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United States Senate 1200-1300
SENATE FLOOR DEBATE: The Senate will convene and resume consideration of H.R. 1591, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill. 12:16:17.5 quorum call: mr. coleman: madam president. 12:18:50.4 the presiding officer: the senator from minnesota. mr. coleman: i ask the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection, so ordered. mr. coleman: i rise to talk about the reint imraition of our returning soldiers into their families and their communities. i begin by sending a letter to 12:19:07.0 the editor published in the st. paul pioneer press on saturday by army national guard champion lane john morris "it takes communities to bring all soldiers all the way home." without objection i would like to submit the letter for the 12:19:22.3 record. the major is a member of the minnesota -- the presiding officer: without objection. mr. coleman: major more vis a member of the national guard. there are 2,600 members of the minnesota national guard serving 12:19:38.9 in iraq as part of the brigade combat team deployed last march after spending six months in mississippi. i visited them in december in fallujah and they were excited to return home this month to see their families. 12:19:54.7 some of them are returning home for the first time since september of 2005. but they did not get it come home, madam president. on january 10 of this year it was announced the 134 th would be extended 125 days, hopefully returning home some time later this summer. 12:20:11.1 this additional deployment time, the 134 th will be in iraq 35 days longer than that of any other unit serving in iraq. it is a long time. it is interesting to talk to our national guard folks, they are not complaining. 12:20:27.6 they are doing their duty. but i know it weighs heavilily on my fellow minnesotans and their families and those who represent them in the congress. and the -- when the extension was announced i shared the 12:20:44.4 frustration that they would not be coming home as scheduled. we had deep concerned about the way it was noticed. the families heard about it before the folks in iraq heard about it, while watching a press conference. the army apologized. we have to do better on issues 12:21:00.7 like this. i strugglessed to find the best way forward. i visiting the troops and wondered what we could do to ease the burden. now, madam president, the initial shock and frustration of the extension has subsided it is 12:21:17.0 time to address the challenges they and their families have faced since their deployment and the challenges they will face when they return home. in the last few weeks many of my colleagues have taken to the floor and to the air to speak about the commitment we must 12:21:31.9 make to our returning heroes. there aren't many things we can agree, or to get much agree on in this body but all 100 of us agree that we need to support our troops when they come home, just as much as we support them 12:21:47.6 when they are defending our nation and our freedom abroad. we need to support our troops and their families before, during, and after their deployments. so the question is not, if we should maintain the strong 12:22:02.3 commitment to our returning warriors, but, rather, how. how do we provide the highest level of medical care to our soldiers, our veterans? how do we assist military families for readjusting to their loved one returning home -- a difficult readjust mat? 12:22:17.6 how do we streamline the bureaucratic challenges all soldiers face? how do we sustain our support over the long haul? these young men and women are returning home, some badly wounded, how do we sustain our support over the long haul. the chaplain states "if you are 12:22:36.6 a politician don't politicized 9 shortfalls in the v.a. or military medical system. we are pawns in an election cycle. we are your constituents and counting on you to fix the problems." energize the committee to do 12:22:51.7 right by us. we are not asking for showy programs or asking for tangible signs of support in terms of services offered. madam president, the challenges our heroes will face will not be solved by throwing more money at 12:23:06.8 the problem or be solved by finger-pointing or playing the blame game but will be solved through thoughtful efforts aimed at fixing the problems and we will do it one at a time. madam president, i have been seeking answers to the challenges by reaching out to leaders in my state on this 12:23:24.2 issue. and to the leadership of those involved in the v.a. health care system. having conversations with the directors of the v.a. hospitals in minneapolis, st. cloud, to see if there is anything we can do to deliver the highest level of care. 12:23:37.0 one of the good things that came out of the horrible stories we saw of what was happening in the outpatient facilities at walter reed is that my state, and i'm sure the committee chair's state, folks went back and did a room by room review to find out, are there failings? 