For all the talk about how Iraq is supposedly safer thanks to the "surge," it turns out that it is still the deadliest year ever for our troops. Harry Reid explains.
"Yesterday we reached another tragic milestone in Iraq. With the death of five young Americans, 2007 has now been the deadliest year for our troops of the entire war. Our thoughts are with the families of these five latest American victims of the Iraqi civil war. Our hearts go out to the families of all 3,854 young men and women who have lost their lives and to the tens of thousands more who have been gravely wounded.
"This war has caused so much suffering here in America where our losses continue to rise, where our treasury has been depleted for generations to come, and where our military is battered, scarred and stretched to the limit. And let us not forget the suffering in Iraq – where we learned today that 2.3 million civilians are now displaced, fleeing from their homes, their neighborhoods, their schools and places of worship.
"Two-thirds of the displaced are young children, under the age of 12. This humanitarian crisis rages on with no end in sight. By any of the most critical benchmarks, President Bush’s flawed strategy on Iraq is not making America more secure. We are seeing no signs of meaningful progress on political reconciliation, which is the key to success in Iraq.
And I would add that Iraq has met 1 of the 18 benchmarks that he laid out as indicators of Iraq's progress. Reid continues:
"Our brave troops – more than 160,000 of them – are giving everything they have to this war. Far too many of them have been buried. Far too many face lives forever marked by physical and psychological wounds. Yet for all of our troops’ sacrifice and suffering, the Iraqi politicians are not doing their part. President Bush has said as they step up, we will stand down. They have not stepped up.
"What better reminder do we need than the crisis in Pakistan that the world can change over night? It is time to rebuild our military to refocus on the war on terror and the grave challenges that face us throughout the globe.
"We must repair the readiness of our Army and Marine Corps, the finest fighting force in the world, but a force which is under great strain. We must be prepared to respond to new challenges. We must have the strength and flexibility to promote freedom and defend human rights when they are attacked. We must refocus our efforts on Bin Laden, on Al Qaeda, on the terrorists who threaten our safety. And it is long past time for us to give our troops the hero’s welcome home they have so bravely earned.
"We need to provide wounded warriors and veterans with the care they deserve. After years of Republicans under-funding veterans care, Democrats have provided nearly $4 billion above the President’s request to make this failure right.
"President Bush remains obstinate. His Republican allies in Congress have remained loyal. They have blocked our efforts so far. But we will continue fighting to give our troops and all Americans the new course in Iraq that they deserve."
I would add that we must do more. We must set a date certain beyond which we will no longer be in Iraq. It's not enough that we have the end of Iraq as a legislative goal. We must be able to move the goalposts and set a date certain. And that means no more deals with the Bush adminstration over Iraq.
"Yesterday I came to the floor to express my optimism for the Farm Bill that comes before us this week. I said that this bill is an example of the good that can come when both sides of the aisle work as one. Chairmen Harkin and Baucus, and Ranking Members Chambliss and Grassley have done just that. I also said that this bill would receive floor time for serious debate and amendments.
"Apparently the good work and good faith put toward this bill by Democrats and Republicans does not count for much with President Bush. Yesterday afternoon, Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Connors, announced the President’s intent to veto the Farm Bill – before it has been debated, before amendments have been offered, and of course, before it has been passed.
"Some observers might say, ‘Here we go again.’ The President has now threatened to veto 11 of 12 appropriations bills. Including the Labor, Health and Education bill, which provides crucial funding for schools and medical research. Including WRDA, which passed the Senate with 81 votes.
"I know I am not alone when I say that this latest veto threat of the Farm Bill rings hollow. The Administration now claims to be concerned that the Farm Bill does not reform the current payments system enough. Yet the Bush Administration has had every opportunity to fix the issue of non-farmers receiving farm payments – what they now blame Congress for failing to do. They could reform the ‘actively engaged’ farming payments system right now.
"The Congress passed a bill 20 years ago that reformed that process. Yet an April 2004 study by the General Accounting Office determined that the Bush Department of Agriculture’s track record implementing this reform was half-hearted at best. Let’s be clear: A problem exists in the farming payout structure. We’ve all heard of individuals who live in the city but claim that they are farmers and receive federal subsidy. This Farm Bill begins to tackle that problem – a problem that exists, in large part, because the Bush Administration has failed to address it.
"Now, the President plans to veto a bill that reforms the payment process while maintaining the President’s administrative authority to act on it. This bill takes reform seriously. If President Bush were serious about it as well – rather than just looking for political points – he could be doing something about it."
It is clear that we have a President who is no longer interested in pursuing a constructive agenda for this country. Instead, he is hell-bent on obstructing this Congress as much as possible and create a scorched earth policy. It seems that his insanity on Iraq is now starting to carry over into other areas as well.
And it is really telling that the President wants to veto a bill that would actually do what a lot of Conservatives would want with government -- get rid of welfare payments to people who don't need it.
