Mikulski Offers Alternative Allocations, Providing the Needed Resources for America’s Security & Future

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, participated in the first fiscal year 2016 Full Committee markup.  The Committee considered the fiscal year 2016 subcommittee allocations as well as the fiscal year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) bill and the fiscal year 2016 Energy and Water Development (E&W) bill.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you Chairman Cochran, together we have approached our work with civility, cooperation and mutual respect.  I also appreciate the hard work of Subcommittee Chairs Alexander and Kirk and Ranking Members Feinstein and Tester, as well as all of their staffs.
“But Mr. Chairman, the Republican budget is based on the post-sequester funding levels of the Budget Control Act.  This funding ceiling is spartan.  It does not contain enough resources to meet the needs of the American people for their security, jobs and future.
“We need to keep goods moving through our ports.  Every one dollar we spend on Army Corps of Engineers projects nets $16 in economic benefits.  Our veterans deserve the health benefits they’ve earned, but unfortunately the MilCon-VA bill before us fails to fully fund the costs of a life-saving Hepatitis-C drug.
“Every other bill we’ll consider this year will have similar flaws: failure to invest in research and innovation to find cures and spur economic growth; failure to invest in infrastructure so we don’t have to choose between rebuilding crumbling bridges and making trains safer; and failure to invest in our children by providing robust funding for education programs like Title I and IDEA, making college affordable through Pell grants, and making homes and communities livable through lead paint abatement and other efforts.  That is why I will be offering an alternative allocation.
“Today, we markup an Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill with a three percent increase from last year and a Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill with an eight percent increase from last year.  But, the overall budget is essentially a freeze, which means the increases for these two bills will be paid for with cuts to education and job training, investments in cities, and transportation infrastructure.
“That is why, although we are moving the process along today, I want to put the Chairman on notice.  The President will veto bills at this allocation, and Democrats will vote against motions to proceed to these bills on the Senate floor.
“We need a sequel to Murray-Ryan and we need it sooner rather than later, so we can write realistic bills that keep America safe and invest in our future.
“The substitute allocations that I am offering total $1.091 trillion, which is equal to the President’s proposed cap level and $74 billion more than the allocations offered by the Chairman.  My allocation also conforms to the President’s request for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending of $58 billion, which is $38 billion less than the Chairman’s allocation.
“I want to begin by talking about OCO.  Defense hawks on the other side recognize that our national defense require more funding.  To do more, we need more resources.  But rather than raise the austere budget caps, the Republican budget instead resorted to a gimmick.
“Republicans raised OCO funding by $38 billion so the extra funding wouldn’t count against the spending caps.  OCO is intended to provide for costs of overseas operations, but these additional resources are not solely required to be used for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Our Generals have told us that OCO is a band aid and doesn’t fix the fundamental problem that the post-sequester levels for defense are too low.
“The President’s budget and my allocation call for raising the caps equally for defense and non-defense.  We can’t meet the needs of our national security just by funding defense.  The security of America is funded in every discretionary bill. 
“Funding to protect our borders against drug traffickers, human traffickers and other threats is not provided in our defense bill, but in our Department of Homeland Security bill. But strict budget caps have cut Coast Guard enforcement by one-third over the last six years.
“Keeping America safe and secure includes protecting us from violent weather and natural disasters.  Reliable forecasts save lives and livelihoods.  They also save money, because one-third of our GDP is impacted by weather.  Protecting Americans from freaky weather is not funded in our defense bill, but in our Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill.
“We also have to protect our streets and neighborhoods.  While we pursue criminal justice reform and heal the relationship between communities and police, we still need cops on the beat, FBI agents rooting out terrorism and U.S. Marshals tracking child predators.  Protecting our streets and neighborhoods is not funded in defense, but in our CJS bill.
“America is also more secure when we meet our promises to our veterans without making them wait in long lines to see a doctor or file a claim.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a backlog of over $10 billion in hospital and clinic maintenance.  Making sure promises made to veterans are promises kept is not funded in our defense bill – it’s funded in our MilCon-VA bill.
“In order to keep America and Americans safe, we also must invest in communities.  For example, we fund Community Development Block Grants which are flexible so local officials and organizations have access to the resources they need to solve local problems.  Investing in strong communities is not funded in our defense bill, but in our Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill.
“We build the economy by supporting innovation to create new ideas and new products made in America and sold throughout the world.  Building our economic strength is not just funded in our defense bill – it is also funded in every other bill brought before this Committee.
“The Chairman’s allocations are not adequate to meet these needs for securing America.  The other side may assert that the Mikulski allocations are ‘big spending,’ but the total for my allocations is equal to the total for fiscal year 2010 – that was six years ago!  The needs of the American people have not diminished over the last six years.  There are consequences of these cuts. 
“Over the last six years we’ve seen our infrastructure begin to crumble, with more than 60,000 bridges in this country structurally deficient and waste water systems needing $17 billion worth of upgrades.  Our response to these problems can’t be to do more with less.  At this point, we need to realize that we’re doing less with less.  We should not let America become a pothole nation.
“When Americans try to get help from our government, they often get a busy signal – not because the employees aren’t busy, but because they don’t have the resources to answer everyone’s request.  So veterans wait six months for disability claims to be processed, Social Security offices close on Wednesday at noon, and if you’re lucky enough to get through on the phone you’ll wait 35 minutes for the Internal Revenue Service to answer your question.
“The bills we have before us today fail to keep promises to our veterans with inadequate funding for medical care and fail to invest in one of the things that makes America essential: innovations in new technologies.  Energy technologies could help end dependency on foreign oil and create jobs in America by winning markets around the world with affordable solar panels, competitive wind energy and new clean energy manufacturing.
“I urge my colleagues to vote for the substitute allocations.  And even if my allocations fail, I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will help us get a new Murray-Ryan deal.  We really need a deal sooner rather than later.  We owe it to all the people we represent to write realistic bills that protect America and provide opportunity for all Americans.”

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