12:23:54.2 are there things that needed to be fixed? how can we improve the quality of care? minnesota folks have, i think, a high degree of confidence in the care in our v.a. facilities. in minneapolis and in st. loud. and-st. cloud and we count fargo 12:24:13.0 as ours. i met with certains organizations including the v.f.w. and minnesota paralyzed veterans it hear their questions. most importantly i spent time touring my state to meet with military families of the i 12:24:27.4 talked to active duty soldiers, the national guard and veterans. many have a loved one stationed overseas while others have a loved one just returned. there are tremendous support groups in our state. they have a lot of -- families who really did not know each 12:24:47.7 other beforehand have become united with a special bond. one said, she hoped their husbands -- we did not know each other before the deployment, now we are friends. so you have new extended families. 12:25:01.6 the good lord gave us two ears and one mouth and it is amazing when we use them if that proportion. i take some time to talk about some of the many cerz i heard from folks across my state and how to better address them. madam president, more than anything, one thing is clear, 12:25:19.2 and education benefits for our soldiers continue to be of paramount importance. unfortunately, the national guard and army reserve are still operating under antiquated system of education benefits that does not reflect the additional and critical role 12:25:33.6 they are playing in the global war on terror. under current policy our national guard and reserve soldiers have to use their education benefits when they are in the national guard and reserve. i had the mother of a national guard soldier visit my office in washington to tell my staff and 12:25:49.5 me about her son's particular situation. her son had with the -- had beenin the national intx years. he has been deployed to bosnia and now iraq with uptraining time spent away from home within 12:26:06.0 the united states. because of his extension he will not be able to finish school before he enlistment ends and because national guard troops 12:26:15.5 cannot use their education benefits after separating from the service, we will leave him on his own to find a way to pay for the reminder of his studies and his graduate school, should he choose that path. after all this, after serving extended time on active duty 12:26:32.9 defending our country. there's a bill in the senate to correct this discrepancy. it is my honor to join senator lincoln in our total force enhancement and integration act. 12:26:48.3 it is important. this bill allows national guard and reserve troops to use their education benefits up to 10 years from the time they separate from their service. it alsos their benefits according to their time on active duty. 12:27:01.7 this is a good start it adjusting education benefits in a changing environment. another concern i heard during the listening session was the difficulty our troops have applying for college when overseas. many troops want to began their education but going through the college application process is 12:27:18.0 hard enough if you work on your home computer in your living room. it is harder if you are station onned 7,000 miles away from home with limited access to phone. mail, or free time, for that matter. we need to find a way to help the deployed soldiers use their 12:27:34.2 education benefits by helping them through the difficult application process. not only will this improve participation in the program but it will improve our soldiers' morale and their ability to reinti grate. a good thing i heard, some of the colleges are getting this. 12:27:49.9 some of the state system and now the private college system in minnesota is understanding some of their chags and -- their challenges and i applaud this partnership. a final note on education, is the lack of benefit structure 12:28:08.2 program for spouses. for spouses of members of those who are now in the armed forces. mr. president, with over 2,600 minnesotans stationed in iraq we have hundreds of military spouses working to keep their families together while their loved one is overseas. 12:28:23.6 many of them, by the way, were going to school but now their husband is overseas or the wife is overseas and they have to take a job and give up their education. they have less income and they have to take care of their families. one spouse told me that she had been both a single mom and a 12:28:39.9 military wife while trying to go to school and being a single mom was much easier. we need to look at ways to extend benefits to military spouses who are working at home to keep their families together while they try to continue their education. 12:28:55.2 we know the importance of investment education, why should we deny benefits to military spouses who have sacrifices so much? another critical issue i continue to hear of is health care for our returning soldiers and veterans. again, we were shocked to see the conditions revealed at 12:29:11.9 walter reed hospital at the end of february. i am pleased that those who are responsible are being held to account. while the conditions in the outpatient facilities at walter reed are being fixed, now is a good time to revisit the overall structure of health care for our troops and veterans. i share the concern that 12:29:28.4 chaplain morris states in the letter to the press that "we will fix the crisis but forget the problem." i will take a few minutes to discuss the particular challenges i have heard in regard to health care and what i hope can be done to fix them. madam president, i continue to 12:29:43.4 hear about the difficulty associated with tri-care. on my visits around the state i learned that only 40% of health care providers in minnesota are tri-care