Mr. President, I am pleased to join the Senator from Hawaii, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, in presenting this supplemental appropriations bill to the Senate.
The central purposes of the bill are to fund the military and diplomatic surge in Afghanistan, to respond to natural disasters in this country and in Haiti, and to address the immediate challenges we face from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
It has been five months since the President announced his strategy to achieve stability in Afghanistan. Central to that strategy is the addition of some 30,000 troops into theater, together with a significant increase in aid and diplomatic resources to the region. Congress has the responsibility and the duty to carefully review and consider the President?s request for these supplemental appropriations and to approve the expenditures of the funds that are necessary for a successful outcome, one that serves the interests of the United States. We must be mindful, however, that more than half of the additional troops called for in the President's plan have already arrived in Afghanistan. Spring and summer offensives are being mounted now, and in the coming months will become critical to our chances for success. It is also important that we act on the President?s request in a timely manner. We should not procrastinate or drag our feet. We should not force the Pentagon to juggle accounts, delay procurements and otherwise take actions that will detract from efforts in the field.
The Committee has spent several months, as the distinguished Chairman pointed out, carefully examining the supplemental requests made by the Defense Department and the State Department. Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton have testified before the Committee in support of their requests. The Committee members and staff have worked with other government officials and outside groups in order to refine the Committee's recommendations. While this bill includes many of the supplemental requests made by the President, some of his proposals were deemed premature, unwarranted or inappropriate for inclusion in an emergency supplemental appropriations bill.
The Committee also heard from both Democrat and Republican senators about urgent needs that were not addressed in the President?s supplemental requests. The Chairman and I, as well as the various subcommittee chairmen and ranking members, have worked hard to address those needs. We have limited the total cost of the bill to the amount requested by the President, and we have kept the bill focused on its central purposes.
In some parts of the country, recent natural disasters have left communities in desperate need of federal assistance, but with floodwaters still receding and damage assessments not yet complete, it has been difficult to respond to all the requests we have received. The Chairman and I will continue to work with senators representing those communities to see that the federal response is appropriate and addresses the most critical needs.
For those of us who represent the Gulf Coast, our states are dealing with a different kind of disaster. While it is not a natural disaster, it is a very serious event that will have very serious consequences for the natural environment, as well as for local economies throughout the region. We cannot predict now and we cannot now know what the long-term impacts of this spill will be. While the federal government is intimately involved in the response and cleanup efforts, clearly the parties responsible for the spill must bear the ultimate costs of cleanup and associated damages.
The President submitted an oil spill supplemental proposal one day prior to the committee's consideration of this bill. The proposal contained funding requests prompted by the spill but not directly tied to the Deepwater Horizon event. It also included broader policy proposals that would restructure the oil spill liability regime currently in place. The committee had very little time to review these proposals. We have decided to recommend funding only items that are within the committee's jurisdiction that will address urgent needs. We do not suggest that the committee has arrived at the perfect solution. There may be other proposals that should be included in this legislation, and there may be recommendations included by the committee that should be reconsidered based on additional analysis. I look forward to working with my colleagues from the Gulf Coast and all senators to address this unfortunate event.
During consideration of this bill in committee, several members identified additional funding needs or policy matters that they intend to raise during floor debate. Members not on the Committee will surely have amendments as well, and we look forward to working with all Senators to improve this bill where we can. But it is clear, Mr. President, that adding additional costs to this bill will both exacerbate our nation?s fiscal imbalance and potentially jeopardize our ability to rapidly get needed resources to our men and women in harm's way in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in other parts of the world.
This bill recommends $46 billion in discretionary appropriations and another $13 billion in mandatory funds. No matter how important the purposes, that is a significant sum of money. I expect amendments will be offered to offset some or all of these costs.
The Disaster Relief Fund of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is currently allocating funds for immediate needs only. The Fund owes states more than $1.5 billion to states for projects already approved to assist communities recovering from disasters. Going into hurricane season, the Fund has less than $900 million available to respond to disasters. One way or the other, we must take action to capitalize the Fund.
We must act with a sense of urgency to provide the resources needed to succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq. We should consider those requirements carefully, but I believe we will poorly serve our men and women in the field if we allow internal tactical battles to unduly delay delivery of a bill to the President, or if we burden this bill with other costs or legislative matters that are unrelated and controversial.
Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Hawaii and the able members of his staff for their work on this bill and moving it to this point through the Committee. I hope that our colleagues who have amendments will contact us so we can help arrange for consideration of those in a timely manner.