Chairwoman Mikulski Floor Statement on the FY15 Omnibus

WASHINGTON, D.C.Tonight, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, came to the Senate floor to speak about the bipartisan FY 2015 omnibus bill. Below are her remarks as delivered:
“I rise to speak on the Omnibus Spending Bill for fiscal year 2015. I wish to thank Majority Leader Harry Reid for his kind words about me. It’s 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, 219-206. It was well debated and the vote speaks for itself. It now comes to the Senate. And I’m here tonight to kick off that debate. 
“For hours after hours after hours over the last 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’ve got to start talking about what the good aspects of this bill are and why we did this bill in the first place. And tonight I want to remind people what we are doing. 
“First of all, we are funding the entire United States government’s discretionary spending. We have $562 billion in here for national defense to stand up for America, to make sure our troops have the best weapons and the best support and the best medical treatment. We have $562 billion, which is more money for our troops’ readinesss, as well as to fight ISIL and refurbish an aircraft carrier. We did our job and you'll hear more about that.
“We also wanted to fight Ebola, which had the American people near panic this fall. And 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 like Doctors Without Borders working in Africa.’ While they make the cover of "Time" magazine, they're now going to make the federal checkbook here in the United States of America. We have $5.4 billion here to deal with Ebola, a huge sum of money to fight it in Africa and also make sure we’re ready for any pandemic here. 
“And we also have a Samaritan set of money here to deal – I call it, that's my word – the Samaritan communities and hospitals that were willing to take the Ebola patients and care for them and treat them and make sure there was security both for them and the surrounding communities. Millions of dollars were spent, whether it was in Nebraska, whether it was in Georgia at Emory University, or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in my home state, where a patient flew into 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. 
“So we have money in there for national security. But we also have money in there 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're going to do something that was never done before. 
“We’re going to put in not only the money to meet what we said we would do to reform veteran health care – no more waiting lists, no more backlogs, no more of them being a victim of a dysfunctional Congress if it's a shutdown or gridlock. We then did something by working with the veterans’ service organizations and the authorizing committee members, like Senator Sanders, we now have advance appropriations here. So even if there's a shutdown or delay, our veterans will be taken care of. And there is more money in there for research. There's more money in there for care. There's 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, the results are not. 
“And we also increase the Department of Defense (DoD) money for medical research for prosthetic devices, for stunning achievements, like at my own Johns Hopkins, where they did a limb transplant. Working with DoD dollars, our gifted and talented surgeon was able to take a veteran and reattach limbs, muscle, nerve endings and also come up with the techniques to prevent rejection that often comes up in transplants. It's 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 will help him, one day will be able to help hundreds and then thousands. That’s what we do in Appropriations. We take good intentions and make big dreams possible. 
“We’re also proud that we passed the Child Care Development Block Grant Reauthorization, working on a bipartisan basis with Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina with the superb help of Senators Alexander and Harkin. We reformed quality standards for day care, but we did it in a way that reformed regulation without strangulation. Because of that bill, we’re going to have fire and safety inspections, better training for providers and background checks to make sure the kids are safe. The omnibus includes a $75 million increase to fund these reforms.
“The omnibus bill also protects America’s opportunity ladder by making college more affordable. This bill increases the maximum Pell grant by $100 for a maximum grant of $5,830. That means a student from a family of modest means will be able to buy an extra book or pay an extra lab fee.  So if you want to be a nurse or an inhalation therapist or a surgical tech, you have a government on your side to help you get there. But we also reform Pell grants so that any student who simultaneously is working on a GED and a college degree will be eligible for Pell grants. Senator Cardin and I went on a listening tour around Maryland to learn what families trying to pay for college are facing. We found out that there are many people at a certain point in life dropped out of school. Now they want to finish school and are working on their GED, making great progress. But now they will be eligible for the Pell Grant at the same time so they don’t lose time.
“And we’re also focused on safety issues. We have included funds in the Omnibus to support 149 contract air traffic control towers in rural communities. We’ve got five of those in Maryland – in Salisbury, Easton, Frederick, Middle River and Hagerstown. And while we’re looking at air traffic safety, we also want to support food safety. We’re funding the Food and Drug Administration at a level to allow them to meet the new food safety standards Congress has passed.
“I’m particularly proud of what we do for women in the bill. This legislation includes $430 million for the Violence Against Women Act.  We put funding in the bill to make sure that women who have been a victim of domestic violence aren’t doubly victimized – that once they’ve been attacked, the very forensics that are needed to go after the perpetrator are either stuck in a crime lab somewhere with a backlog or, even worse, sitting in a police locker instead of being tested.  That’s a record funding level.  A recent study found that more than 400,000 sexual assault kits sitting in police lockers instead of getting tested. Can you imagine that? Well, we’ve added a $40 million grant program to work with local police departments to get those rape kits tested. Some of these cases go back five, 10 and 15 years.
“There are other issues that 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, that we're focused on three items – and I don’t minimize their importance, I don’t minimize the value to debate them – I wanted people to know what is in this bill.
“And we had to deal with the omnibus, we had to deal with a trillion dollars because we were stiff-armed in bringing bills to the floor. We couldn't bring up the bills one at a time, so we have to bring all – all but Homeland Security – up now.
“And we faced 98 riders from the House bills, 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 good and important items. I really hope we pass this omnibus bill, because when we do, our country will be safer because we fight threats over there. It will be safer because we fight threats right here in our communities.
“But I believe the biggest threat that we face is gridlock, deadlock and the way that we paralyze ourselves by making the perfect the enemy of the good. No piece of legislation is perfect. I would be the first to say that, but also the good things in this bill won’t be found in a continuing resolution.
“And, by the way, people might say, ‘boy, this is a big bill, Senator Mikulski.’ It really is. I mean, it is the discretionary funding for our entire federal government. But it’s also up on the web site. You can go to our individual Subcommittees like Defense, Labor-HHS, Interior, Transportation Housing and Urban Development and you can read about what we did. I have the summaries here. I’m prepared tonight to read them all night but I know that we're 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 reached across the aisle and we reached across the Capitol dome.
“The House has done their job. Now I hope we do our job and that within the next 24 hours, we pass the omnibus spending bill. We’ll 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 and protect America and really prepare America for both today and the rest of the 21st century.
“Madam President, I look forward to working with you and my colleagues. I now yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.”