providers. this is an improvement from the past. but it is still unacceptable. from a health care providers we 12:29:59.0 hear the program is painful to work with and it costs them significant amounts in staff time and energy to navigate the paperwork. for our military families, especially those in rural areas, traveling to a provider that will take tri-care is often a 12:30:14.6 lengthy process that is simply not possible. we need to look at ways to stream line the tri-care system and, if necessary, further incentivize providers to accept tri-care. another problem i heard from my visits around the state is the inability of returning troops to have marriage counseling covered 12:30:31.0 by their benefit plans.n tricare does not cover the counseling that is often necessary when our warriors return to their homes and to their families. many of our troops have been deployed for extended periods of time and when they return home, 12:30:47.4 it's difficult to readjust. it's difficult to readjust. and, clearly, this is the kind -- maybe we didn't think about it before, but we better be thinking about it now. if a returning soldier wanted to receive marriage counseling, they must go to their family 12:31:03.6 doctor and get a referral for menial health issues caused by manchet then it becomes possible for a soldier to act on mental 12:31:15.1 health concerns and see a marriage and family therapist. we've got to do better for the our returning warriors than this, madam president. another major issue we confront with tricare is the lack of tri-chemical dependency treatment centers. because of the burdensome 12:31:29.6 certification process, we have 257 chemical dependency treatment centers that are certified by the state of minnesota but in the a single one is certified by tricare. so if any of our returning heroes come home and develops a problem with substance abuse, there is in the a single place 12:31:45.0 in minnesota that they can immediately go for for help. this is a critical oversight which must be corrected. another issue we need to be prepared to handle is post-traumatic stress disorder. we all no he that ptsd is going to be an issue we will face for 12:32:01.2 years to come as more and more of our soldiers come home from abroad. and if we are committed to dealing with it, as we should be, we need to be committed to the facilities and people who will be working to cure the disorder on a daily basis. one way we can do this is to 12:32:17.3 incentivize mental health care professionals to join our military hospitals system. i've learned in my outtreatment across the state that it is difficult to recruit these individuals to the v.a. and military hospitals in roorl 12:32:31.3 areas. i have always said that the quality of your health care should not depend on your zip code. this is especially true for our veterans and military families. we also need to make sure we have adequate facilities for the influx of participation in veterans' programs for the next 12:32:47.3 few years. while most veterans i've spoken with over the past few months have told me that the care they receive at the facilities in minnesota is nothing short of excellent, we need to plan for the strain an increasing number of veterans will have on our facilities that are operating at 12:33:02.9 near capacity. finally, madam president, i'd like to stress the importance of a comprehensive strategy for integrating our returning heroes into society. quite frankly, this is bigger than any one single issue confronting our veterans and military families but 12:33:19.4 encompasses everything i have talked about so far today. in my home state of minnesota, the national guard has developed an innovative program known as "beyond the yellow ribbon" to conduct reintegration academies for the families and their loved ones who are returning from 12:33:35.4 iraq. we have watched with great pleasure as this program has helped countless families deal with the everry day families that aren't touched by washington rhetoric. we are able to engage our returning heroes to ensure that 12:33:51.4 they are comfortably shifting back to life out of the combat zone. i will continue to work with our minnesota national guard, the families, communities, and veterans across the state so we can continue this program and use the experience we gain from it to benefit the entire nation. madam president, inscribed on 12:34:09.7 the base of the korean war memorial is the following: "our nation honors our sons and daughters who have answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met." these words ring as true today as many of our servicemen and 12:34:26.6 women are fighting terror overseas in this war on terror, and we need to make sure that the sacrifice they met is met by a commitment here to do all we can to ease the reentry and take care of their concerns as they 12:34:42.4 return. we need to provide support for the soldiers. we need to provide support for their families, and we need to do it before, during, and after they return home from abroad. it's not about rhetoric. it's not about politics. its a about a commitment to 12:34:58.5 listen and a commitment to get things done. and i look forward to working with my colleagues to this end during the coming months and years. with that, madam president, i yield the floor. the presiding officer: the 12:35:13.8 senator from ohio. mr. brown: thank you, madam president. last month at a senate