and provide the security down route 270 to get them to the beds at NIH. Those communities need to be recognized. We do that.

    We have money in the bill for national security, but we also have money for veterans. Oh, we love our veterans. We love to sing songs, we love to wear yellow ribbons, we love to go to concerts. We even love to vote for an authorizing bill. I did it. But without money in the Federal checkbook, it is a hollow opportunity.

    So guess what. Your Appropriations Committee, on a bipartisan basis, said we are going to do something that was never done before. We are going to put in the money not only to meet what we said we would do--to reform health care. No more wait lists, no more backlogs. No more them being a victim of the dysfunctional Congress if there is a shutdown or a gridlock.

    We then did something. We, working with the veterans service organizations and the authorizing committee, by Senator Sanders, we have advanced appropriations. So even if there is a shutdown or delay, our veterans will be taken care of.

    There is more money in there for research. There is more money in there for care. There is an extra $40 million to add to the close to $2 billion to deal with the backlog. These numbers are mind-numbing, but the results are not.

    We have that money and we also increased the DOD defense money for medical research for prosthetic devices, for stunning achievements such as in my own Johns Hopkins where they did a limb transplant. Working with Department of Defense dollars, our gifted and talent surgeon was able to take a veteran and reinstitute limbs, muscle, and nerve endings.

    This enables them to also come up with a technique to prevent the rejection that often comes with transplants. It is stunning. That man will be able to have the use of his arms because of this type of work that we do here and what we do to help him will be able to help hundreds, and one day we will be able to help thousands.

    That is what we do in appropriations. We take good intentions and make them as big dreams as possible. We are very proud of that.

    The other item we are proud of is on a bipartisan basis we passed the child care and development block grant. Working with Senators Risch and Burr of North Carolina, I led that. With the superb help of Senators Alexander and Harkin, we passed it.

    But we also wanted to reform our quality standards, regulation without strangulation. We now know that we are going to have fire and safety inspection facilities, better training for providers, and background checks to make sure our vulnerable populations are protected. But for everything that we ask, we put in $75 million to be able to deal with this. I think that is pretty impressive.

    The other issue we worked out was how we worked out the college affordability. In this program that we passed, we will increase the maximum Pell grant by $100 for a total maximum of $58,530, $100 more. That means you will be able to buy a book, you will be able to pay that lab fee if you want to be a nurse or an inhalation therapist, a surgical tech, and so on. But we also reformed the Pell grants, so any student who simultaneously is working on a GED and a college degree would be eligible for Pell grants.

    As part of the listening tours that Senator Cardin and I had, we found out that there were many people who at a certain point in life dropped out of school. They made a particular choice that they now are trying to compensate for. So they are working on their GED, making great progress. They have to show that, but simultaneously they are eligible for that Pell grant so they don't lose time. We have been able to do that.

    There are other aspects related to college affordability, but we also wanted to focus on safety issues. We have money now for the 149 air traffic control facilities in rural communities. Those 149 air traffic controllers--we have the Maryland 5: Salisbury, Easton, Frederick, Hagerstown, and Baltimore County. I know the Presiding Officer has them in Wisconsin. That is taken care of.

    We also wanted to look at other areas of safety such as food safety. Thanks to what we have done in this bill, we have funded the FDA so they can meet the new food safety standards we are concerned about.

    I am also particularly happy and proud of what we did for women. I won't go into all the discussions on ObamaCare, the usual provocative topic such as funding for abortion and very special circumstances. Yes, we will talk about that tomorrow.

    Do you know what I am happy about? What we did for victims of violence. This legislation has $430 million for the Violence Against Women Act. It is at an all-time high. Again, taking what the authorizers wanted--but they all do conference calls in their home State. We actually put money into the Federal checkbook.

    We also paid special attention to the situation of what happens to rape victims. Very often--and I know you talk [[Page S6680]] with the rape victims in your own State or those who are their advocates--they feel doubly victimized. They often feel there was a violent attack on them--so repugnant I don't want even to talk about it on the Senate floor, which is horrible enough. But when they turn to the system, they often find that the very forensics that are needed to go after the perpetrator are either stuck in a crime lab somewhere in a backlog or, even worse, sitting in a police locker instead of being tested. So they wait days, weeks, months, and even years.

    We have gotten into this, thanks to our Vice President, Joe Biden, who was the originator of the Violence Against Women Act. He asked the Justice Department to go to police departments and say where is this evidence and why isn't it being processed? They found there were over 400,000 sexual assault kits sitting in police lockers instead of getting tested. Can you imagine? Four hundred thousand.

    Thanks again to the advocates, the best ideas come from the people--I think somebody is calling me now about it.

    What we have now is we have added a $40 million grant program, again a bipartisan effort, to go work with local police departments to bring down--where we already know where they have gotten underway with existing funds, they are finding that some of these predators have been serial rapists. Some of their cases go back 5, 10, 15 years because of the DNA things we can do. We can do this. We are going to change it.

    There are other issues I can talk about, droughts, forest fires, all of these kinds of things. I will talk about them more tomorrow, but I just wanted to show the American people tonight, as we kick off this debate, while we focus on three items--and I don't minimize their importance, I don't minimize the value to debate them. I want people to know what is in this bill.

    When we had to deal with the omnibus, we had to deal with $1 trillion because we were stiff-armed, and also we couldn't bring up the bills one at a time, so we have to bring all but the Homeland Security up now.

    We faced 98 riders, some of which were highly controversial. We did the best we could with them, and I will have more to say about those tomorrow.

    But while everybody talks about one item or this item, I wanted to talk about some of these items. I really hope we pass this omnibus bill, because when we do, our country will be safer because of threats over there. We will be safer because of threats at home.

    But I believe the biggest threats we face are gridlock, deadlock, and the way we paralyze ourselves by making the perfect the enemy of the good. No piece of legislation is perfect. I will be the first to say that in this bill.

    By the way, people might say: Boy, this is a big bill, Senator Mikulski. It really is. It is discretionary funding for our entire Federal Government, but it is also on the Web site. People can go to our individual subcommittees in Defense, Labor-HHS, Interior, Transportation and Housing, and read about what we did.

    I had to summarize here. I was prepared to read them all night, but I know we are anxious to bring this evening to a close. But I wanted to open the debate today to talk about how we tried to govern on a bipartisan basis.

    We have reached across the aisle and we have reached across the Capitol dome. The House has done its job. Now I hope we do our job and that within the next 24 hours we pass the omnibus spending bill and show that we can govern, that we will not have a government shutdown, we will not have government on autopilot, and we will be able to fund our responsibilities, protect America, and really prepare America for both today and the rest of the 21st century.

    I look forward to working with my colleagues.

    I yield the floor.

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