Mikulski Remarks at Full Committee Markup of Interior & Homeland Security Appropriations Bills

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, participated in the Full Committee markup of the fiscal year 2016 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies (Interior) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bills.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Chairman Cochran.  Today, we have two bills: Interior and Homeland Security.  I appreciate the Chairman’s decision to move the Committee forward, but these bills are based on the inadequate post-sequester funding levels of the Budget Control Act.  Regrettably, the Interior bill is also riddled with poison pill riders.
“Let me be clear.  The President will veto bills at the sequester level and bills with poison pill riders designed for confrontation.  Democrats will vote against motions to proceed to these bills on the floor.
“It has been asserted that Democrats are driving us to a government shutdown.  Our intent is the opposite.  We want to negotiate a sequel to Murray-Ryan, now, to eliminate sequester.  The only way we will have a shutdown, showdown, government by self-made crisis, is if the Republican leadership refuses to send the President bills he can sign.
“I am seeking to speed up the process. Why go through months of confrontation, just to end up with a veto?  We need to get our jobs done, but to do that we need a sequel to Murray-Ryan.  And we need it sooner rather than later, so we can end sequester and invest in compelling national needs.
“The bills before us today show the problems of the Republican budget.  The Homeland bill is a good bill and I will support the motion to report it.  But the bill could be better with the addition of the $1.2 billion in the Shaheen amendment for strengthening infrastructure, cybersecurity, state and local first responders, and resiliency.
“However, I will not support the motion to report the Interior bill.  It has inadequate funding for the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and related agencies to meet their missions.  It is $406 million below the fiscal year 2015 Omnibus level, $2.2 billion below the requested level, and cuts clean water and drinking water State Revolving Funds (SRF) by a total of $533 million.  The bill also adds 11 poison pill riders, seven of which make permanent changes to fundamental environmental protection laws.
“If we want to pass appropriations bills that will not be vetoed, we need a budget deal now so we can meet the needs of the American people for security, infrastructure, jobs and the future.
“I also want to speak in support of Ranking Member Udall’s Interior funding amendment, and Ranking Member Shaheen’s Homeland Security funding amendment.
“I think Senator Udall’s amendment demonstrates why the current budget caps are short-sighted, unsustainable and irresponsible.  The amendment puts funding right where it belongs.
“First, it restores devastating cuts to state water infrastructure grants.  The base bill cuts SRFs by more than half a billion dollars, just to make the topline balance.  These grants help states build clean drinking water and sewer systems, and fill basic needs for communities with an immediate benefit of construction jobs.  Balancing the budget on the backs of communities by cutting job-creating grants isn’t fiscally conservative, it’s fiscally irresponsible.
“Next year, we celebrate the National Parks Service’s (NPS) centennial, marking 100 years since President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Parks Act.  People of every age and nationality visit our park every – and recently, in record numbers.  In 2014, people made more than 292 million visits, which was a seven percent increase from 2013.  Early data from 2015 shows yet another increase in visitors to our beautiful parks.
“But our parks face an $11.5 billion maintenance backlog.  Keeping our parks in shape prevents our national treasures from being tattered and worn down, and provides jobs fixing them up.  We see the impact of poor NPS maintenance right here in our own backyard.  Two lanes of the Memorial Bridge are closed indefinitely and tourist buses are even banned from crossing it.  The Memorial Bridge is an example and symbol of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and the desperate need to raise the post-sequester caps that are hollowing out our investments in America.
“I also appreciate Senator Udall’s proposals to restore the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) clean water and clean air programs; fulfill our trust responsibilities to Native Americans and Alaskan Natives; sustain the Smithsonian and other cultural agencies; and fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at the requested budget level.  I will vote to support the Udall amendment, and I urge my colleagues to join me.
“Senator Shaheen’s amendment adds $1.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security.  This bill really demonstrates that national security isn’t just Defense.  We can’t simply raise the Defense caps and still defend America. 
“To defend America, we need our Coast Guard saving lives, seizing drug traffickers and patrolling the Arctic to keep us safe.  We need our state and local responders arriving first on the scene whether it’s a house fire or terrorist attack.  We need cyber warriors to have the necessary resources to protect us so criminals and nation states can’t steal our personal data or products they didn’t invent.  The Shaheen Amendment helps defend America on all of these fronts.
“The amendment adds $342 million for Coast Guard infrastructure, including funding for Fast Response Cutters, an Offshore Patrol Cutter, and a new polar icebreaker.  Many cutters built in the 1960s or earlier are not fit for service in the 21st century.  In the arctic we only have one functioning polar icebreaker, and according to the Coast Guard’s analysis, we need at least three heavy icebreakers.  Russia currently has 41 polar icebreakers, with five more under construction.  The Coast Guard needs to be recapitalized, but its budget has been hamstrung by insufficient topline for non-defense discretionary spending.
“We don’t just defend America from terrorists at our borders, we defend America in every community against the very real threat of homegrown terrorists.  Senator Shaheen’s amendment adds $585 million to prepare first responders, including funding for firefighter grants, Emergency Management Performance Grants and state and urban area security grants.  These are needed resources for the firefighters, police officers and emergency managers who run to danger to help others.
“Terrorists, organized crime and nation states are probing our computer networks for vulnerabilities.  The distressing Office of Personnel Management (OPM) cyber breaches are affecting more and more federal employees, including many Marylanders.  We need to be forward thinking about protecting dot-mil, dot-gov and dot-com. 
“This amendment provides $22 million in added cybersecurity funding to fix the federal dot-gov systems.  These funds will allow DHS to immediately identify other extreme vulnerabilities in federal agency networks; produce budgets that allow federal agencies to secure their networks before the next breach; and create concrete measures to chart the progress of each agency.
“We need to secure our federal information.  After all, why spend money to cure cancer, when you can steal the cure from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration or the Patent Office?
“I urge a yes vote on the Shaheen amendment, so we can provide the needed resources to defend America.”