agriculture committee hearing, rhonda stewart, a single mother from hamilton, ohio, in butler county, in the southwest part of my state, testified that despite working full-time, caring for 12:35:33.4 her 9-year-old son wyatt, even serving as president of the p.t.a., she and her son must rely on food stamps to survive. at the end of each month, she told you she must forego dinner so her son can eat because the food stamps, about $6 a day, 12:35:49.5 just don't go far enough. at the beginning of the month, she gefs wyatt pork chops and he knows he eats better at the beginning than at the end of the month when she's running out of money and at the end of the mont she often sits with him and 12:36:03.9 tells him she's not feeling well as her son eats because she wants him to have enough when she doesn't. on the same day that ms. stewart testified, u.s. treasury 12:36:14.1 secretary paulson told the senate banking committee -- this was about an hour later -- that the economy was doing well. repeated over and over again that g.d.p. was up 3% -- g.d.p. was 3u7% for the quarter. he kept insisting, senator, you 12:36:29.1 don't understand. things are good, things are going very well in this country. g.d.p. is up 3%. people are making money. companies are profitable. well, madam president, worker -- when you think about all of that here's the story. profits are up, the stok stock market is doing well, 12:36:43.9 millionaires are engaging exorbitant tax breaks and worker productivity is up but the workers aren't sharing in the profits, in the increasing profits that most corporations are making. workers across the country too often are losing their jobs. a single mother working 12:36:59.6 full-time can't afford to eat dinner, even with the $6 a day in food stamps. a "wall street journal" article reported this week that since 2001, the economy has grown by 16% -- by 16% since 2001 while worker pay, held for inflation, 12:37:17.6 has grown less than 1%. 16% growth in the economy, profits up, workers making -- gaining less than 1%. wrongheaded economic policies and job-killing trade agreements have fueled income disparity at 12:37:34.0 home and abroad. a few years ago, after the north american free trade agreement passed, several years after that, congress was considering another one of these job-killing trade agreements. i traveled to mcallen, texas, where i crossed the border into mexico, rent add car with a 12:37:50.4 couple of friends and went to visit some families in mexico, just the other side of the american border, maybe a couple of miles from the united states. i met a husband and wife who worked for general electric, mexico, they had -- they lived in a shack about 20 feet by 20 feet. 12:38:06.8 no running water, no electricity, dirt floors. when it rained hard, the floors turned to mud. they worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, each made less than $1 an hour. behind their little shack was a ditch, three feet wide, perhaps, full of who knows what -- human 12:38:26.3 industrial waste going through this ditch. the children playing in this ditch -- in fact, the american medical association said the area along the mexican-u.s. border is one of the most toxic places in the entire western hemisphere. we then went and visited an auto plant, a modern, high-tech auto 12:38:44.1 plant nearbivment the plant in mexico looked just like an auto plant in lordstown, ohio, or in avon lake, ohio, or in cincinnati. the were working hard, the floors were clean, the tech million to was up to date, the 12:38:58.0 productivity was very good, but there was one difference between the mexican auto plant and the auto plant you'd see in ohio. and that difference was the mexican auto plant did not have a parking lot. the mexican workers are not making enough to buy the dhars 12:39:14.1 they made. you can go halfway around the world to a motorola plant in mall lay shavment the workers aren't micking enough to buy the cell phones they make. or come halfway again around the world to costa rica. they don't make enough to buy 12:39:30.7 the toys for the children, that they maifnlg the workers in a nike plant aren't make enough to buy the shoes that they're making. these workers are simply not sharing in the wealth they create for their employer. that's why these trade 12:39:47.1 agreements, these job-killing trade agreements, don't work. only when workers share in the wealth they create will we know that our trade policy is working. in fact, when the poor in the developing world, those people who are working hard, working 56 hours -- 50 to 60 hours a week, 12:40:04.2 working with their hand, only when the poor in those countries are able to make -- able to buy the products that they're making for us will we know that our trade policy in the united states is actually working. during the fight against the central american free trade agreement two years ago ago, the 12:40:19.6 largest-ever bipartisan fairtrade group was formed, democrats and republicans, environmental groups, groups -- religious groups, labor organizations, business groups, united and together we changed forever the debate on trade. 