Chairwoman Mikulski Floor Statement on Disabled Military COLA & Omnibus Agreement

Release Date: 
Tuesday, January 14, 2014

COMMITTEE on APPROPRIATIONS

For Immediate Release

CHAIRWOMAN BARBARA A. MIKULSKI

January 14, 2014

Contact: Vince Morris 202-224-1010

NOTE TO ASSIGNMENT EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: Senator Mikulski’s remarks on the Senate floor are available for broadcast quality download.

Audio of Senator Mikulski’s remarks is available – here.

Video of Senator Mikulski’s remarks is available – here.

CHAIRWOMAN MIKULSKI’S FLOOR STATEMENT ON OMNIBUS & DISABLED VETERANS COLA

"I want to report to the Senate some very good news. I rise today as the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, and I wish to announce that the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 has been completed in the committee process. We have completed our negotiations, and the bill has been filed in the House, and should be considered in the House and Senate this week.

"What does that mean? Well, first of all, our Appropriations Committee has met the test of the Constitution. Article 1, Section 9, of the Constitution directs that there be an appropriations process, though the committee is not referred to by name, but that every year we review the annual spending of the federal government and vote upon it. We also followed the law by following the bipartisan budget act forged by Budget Committee Chairs Senator Murray and Congressman Ryan.

We meet the requirements of the Budget Control Act, which looks at total spending for the federal government, mandatory spending and then discretionary spending.

"We Appropriators handle all of the accounts for discretionary spending, and guess what? The Budget Committee puts a cap on us, and that's great. We actually have a cap on spending that everybody knows and most voted for. So we have a cap, by law, on discretionary spending of $1.012 trillion for fiscal year 2014. Our work within the 12 subcommittees stayed within that cap. We met compelling human needs. We certainly preserved national security. We looked out for our human capital, particularly our children, in terms of education. We invested in physical capital by improving infrastructure. We also invested in the long-range needs of our country by putting public investments into important research and development, like $1 billion more for NIH.

"We also met the mandate of the American people who told us to work together, be bipartisan, work across the aisle, and work across the dome. And you know what? We did it. They also said when the bill comes up, don't do it with brinkmanship and don't do it with showmanship. Get the job done in a commonsense way that promotes growth in our country but at the same time looks at reducing debt. They said don't do showdown politics, and we won't. We will pass the bill because we've met our deadline. They said don't put government on auto pilot with something called continuing funding resolutions. We don't do that either. Every one of our 12 subcommittees are in this comprehensive bill.

"We've dealt with difficult and divisive policy issues but we did it with diligence and determination, and I must add, we tried to promote an atmosphere of civility as we did it. It was tense. And it was intense. But at the end of the day we did more pinpointing of how to do the job than finger pointing at each other. Negotiations were conducted that way. The House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Mr. Hal Rogers, the gentleman from Kentucky, and I forged this agreement along with Ranking Members, Senator Shelby of Alabama and Congressman Lowey of New York.

"We didn't do it alone. There was bipartisan agreement of all the subcommittee Chairs and over 50 members of the House and Senate. We met a very stringent deadline. When we left here on December 20, we had to produce a bill by January 15. That's tomorrow. That's when the continuing resolution expires. We're asking for a 72-hour extension, not to finish the job, but so that we can deliberate on the floor in both the House and Senate. We worked day and night. I joked and said during the deliberations, ‘I wish I was as thin as I am stretched,’ because we really worked at it. Over the holidays our staffs and our subcommittee chairmen worked. The only time they took off was Christmas Day, so we want to thank each and every one of them for their dedication.

"As I said, this bill required very difficult choices. It meant give-and-take. And it meant more giving on both sides because there were no big takes. We worked under a very tight budget. $1 trillion. It sounds like a lot of money. And you know what? It is. But of the $1 trillion, $520 billion was for Defense. The other $492 billion was in discretionary spending for all of the domestic agencies.

"So we did meet our national security needs, but we also were very mindful, and I was particularly mindful of the social contract with the American people. I wanted to have a bill to help create jobs in this country, real work in rebuilding our physical infrastructure with roads and bridges and clean water. I also wanted to look ahead to the long-range needs of our country in terms of research and discoveries, not only to win Nobel Prizes but to win the markets to help us promote exports overseas, accelerated manufacturing institutes where governments could work with this new emerging dynamic, small-scale manufacturing. I've lost over 12% of manufacturing in my state. So manufacturing is important.

"And we wanted to make sure that families felt they had a government that was on their side. First of all, helping with school safety. We have a bipartisan program in here to promote school safety. But at the same time we promote quality child care and early childhood

education. We then make those kinds of investments with an eye on getting value for taxpayers. Our colleagues are very clear and so are the American people, we must have a more frugal line. I instructed my colleagues on the Senate side to look at those programs that are dated, duplicative or dysfunctional. They get a date to eliminate many of them, and we will be back next year doing another scrub. If you notice, there has been no atmosphere of crisis.

"Another thing that I am proud of in this bill is that we avoided contentious policy riders. I think we have been able to deal with those in a way where they will not be a problem for either side of the aisle. However, there was one tactical mistake in the budget act that I’m proud that we were able to correct. This was at the very top of our agenda when Mr. Rogers and I met. We were deeply concerned about the cost of living issue related to military retirees of working age who were disabled or were survivors. Their COLAs were mistakenly reduced by 1% in the recent budget agreement. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 fixes that problem. It is limited in scope. It's limited to disabled military retirees and survivors of departed service members. The neediest of the needy.

"We hope as time moves on there is a Presidential and DoD commission on pension reform and we'll have a comprehensive approach. I also want my colleagues to know we were very mindful of these veterans, so we did this fix for the military retirees of working age who are disabled, who are survivors of departed service members, but we also did something else. If you go to the web site in the House, which has the most detail because the bill pending there, we really put money into veterans' health care. We put money into fixing the veterans' disability backlog. I know the gentlelady from Massachusetts believes that if you're on the front line, you shouldn't have to wait at the back of the line to get your disability benefits determined. So we have pushed for those reforms and we have put the taxpayers' dollars behind it because we knew that's the way they would want us to spend their money.

"We have also maintained the veterans' education benefit because many of our young men and women coming back home who served so well over there need to brush up on education here to move them to jobs here. So I hope in voting for this bill, people realize that it's a vote to support our most vulnerable patriots, to make sure we keep our promises to our veterans, and that we also then look at this comprehensive bill that we have moved ahead without rancor, without roar and we stayed within the parameters of the bipartisan budget agreement given to us.

"So the House will consider this

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