Mikulski Statement at First Full Committee Markup of Fiscal Year 2017

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 2017 Full Committee markup.  The Committee considered the fiscal year 2017 subcommittee allocations as well as the fiscal year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill and the fiscal year 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill.


The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:


“Thank you, Chairman Cochran.  We share the same goal to enact all 12 appropriations bills, doing the job of this Committee and the Senate.  To do so we need to follow three principles: 1) implement the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 with parity between defense and non-defense discretionary funding, 2) approve fair allocations, and 3) keep out poison pill riders.

“The allocations before us today adhere to the top line, of $1.07 trillion, established in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.  The topline is essentially flat, yet every subcommittee faces challenges, from the rising cost of veterans medical care to crumbling infrastructure to national security at home and abroad.  That means flat is the new increase.  It will be a challenge for each subcommittee.  If I were sitting in Senator Cochran’s chair I might have made modestly different decisions, but I believe this allocation is fair.

“The allocations are fair, but they are not generous.  The next Congress will need to address the consequences of sequester-level funding in fiscal year 2018 and beyond.  We must make public investments to rebuild America’s infrastructure of ports, roads and bridges; create jobs and opportunity in research, education and health; and address real national security threats to our country at home and abroad.

“This year we need to act without delay to fight rapidly developing emergencies.  Opioids and heroin know no boundaries, geographic or economic.  Lead in our water pipes is creating a generation of children with health and education challenges.  And no wall can stop the mosquitos from spreading the Zika virus.  These are challenges that are urgent, temporary and unanticipated.

“The Budget Act specifically allows emergency spending and it’s consistent with budget deal.  So, I look forward to working with the Chairman to enact emergency supplemental funding for opioids treatment and prevention, Flint and Zika.


“But supplemental funding is a fight for another day.  Today we are marking up the allocations and two bills, the Energy and Water Development bill and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (VA-MilCon) bill.  Chairman Alexander and Chairman Kirk, working with their Ranking Members Feinstein and Tester, have developed bills free of the poison pill riders that would invite a Presidential veto.  These bills show the path forward, keeping appropriations bills about spending and leaving policy fights to the authorizing committees.  I plan to vote for both bills.


“I am glad we’re moving VA-MilCon to the head of the line, so promises made to our nation’s veterans are promises kept.  The bill funds an array of vital programs for the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans and military troops as well as their families.  This is a well-balanced bill, and I thank Chairman Kirk and Ranking Member Tester for their hard work and cooperation in crafting it.


“Of note, this bill makes good on and continues the practice of advance appropriations for veterans benefits, which I first included in the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill as Chairwoman of the Committee.  VA Medical Services for fiscal year 2017 is fully funded at the President’s request of $52.8 billion.  This is $1 billion more than what we advanced last year to address increased demand for VA medical care both within and outside the VA health care system.


“The bill also provides greater oversight and transparency by creating a new Community Care account for funding veterans medical care for rural care and specialties outside the VA medical network.  This is particularly important as VA allocates more resources to community care to speed the delivery of health care to veterans.


“I am particularly pleased that the bill includes additional funding above the requested level for several very important VA initiatives, including for disability claims processing.  Great progress has been made to eliminate the backlog in processing initial claims, but unfortunately the backlog in appeals is rapidly building.  The bill includes $2.9 billion for claims processing, $30 million more than the request, to hire 300 new claims processors and 240 additional employees for the Board of Veterans Appeals.  All will be focused on one job: reducing the appeals backlog.


“The bill addresses the specific needs of female veterans in terms of both research and medical services.  The bill mandates that the VA research and acquire prosthetic devices specifically designed for women.  There is also $5.3 billion to treat the more than 500,000 female veterans who get care through the VA.  Of that amount, $535 million, $20 million more than the request, is targeted directly for gender-specific health care.  Women are integral to our military and should not be an afterthought at the VA.


“Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Feinstein also drafted a good bill.  The Energy and Water Development bill supports key projects to keep commerce flowing in our ports and includes funding for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that exceeds the fiscal year 2017 target of $1.14 billion.  The Port of Baltimore, which generates nearly 15,000 jobs in my home state of Maryland, is supported by this bill.


“The bill has strong funding for science.  Scientific advancements in the U.S. give U.S. business a competitive edge and allow discoveries that benefit human health and the environment by improving power plants and tapping cleaner energy sources.  We want to win the Nobel prizes and win the profits that come from new businesses, new products and new ideas.


“We also need to create jobs in rural America.  That’s why I’m so pleased about the $5 million increase for the Appalachian Regional Commission.  It is a real job creator, working with community colleges in places like Maryland’s mountain counties of Garrett, Allegany and Washington, to train professionals with the skills to enter high demand fields, immediately.  The Commission also makes water and sewer investments that promote employment opportunities and provide safe drinking water.


“I also want to thank Chairman Alexander for continuing the Department of Energy’s Super Truck program to develop the next generation of energy efficient engines for heavy-duty trucks.  This innovation effort supports 1,600 jobs in Maryland.


“I look forward to consideration of the allocations, the Energy and Water bill, and the VA-MilCon bill.  Senators have thoughtful amendments, so there will be lively debate here.  The path forward is clear.  We can do appropriations one by one if we have the time on the floor and the will of the Senate for fairness, parity and no poison pill riders.”



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