12:40:34.9 that coalition is alive and well, not just in the house of representatives but also for the first time in the united states senate, already working to revamp our nation's trade policy, already working to establish a manufacturing policy. senators byron dorgan, lindsey 12:40:50.5 graham, and i -- a republican and a republican and i -- have introduced legislation that would ban imports from sweatshops. we've called for tougher world trade organization action to be taken against china, a country where at least in 2005, 5,000 political prisoners were 12:41:09.5 executed -- 5,000. the human rights violations 12:41:12.0 continue in china. the oppression of workers continues in china. the kinds of -- the kinds of values that we hold dear in this country are violated every day by that government, and every day by these companies doing business in china. 12:41:26.5 a country that manipulates its currency and continues to exploit its workers. our government must renegotiate these trade agreements -- the trade agreements so they lift up workers here and abroad, that reward u.s. businesses that stay here, reward u.s. businesses 12:41:42.5 that produce here, reward u.s. businesses that create jobs here. and that means doing away with current fast-track authority. that means doing away with the fundamentally flawed north american free trade agreement -- nafta model trade agreements. make no mistake, we want trade, 12:41:59.4 we want more of it. but we want fair trade. it is not a matter of if we real vamp u.s. trade policy, but when and who benefits from that trade policy. america is a nation of innovation. the future of our manufacturing policies firmly planted in the research and development of 12:42:15.9 alternative energy. today i spoke with several people from ohio, several business owners and plant managers, who were part of a group called the manufacturing extension partnership. it is a relatively small government program that helps small manufacturers, small businesses in ohio and across 12:42:31.8 the country, help them learn to compete better, help them learn to cut their health care costs, help them learn to be more energy-efficient, help them learn how to export some of their product. yet we have a long way to go. observer land college is home to 12:42:48.5 -- oberland college is home to the largest campus completely powered by solar energy. when they built this building, they had to buy the components, the solar panels from japan and germany because we don't make 12:43:02.8 enough of them in this country. the same when you talk about wind turbines. another company makes components for wind turbines in ohio. it is a great opportunity as all 12:43:20.6 of alternative energy production s it is a great opportunity for us as a nation to use that in part to help rebuild our manufacturing capabilities, to cut energy prices and to do the right thing for the environment. it works in every way. that's why, madam president, as 12:43:36.5 we in the next couple of months, as we move toward votes on trade promotion authority, we move forward perhaps on votes on bilateral trade agreements with colombia, with peru, with korea, and ultimately with panama and 12:43:52.9 perhaps other countries, it's time that we pass trade agreements in this country that lift workers up, that help our small manufacturers, that help to continue to preserve and expand our manufacturing base. it's american values to reward hard work. 12:44:09.4 this congress has a real opportunity not just to talk about a different trade regimen, but to go if a very different direction, to replace trade promotion authority with a trade promotion authority legislation model that will help to lift our workers up, help create jobs in this country, help in the 12:44:26.5 developing world lift their living standards up so that we can continue to -- so that we can reward work and continue to fight for our values as a nation. thank you, madam president. i suggest -- 12:44:44.2 a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from delaware. rhode island, excuse me. mr. reed: thank you, madam president. madam president, i would ask upon completion of my remarks that senator alexander of tennessee be recognized for 20 minutes. the presiding officer: without 12:44:58.5 objection. mr. reed: thank you, madam president. madam president, the emergency appropriations bill passed by the senate this morning is urgently needed for our troops in iraq and afghanistan, for our wounded verts and for scores of americans facing natural disasters on the home front. and i want to commend chairman 12:45:15.7 byrd and senator cochran for their hard work and close collaboration and as the acting chairman of the military construction veterans afairs and related agencies subcommittee, i also want to thank senator hutchison and her able staff along with my staff for the help 12:45:32.0 that they gave in crafting portions of the supplemental which dealt with military construction and veterans affairs.n the total for military construction and veterans affairs in this supplemental is $6.548 billion. 12:45:47.9 it includes in title 1, $1.644 billion for military construction. also contained in this section is a proviso restricting the obligation of $280 million until the secretary of defense certifies that none of the funds 12:46:03.2 will be used for purpose of establishing permanent u.s. military bases in iraq. 12:46:11.3 and i think that's an important point to clarify. title 2 of the recommendation includes a total of $4.9 billion for military construction and also for activities at the department of veterans affairs. 