Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lincoln on U.S. Senate Floor: Congress is Committed To Funding Troops

Senator Blanche Lincoln today delivered remarks on the floor of the Senate to dispute President Bush’s statements questioning the resolve of Congress to provide necessary funding to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last month, Lincoln joined her Senate colleagues in passing an emergency spending bill that was above the President’s request and would provide nearly $100 million for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation would provide additional dollars for troops’ combat equipment, housing, and health care needs, specifically mental health care for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, the legislation sets measurable benchmarks for the Iraqi government, such as assuming control of their own security operations, containing sectarian violence, and making the tough decisions toward political reconciliation.

Lincoln believes this legislation offers the necessary guidelines to bring our troops home safely and as soon as possible.

The following are Lincoln’s remarks on the Senate floor, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about an issue that is on the forefront of the minds of many Americans, the war in Iraq.

But before I begin, I’d like to take a moment to extend my heartfelt condolences to the Virginia Tech community.

The entire nation grieves with you at your tremendous loss, and I want you to know that the state of Arkansas stands with you as you begin to cope with this senseless tragedy. You will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers in the coming weeks and months.

Mr. President, news from the Pentagon last week hit many families throughout the state of Arkansas particularly hard.

Four years into the conflict in Iraq, the Army National Guard put 13,000 reservists, including nearly 2,000 in the largest National Guard unit in Arkansas, the 39th Infantry Brigade, on notice that it should be prepared for a second deployment at the end of the year.

The Pentagon’s decision to potentially deploy these troops marks the first time during Operation Iraqi Freedom that full Guard units would be called on for a second tour of duty.

Our Arkansas troops already have performed bravely in Iraq and will no doubt do so again.

Today, along with the many Arkansans honorably serving in the active-duty military, over 1,600 of our citizen soldiers have been activated for service in the Middle East and along our southern border with Mexico.

The 142nd Fires Brigade based in Fayetteville mobilized last week and is expected in Iraq this summer.

80 members of the 213th Area Support Medical Company are preparing for their mobilization orders in June. Many of these members served in Iraq before with the 296th Ambulance Company.

The Headquarters Company, 871st Troop Command is also expected to be mobilized in June.

Since the war began, our troops have performed their mission with incredible bravery and skill in some of the harshest conditions imaginable.

Because of their sacrifice, we have seen a popularly elected government replace a ruthless dictator. And we have seen a democratic Constitution – approved by the Iraqi people – replace authoritarian rule.

Tragically, we also have seen civilian mismanagement of this war that is not reflective of the tremendous sacrifice put forth by our men and women in uniform.

Today, more than 3,300 service members – 56 with Arkansas ties – have given their lives in this undertaking and more than 24,000 have been wounded.

Now, as our troops contemplate the thought of returning to Iraq to continue an undefined mission, President Bush has questioned the resolve of Congress to provide our troops with the resources they need to finish the job.

I take exception to the President’s comments and want to make clear to the American people that Congress is committed to providing our troops with everything they need to safely and effectively complete their mission.

Just last month, I voted with a majority of my Senate colleagues for an emergency spending bill that was above the President’s request and would provide nearly $100 million for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We met each of his requests and provided every nickel that he asked for and more.

The additional dollars we approved provide for their combat equipment, housing, and health care needs, particularly addressing mental health issues for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder.

Our legislation also sets measurable benchmarks for the Iraqi government, such as assuming control of their own security operations, containing sectarian violence, and making the tough decisions toward political reconciliation that desperately need to be made.

The Senate did this in record time. In the past two years, it took well over 100 days to get to the supplemental. We’ve acted in less than 50 days to get it passed in the Senate, and we anticipate sending him a bill next week.

Despite our best efforts to find common ground, the President has threatened to veto this bill once it reaches his desk, even though the final language has yet to be negotiated.

What is so egregious about our approach that the President will not consider signing it? The President points to two issues in particular.

First, he claims that this bill "would impose restrictions on our military commanders and set an arbitrary date for withdrawal from Iraq, giving our enemies the victory they desperately want."

I would argue that the constantly shifting objectives of this war make it difficult to imagine an end to the U.S. commitment.

Americans are exhausted with it, and the President’s justification for staying in Iraq becomes harder to stomach each day.

As Iraq slides deeper into an increasingly violent civil war, the President’s high-risk surge strategy our military involvement.

This strategy also comes at a time when the U.S. intelligence community reports that al-Qaeda has become an increased threat to our national security because we have devoted so much manpower, resources, and attention solely on Iraq.

And it comes at a time when our own military reports that its readiness has dramatically eroded because it is over-extended and under-equipped.

Our bill seeks to address these issues.

In the Senate bill, we acknowledge that the conditions in Iraq have changed substantially since we originally authorized the war in 2002.

We are no longer fighting an enemy that will one day show the white flag and surrender. Instead, we are now the referee in a brutal fight for dominance between two warring religious sects and countless militias who are all hungry for power.

While I agree with the President that we should not leave Iraq in chaos, U.S. troops should also not be in the position of policing a civil war.

That is why U.S. policy must focus on a strategy that encourages Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for their country and attempt to find a political solution to the conflict.

Our efforts are already having their intended effect. On Tuesday, the President’s own Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, stated that "the debate in Congress has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited. The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."

The President has also chided Congress for providing much needed emergency funding for items such as Katrina recovery, agricultural disaster relief, the State Children’s Health Insurance known as S-CHIP, and fire fighting to name a few.

He has attempted to paint this funding as pork barrel spending when the reality is that these are dollars that will be used to rebuild Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama; dollars that will be used for farmers to offset losses from drought; dollars used for the health care needs of our nation’s neediest children; and dollars for our first responders.

These are funds that are needed now, and the supplemental offers the best opportunity to address these emergencies.

Moving forward, I am pleased that President Bush met with Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi yesterday. I see that as a sign of progress, but I am also disappointed that the President may choose to veto the bill we send him.

For the security of our country and for the sake of our troops, it is time for a new direction.

It must be a direction that better reflects the reality that real progress ultimately lies with Iraqis taking responsibility for their own future.

This new direction must also acknowledge that we must do more for our troops – when they are in harm’s way and when they return home.

They not only deserve our appreciation and support, they deserve the very best equipment, armor, and other battlefield amenities necessary to complete their mission, as well as the proper care, benefits, and attention once their military service is complete.

Our troops are worthy of this commitment, and I strongly believe this bill offers the necessary guidelines to bring them home safely and as soon as possible.

Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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