Madam President, I come to the floor today to express my deep disappointment - and the disappointment of so many people of my state - with the President's expected decision to veto the supplemental funding bill delivered to him by a bipartisan majority in Congress.
This bill provided our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with all of the equipment and resources that they need to continue the duties that they have been so bravely performing for more than four years.
The amount appropriated by Congress rose well above the amount the President requested to give our soldiers on the battlefield. And let it be clear, Congress has given our soldiers in the battlefield all the funding they need. It is the President who will be now blocking it.
A few weeks ago I was driving in Minnesota; it was a beautiful spring day outside of Ortonville, Minnesota. And for what has happened too many times in my short time as United States Senator I called one of the mothers of the Minnesota soldiers who have died in this war.
Of the 22,000 troops that the President has included in this surge, 3,000 of them are Minnesota Guard and Reserves who are expected to come home in January and February and now have been extended.
Now the mom's I am calling are the mom's of these soldiers who would've been home in January or February. And when I asked this mother 'how are you doing' she said 'you know people keep asking me that and I don't really know what to say,' she said 'do you have any ideas about what I should say?'
And I told her 'well I can tell you what all the other mothers have been saying.' They've been saying that they wake up every morning and they try so hard to hang together for their family and then something happens - they see a picture or they remember something - and they are never the same for the rest of the day. And they have their good moments but their lives will never be the same.
I told her that her son stood tall and that now is the time for the people in Washington to stand tall.
After four years of extensive American military involvement in Iraq, the president refuses to accept the prudent change of course recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and supported by a clear majority of the American people.
By passing this bill, we in Congress fulfilled our Constitutional duties to first, continue funding for America's armed forces in harms way, and second, to ensure that our government pursues policies in the best interests of our soldiers and our nation. As we work with the President in the days and weeks and months to come, we must continue to advocate for the necessary changes in our strategy in Iraq.
It is with this spirit that we in Congress continue to reach out to the President for a responsible change of course in Iraq.
Last month, I visited Baghdad and Fallujah and I saw - firsthand - the bravery and the commitment of our troops. The very best thing that we can do for these young men and women is not only give them the equipment they deserve but to get this policy right.
This means sending a clear message to the Iraqi government that we are not staying there indefinitely. This means, as recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, that we begin the process of redeploying our troops with the goal of withdrawing combat forces by next year - while acknowledging that some troops may remain to train the Iraqi police for special forces, to provide security for those who remain, and to conduct special operations. This means not a surge in troops but a surge in diplomacy, economy and Iraqi responsibility.
When I was over in Baghdad and Fallujah I saw many things. I saw the bravery of our troops and I was struck a few weeks later when another delegation of people from Congress went over there. And one Congressman who returned and he had been visiting a market over there and he said that it reminded him of a farmers market in Indiana. Those are my enduring memories of my trip to Iraq.
My most enduring memory is standing on the tarmac in the Baghdad airport with nine Duluth Firefighters with the Duluth National Guard called me over to stand with them while they saluted as six caskets draped in the American flag were loaded onto a plane. And as every casket was loaded on, they saluted. They were standing tall for their fallen soldiers that day. And now it is our time in Congress to stand tall.
Our troops have done what they've been asked. They deposed an evil dictator. They gave the Iraqi people the opportunity to vote and establish a new government. It is now the Iraqi government's responsibility to govern. But stability and progress in Iraq depend on the political reforms that Iraqi leaders have promised many times and failed to deliver.
After four years, despite many promises, Iraq has yet to approve a provincial election law.
After four years, despite many promises, Iraq has yet to approve a law to share oil revenues.
After four years, despite many promises, Iraq has yet to approve a de-Baathification law to promote reconciliation.
After four years, despite many promises, Iraq has yet to approve a law reining in the militia.
Our men and women in uniform cannot deliver these kinds of reforms to Iraq. This is up to the Iraqis themselves.
As the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended, Iraqi leaders must pay a price if they continue to fail to make good on key reforms that they have promised the Iraqi people. After four years, what have we gotten? Benchmarks without progress, promises without results, claims of accountability without any consequences.
And why should we expect the Iraqi leaders to do any better when they know that the president continues to accept their excuses for inaction and fails to impose any penalties for their lack of progress.
That is why the bipartisan Iraq Study Group made clear that, and I quote, 'if the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military or economic support for the Iraqi government.'
That report was issued five months ago. Meanwhile, the President has simply stayed the course that he has continued to pursue for the past four years - and, not surprisingly, little progress has been achieved in Iraq.
The Iraqi government will understand and finally take responsibility only when it is crystal clear to them that our combat presence is not indefinite and that American combat troops are going to leave. That is the responsible change of course that we in Congress are seeking. And the American people are looking to their leaders in Washington - at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue - to work together to get this policy right.
