Mr. President, the Senate is in its second week of debate on the future of the U.S. Military engagement in Iraq. It’s a very timely and momentous debate which reflects the American people's concerns with events in Iraq and I am hopeful that more of my colleagues will join those of us who have voted over and over again to limit the U.S. engagement in Iraq.

I opposed this war from the start, Mr. President, and I have long advocated for a responsible change of course in the Administration's policy. I believe the best thing that we can do for our troops, for our national interest, and for the Iraqis themselves is to begin transitioning to Iraqi authority and to begin bringing our troops home in a responsible way by removing the bulk of U.S. Combat forces by the spring of next year.

I remember, Mr. President, being at the funeral for one of our brave fallen soldiers in Minnesota and hearing the priest say that this young man was a strong, strapping boy and he was over six feet tall.  He said the kids we're sending over there may be over six feet tall, but they’re still our children.  And, if they're over six feet tall, then our leaders must be eight feet tall to make these difficult decisions.  I hope this week, Mr. President, that this Congress stands tall that the United States Senate stands tall and makes the right decision.

Mr. President, I’m here today to talk about another subject—an accident that happened in Minnesota over the 4th of July break. It brought home to me and many people in my state that there are many ways that government must act to protect its citizens. Some of them are larger than life: a debate over the strategy in Iraq; and others are smaller and quieter: a little girl lying maimed in a hospital bed after an accident that a simple law could have prevented.

We are in the midst of a summer swimming season in our state and all over the country—time when children of all ages take to the swimming pools, as they should. And today I want to speak about the terrible injuries suffered by a young girl in my state only weeks ago.  This little girl’s story gives me a sense of urgency about moving the legislation that is currently pending in the Senate—legislation that is going to be considered by the Commerce Committee this week—which would help prevent serious injury or death for other children in the future.

Abigail Taylor, known as Abby, is a 6-year-old girl from Edina, Minnesota, a girl with big brown eyes and a dazzling smile, who loved to swim.  Last month, Abby went swimming at a local pool.  She was in a shallow wading pool when she sat over an open drain hole and had most of her intestines torn out by the drain's powerful suction. Somehow, this little 6-year-old girl managed to stand up and take a few steps before collapsing along the side of the wading pool.

Now, nearly three weeks later, she remains hospitalized after undergoing several surgeries. She will survive, thanks to a miracle, but doctors expect she will need a feeding tube the rest of her life.

All of this simply because she spent a sunny, summer day at a pool.

What happened to this little six year old girl is horrific. My own daughter’s name is Abigail and hearing about this incident brings chills to any parent. When I first saw the story in our local newspaper, I had to stop reading because the details of it were so disturbing. They would be for any parent.  You look at this first as a mother: your daughter is enjoying a beautiful summer day having fun playing at the local pool (it is not even the deep pool, it’s just the kiddy pool), but suddenly something terrible happens and your life is changed forever.

When it was first reported, like everyone else, I thought this was a freak one-of-a-kind incident. I never thought I would spend time talking about it on the Senate floor. But then I learned that unfortunately this is not the first time this has happened. As it turns out, although most pools are safe and well maintained, this type of incident has happened too many times before, resulting in the death of several dozen children over the past fifteen years.

It even has a name: “pool entrapment.” It occurs when a child becomes stuck on a drain and is unable to escape due to high velocity and pressure of the water being sucked into the drain. Another scenario occurs when hair or jewelry gets sucked into the drain making it difficult for a child to pull free. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the pressure on some pool drains can be as strong as 300-pounds per inch. In fact, several years ago the Commission produced an educational video on this danger. It showed a muscle-bound man trying to pull a ball off of a swimming pool drain using both arms and all his might and he could not do it.  The suction force was too powerful.

Two years ago, the Consumer Products Safety Commission issued a report saying it was aware of at least 27 deaths and many more emergency room visits and hospitalizations, due to this entrapment. Most of these victims were children. It is unclear how many actual entrapment incidents there have been that have not resulted in death but severe injury because entrapment is a little known risk and it is possible that many swimming pool drowning deaths or other injuries have not been classified as caused by entrapment.