"I was profoundly disturbed by statements Judge Michael Mukasey made during his confirmation hearings concerning executive power, and about the legality of the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique. As a result, I cannot in good conscience vote to approve his nomination to be Attorney General of the United States.
"I do not believe this is a difficult or complex legal question; waterboarding is illegal under current law. After World War II, the U.S. prosecuted and convicted Japanese soldiers for engaging in this practice. Senators McCain, Graham and Warner – who have served as leaders in the U.S. Senate on this issue, recently issued a detailed legal analysis unambiguously concluding that waterboarding ‘represents a clear violation of U.S. law,’ that Congress has repeatedly outlawed. Further, former and sitting Judge Advocates Generals agree that waterboarding is illegal. On Friday, in a letter to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, several prominent former Judge Advocate Generals declared unequivocally: ‘Waterboarding is inhumane, it is torture, and it is illegal... Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances.’
"I respect Judge Mukasey and believe he is an intelligent, capable man. If he is confirmed, I believe he will take steps to depoliticize the Department of Justice and to help restore the integrity and credibility that was so lacking under his predecessor, Attorney General Gonzales. However, given our recent history, it is of crucial importance that our next Attorney General be able to stand up to the President and for the rule of law. Because I am not confident that Judge Mukasey will, I will oppose his nomination."
But will Reid support a filibuster against his nomination? His opposition to him will not mean anything if he does not support a filibuster against his nomination for Attorney General. There is a chance that this nomination might be stopped -- there is a possibility that McCain, Warner, and/or Graham might be persuaded to vote against him. But the real vote will involve the filibuster against him, and not the actual confirmation vote.
"For years, we in Washington have heard the familiar call to ‘get government off my back.’ However, that call has changed. The call I hear most often now is ‘I wish the government had my back once in a while.’"
"I’m happy the White House has decided to join those of us in Congress who, for years, have been advocating many of the policies proposed today. The recommendations in this report, if acted upon, will help remove many of the hurdles that have prevented meaningful reform of our food and product safety systems."
"Providing the FDA with mandatory recall authority is a critical tool that most modern food safety agencies around the world have utilized for years. Congress needs to make sure that this new authority is used as back-up to a strong voluntary recall system that relies on immediate reporting by third party firms."
"With over 2 trillion dollars of goods coming from overseas, now more than ever we need real a real front line defense to deal with tainted and defective goods. The report's recommendation to station inspectors abroad will provide us with another level of security to keep dangerous products from ever reaching our shores."
"The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a small agency, teetering on the verge of irrelevancy because of years of neglect, mismanagement and outdated authority. The Senate has a bill ready to go to the floor that will bring this agency out of the shadows, making it the robust, consumer watchdog agency it ought to have been all along."
This was a lesson that our predecessors in Congress learned 100 years ago when they first established the Food & Drug Administration. It seems like this is a lesson lost on the Bush administration. There have been a lot of recommended diaries on food and pet food safety, and Durbin's amendment would address some of these concerns.
And on a similar note, the House held hearings on toy safety; Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky:
"Meth is a huge scourge in Montana and in many rural areas around our country," Baucus said. "That’s why stamping out meth is one of my top priorities. I’m committed to getting it off our streets, out of communities and away from everyone who calls the Big Sky state home."
"The meth problem in this country is real, and unfortunately it affects all aspects of our communities – even our children," said Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) "We need to make fighting meth a national priority, and it is essential that we provide law enforcement officials with the resources and training they need to protect our families from this epidemic, particularly in rural America."
"Meth is poisoning our communities and is especially rampant in the rural areas of America and my state of Colorado," said Senator Ken Salazar (D-Colo.). "Meth usage is the number one challenge many of our law enforcement officers face and while we have made incremental progress in recent years, the war against meth is far from over. To prevail in this fight, we must ensure that our local law enforcement officials have the resources necessary to combat this scourge and I, along with my Democratic colleagues, am committed to fight at the federal level to make funding efforts to combat meth a top priority."
However, is this a matter of meth being a public health hazard, or the war on drugs creating crimes that did not exist before? For instance, pot is not any more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol; therefore, government has no business regulating it. But if meth causes people to become violent towards others, then that means that it becomes a public health issue, and should be cracked down on.
But the key word here is public health. If someone is smoking small quantities of it in their home and is not hurting anyone, that is not something that should warrant arrest and prosecution. But if someone is taking it and harming others, then we should set up special drug courts that would put people into rehab programs and that would supervise them when they are done.
And we cannot forget the fact that a disproportionate number of people who are hauled before courts on drug charges are minorities. And yet, the reality is different; for instance, I spoke with someone whose dad was on the neighborhood watch, and they once busted a crack house. The customers were mostly White.
And there is an issue of priorities as well -- how many lives do each meth addict ruin? And how many lives do corporate criminals ruin?
We, the undersigned veterans and homeless organizations representing millions of American veterans and soldiers deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world, strongly urge you to support the Labor, Health & Human Services, & Education appropriations bill (Labor-HHS) and pledge to override a presidential veto.