Two weeks ago, I went to the White House and met with the President - along with three other senators, including two Republicans. I appreciated the time he took to honestly discuss our points of agreement and disagreement on the war. I told him that now is the time to forge cooperation with our Democrats in Congress.
But the President has chosen instead to veto this bill. As we move forward on funding this war, we in Congress will do nothing to threaten the safety of American soldiers in the field. But we must continue to fulfill our Constitutional duty to exercise oversight of American policies in Iraq.
A critical part of this oversight must be demanding accountability for the way in which funds are spent on the reconstruction projects in Iraq. For the past four years, the administration has demanded - and received - a blank check to spend in Iraq. Now we are seeing the consequences of this lack of planning, management, and responsibility.
On Monday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released a report that details widespread failures in the most basic reconstruction projects. The report finds that in many cases, Iraq's infrastructure and utility systems are worse off than they were before the war.
On closer inspection, it turns out that even projects that were declared 'success stories' were considerably less than that. In fact, seven out of eight of these projects which were called 'success stories' were not operating properly due to plumbing and electrical failures, improper maintenance, possible looting and the fact that expensive equipment was available but never used.
Prior to the 2003 invasion, Iraq's power system produced 4,500 megawatts a day. Today, the same system produces only 3,832 megawatts a day. In Baghdad, the city enjoys an average of 6.5 hours of electricity a day. A year ago, Baghdad averaged eight hours of electricity a day. And before the war, the city received an average of 16 to 24 hours a day.
Congress has provided $4.2 billion for reconstruction of Iraq's power system, and the result has been a more than 50 percent decrease in the length of time the citizens of Baghdad have access to electricity on any given day. Congress has provided nearly two billion dollars to provide clean drinking waters and repaired sewer systems. But, according to the World Health Organization, 70 percent of Iraqis lack access to clean drinking water.
The Defense Department has estimated that the unemployment rate in Iraq is anywhere from 13.6 percent to 60 percent. In a recent survey, only 16 percent of Iraqis said their current incomes met their needs.
So, after four years, we are facing a security situation that continues to deteriorate, an economic situation that continues to stagnate and a reconstruction effort that cannot provide even the most basic services.
My colleagues and I have been asking the difficult questions and demanding answers from this administration. The supplemental bill demonstrates that Congress is reclaiming its rightful role setting Iraq policy, and, more broadly, in our system of government. The President's veto only strengthens our resolve.
Madam President, I also want to speak briefly in support of a few other provisions in this bill that I believe respond to critical challenges our nation faces, and that the administration has deemed unnecessary.
The White House and many of my friends on the other side of the aisle have argued that this bill should not contain funding for anything other than the current wars. And if we were sacrificing funding for our troops in order to meet domestic priorities, I would agree.
But having given our troops all they need, continuing to ignore crises at home would be irresponsible.
Veterans funding is one of the key parts of this bill. This bill amounted to an increase in veterans funding that was long overdue. Over the last two years when I got around my state veterans would come up to me, particularly veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and they would tell me about how they had difficulty getting treatment - they clearly had mental health issues.
I didn't know if there was any truth to this, I wasn't sure because of the state of their minds whether this was true. Then I got here and I started looking at the numbers. In 2005, the Department of Defense estimated that about 24,000 soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan would need health care. The actual number is four times that amount.
Last year they were 87,000 soldiers short in their estimate of how many soldiers would need help coming back from this war. Now I know why those pe3ople were wandering around asking for help, it's because they weren't getting the help that they deserve.
Another critical problem that has been ignored by this Administration, and one that is particularly important to the people of my state, has been the tremendous damage recent natural disasters have been inflicting on farmers and ranchers in this country.
The supplemental spending bill was a culmination of a two-year effort to secure disaster assistance for America's farmers.
Minnesota farmers have been hit with heavy losses for two consecutive years - storms and flooding in 2005, and again by drought in 2006. All told, they lost more than $700 million in crop and livestock losses.
The supplemental funding bill would have provided $3.5 billion to compensate farmers for a portion of their crop and livestock losses over the past two years. Our farmers have waited too long for this disaster relief and I am deeply disappointed that the President has turned his back on the urgent need for their assistance.
Madam President, the bill we sent to the President of the United States provided the resources and support our soldiers need, on the battlefield and after they return home.
A few months ago I attended a funeral of one of the brave men that was killed in the line of duty. And the priest stood up and he said to the thousand people that were in the cathedral. He said, 'you know this was a good kid. And he was six feet two tall but he was still our child. And when we send our kids to war and they're six feet tall, they're still our kids and they're standing tall and we need to stand tall.'
The traumatic brain injury victims that I've seen at the veterans hospital in Minnesota, even in their wheel chair, they're standing tall.
Those moms that I talked to on the phone as they struggle every day just to get out of bed to deal with their loss of their kids that were killed in this war, they're standing tall
Well now it is time for the President of the United States to stand tall.
Thank you Madam President.