I think it curious I know of three of these incidents: the one in Minnesota, the one I’m about to talk about involving Jim Baker's granddaughter and another one in which former Senator Edwards represented a family involving a drain.

You know it never even crosses a parent’s mind that at the bottom of a kiddy pool is something that enough force will cause death or severe injury. It should never have happened. We must do everything we can to make sure it never have happens again we must do everything we can to make sure that it never happens again to any child, because it is preventable.  

There are several simple ways as we will discuss in the Commerce hearing this week for manufacturers to reduce entrapment risks at pools, installing anti-entanglement and anti-entrapment drain covers, installing multiple drains to decrease the force of each drain, installing a gravity flow or a safety vacuum release system that prevents entrapment by automatically shutting off the pool pump.

These anti-entrapment measures are simple and inexpensive and they can literally save children's lives. I saw a drain today, Mr. President, that costs $50, that plus adequate monthly inspections can save lives. There are also reasonable measures that congress can take to help strengthen pool safety standards and prevent this kind of terrible incident from ever happening again to another child.

The Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over product safety. It is led by two of my colleagues, Senators Inouye and Stevens who have been leaders on this issue. I am pleased to be a cosponsor of the legislation introduced last week by Senators Pryor, Stevens, Dodd and myself which would strengthen the safety standards for America's swimming pools and spas so we can prevent the kind of incident that happened to six year old Abbey Taylor. As chairman of the consumer subcommittee Senator Pryor has pushed to have this legislation included on the agenda for the senate committee markup. This legislation is called "the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act" named in the memory of the seven-year-old granddaughter of former secretary of state James Baker.

It was an honor to meet this morning with Graeme’s mother. She was here in her daughter's memory to meet members of congress. Several years ago graham died of suction entrapment in a spa. Her body was held underwater by the force of the suction and it took two adults to help pry her free from the drain but it was too late she had already drowned. This tragedy occurred at a graduation party that was well supervised by scores of adults.

The purpose of this legislation is to reduce the likelihood that any other child will end up like Graeme Baker or Abbey Taylor. This same bill was introduced last year and the Senate passed it by unanimous consent but in the closing days of the last Congress it failed to pass the House of Representatives by a narrow margin. Now what do you say when you talk like I did to the father of this little girl, of Abbey Taylor, who is laying, maimed in a hospital bed losing her intestines? You tell him that, well, we got it through the Senate but the House just did not have the votes to do it? These parents are so courageous that they have moved on from that and they want her severe injury to be discussed today. They're not afraid to have us talk about what happened to their little daughter because they want it never to happen to another child again.

This year, this legislation must pass. The legislation has several important provisions. It would take Consumer Product Safety Commission standards for pool drains which are now voluntary and make them mandatory. It would prohibit the manufacture, sale or distribution of drain covers that do not meet the standards established by the Commission. It is important to strengthen the legislation to make sure that not only new pools but all public pools meet the same standard. The legislation would also provide incentives for states to adopt their own comprehensive pool safety laws regarding certain water safety devices that they be installed to protect children. It also would contain grants to create these incentives. There's a saying that when an accident happens – Mr. President, if I could just have one more minute. Thank you.
There is a saying that when an accident happens that could reasonably have been prevented then it’s not really accurate to call it "an accident." It’s actually a failure. In case of injuries and deaths caused by pool entrapment it’s not a failure by children or by their parents. It’s really a failure of our product safety laws. This means it’s also a failure that is within our power to correct, a problem that can be faced through reasonable measures and fixed by legislation. We deal, Mr. President, with issues larger than life as we will today as we debate the war in Iraq but sometimes a simple small change in the law will save the life of a small child. Let us never forget what happened to the innocent children like Abbey Taylor and Graeme Baker. For the health and safety of all our children, I urge the Senate to take quick action to improve this legislation. Thank you, Mr. President and I yield the floor.