Next week Congress will send the President an appropriations package that will fund America's priorities, everything from national security to our veterans to health, education and job training. It includes the Defense appropriations bill, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs appropriations bill and the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education appropriations bill.
While most veteran-related programs are funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services provide critical services to help veterans, especially the two-thirds of returning veterans who have not enrolled in the federal veterans' health care program.
This bill contains critical services that America's veterans, soldiers, and their families depend on when they return home. The president has threatened to veto nearly all appropriations bills that provide more than his FY 2008 budget request, including Labor-HHS. With a Presidential veto looming over this bill these critical services for veterans are at risk.
President Bush has threatened to veto this package because of the inclusion of the Labor-HHS bill. However, that veto would mean cuts in funding for these critical programs:
$3.4 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which provides mental health and suicide prevention services. Experts believe that conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may put veterans at risk of suicide. Alarmingly, a new report found that Army suicides recently reached a 26 year high.
$228 million for the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training program to help returning veterans returning find good paying jobs, enforce their rights as veterans seeking employment.
$23.6 million for the Military veterans that comprise 23 percent of America's homeless population in the Homeless Veterans Program.
$10 million to help Americans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) receive emergency and hospital care, rehabilitation, education, and long-term support. Experts say TBI is a signature injury of service in Iraq and that many returning National Guard soldiers will rely on the community-based systems of care funded by the Labor-HHS bill, rather than VA provided care.
We strongly urge you to support the appropriations package that funds ALL veterans programs, including Labor – HHS funding, and pledge to override a presidential veto.
After asking America's men and women in uniform to serve their country on long deployments, the least we can do is provide for their care here at home.
Iraq Veterans Against the War
National Coalition for the Homeless
Veterans of Modern Warfare
Help Wounded Heroes
Coalition to Support America's Heroes
Military Families Speak Out
Gold Star Families Speak Out
This is why Reid's cave-in on the Iraq funding supplemental was such a mistake. Now, the President can pursue a scorched earth policy by threatening to veto bills unless they contain exactly what he wants. What Reid has yet to recognize is that if you give the President an inch, he will take a mile. The President is now applying this strategy of stubbornness and petulance across the board.
FROM THE HOUSE:
Congress overwhelmingly overturned President Bush’s ill-advised veto of the Water Resources Development Act and reaffirmed our commitment to protect Americans from natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes. This long overdue legislation will allow for critical investments to protect communities from flooding by building and repairing floodwalls and levees, as well as restoring wetlands that absorb floodwaters.
Much of our nation’s infrastructure is outdated and in some cases crumbling, placing lives, property, and commerce at risk. The President argues that $23 billion over 15 years is too much to spend on Hurricane Katrina recovery, flood control, navigation, hurricane protection, and environmental restoration across the country. Yet we are spending almost as much on the disastrous war in Iraq every two months.
The New Direction Congress will not put our nation at continued risk so the President can mount a disingenuous bid to appear fiscally responsible. This Congress pays for the priorities of the American people. This President has not.
When Kit Bond issues a strong statement in favor of the override, you know that Bush's petulance is wearing thin with even his own fellow Republicans. This override is a direct result of our taking a strong stand on Bush's horrific disaster at Katrina and never giving in an inch to the Republicans.
"Mr. Chairman, as you mentioned, after 9/11 we started exporting something that was foreign to us, it was strange, we were exporting our fear and our anger, showing a sort of snarling face to the world rather than the more traditional exports – that Ms. McCollum spoke about – of hope, of optimism and opportunity. Now we, on the commission, believe at the core of the problem is that we have made the war on terror or the central component of our global organization. To be sure terrorism is real, and it’s a growing threat. But the fact of the matter remains that absent access to WMD the terrorists do not pose an existential threat to our way of life. They can hurt us, they have hurt us, they will try to hurt us again but they can’t change our way of life. However, we can change our way of life by the way we react to them. We react through the excessive use of force, or rejection of policies that are important to our friends and to our allies, we appear to put ourselves above the international legal norms – that encourages rather than counters terrorist recruitment overseas."
In other words, by Bush's own standards, we have failed in our so-called "War against Terror." He himself said that the terrorists hated us for our freedom. Therefore, given that we have significantly eroded our freedoms in a futile effort to stop terrorists, then by Bush's own standards, the terrorists have won. Armitage is now saying what John Edwards has been saying for the last few months -- the "War on Terror" is merely a bumper sticker slogan that does not aid in the stopping of terrorists in any way, shape, or form. This suggests that John Edwards is driving the debate on terrorism just like he is on many other issues as well.
Congressman Patrick Murphy calls him on his lie when Bush said we had to do whatever it takes to support our troops.
"And yet, two weeks ago, President Bush said and I quote, ‘America should do what it takes to support our troops.’ The president criticizes the spending priorities of this Congress but stands in the way of a pay increase for our troops. I say the president should do what it takes to support our troops. This pay raise is long overdue and it is necessary and President Bush’s opposition to it is simply unconscionable."