12:46:24.0 this includes $3.137 billion to restore funding for brac, which is very important to reset our forces as they are returned from overseas and to help reconfigure all of the services. this fully funds the department of defense's request in fy 2007 12:46:42.4 for this account and will keep the brac process on track. because of the cost of the war are not associated strictly with activities on the battlefield, the recommendation includes $1.76 billion for the department 12:46:57.7 of veterans affairs. in crafting the v.a. portion of this bill, we targeted the funding specifically for purposes of building capacity to deal with the influx of o.e.f. and o.i.f. veterans. hiring claims adjudicators and leveraging technology to 12:47:15.3 expedite benefit claims in upgrading existing v.a. facilities. the v.a. health care system is one of the best in the world. it has specialties in a number of areas, including spinal cord injury and blind rehabilitation. because of these specialties, 12:47:31.9 the v.a. has become a great resource for the treatment of troops wounded in iraq and afghanistan. however, due to the nature of combat in iraq and afghanistan coupled with the advanceness battlefield medicine, both the d.o.d. health care system and 12:47:47.1 the v.a. health care system are treating more military personnel with complex and multiple wounds, and particularly traumatic brain injury wounds. in response to this, in 2005 the congress provided funding to the department of veterans affairs 12:48:03.5 to establish polly trauma -- poly trauma centers. the funding contained in this bill builds on the success of these centers by providing a total of over $163 million in polntrauma care for services ranging from establishing more 12:48:19.8 level 1 comprehensive poly trauma centers to creating poly trauma residential rehabilitation programs to upgrading the entire polytrauma network system. 12:48:35.4 the bill also adds $150 million for entitlements to readjustment counseling, substance abuse programs and mental health treatment capacity. these are specialty areas that the v.a. will need to continue to expand to deal with readjustment issues facing 12:48:50.6 veterans returning from the war zone. in order to begin making progress toward deficiencies identified by the v.a. facilities conditions assessment and to prevent a possible walter reed building 18 situation, the recommendation includes $550 12:49:08.0 million in nonrecurring maintenance and $356 million in minor construction. in addition to funding provided to the department, the supplemental also includes a general provision directing the national academy of public administration to conduct an 12:49:23.9 independent analysis of the management, structure and processes that are in place at the v.a. with regard to providing health care to active duty and veterans of the wars in afghanistan and iraq as well as the provisions of providing 12:49:39.8 benefits to veterans of these conflicts. this study will assist the v.a. and congress in identifying the cumbersome bureaucratic red tape that far too many of our soldiers go through in their transition to the v.a. 12:49:54.3 the bill also includes a provision requiring the congressional budget office to conduct a budget study of the current and future long-term budget impacts of o.e.f. and o.i.f. on the department of veterans administration. we know with the number of these young men and women who have 12:50:11.8 been severely injured, many with brain injuries, and the likely life spans of 50 or 60 more years, that we will have to provide for long-term, consistent robust funding. we should identify that number now and provide for that continuous support for the next 12:50:28.5 several decades. this supplemental marks the continuing high priority that the senate places on ensuring that yesterday, today and tomorrow soldiers are cared for in the highest manner once they have done their duty and once they have come home to america. let me make one other point. 12:50:45.5 i was somewhat disappointed in this bill because i was attempting to include an amendment to rehabilitate a levy system in winsocket, rhode island, to ensure it is up to federal standards. 12:51:00.5 this amendment would have provided $3.25 million for the city of winsocket to rehabilitate the levy, including 12:51:08.3 replacing important tkpwaeupt cables. the present cables are about 40 years oefpltd according to the army -- old. according to the army corps of engineers, failure of a cable can result in an uncontrolled discharge downstream of the dam. 12:51:23.7 winsocket is an old industrial city, densely populated. and these levies protect that city. the project was built between december 1963 and april 1967 by the army corps of engineers. the corps estimates cumulative flooding benefits for the 12:51:39.2 blackstone valley project on more than $82 million. this project in place protects at least $82 million worth of property. given the importance of in flood protection to winsocket and communities along the blackstone river, i believe that federal 12:51:54.3 assistance is warranted to protect life and property. these deficiencies were discovered as a direct result of katrina. we learned in katrina that there were projects, levies that were unsatisfactory. they failed. they closed -- caused billions of dollars in damages. 12:52:11.2 being forewarned we hoped was going to be forearmed, that having studied these problems, now we could come together in congress to provide the resources to help these local communities, many of which do not have the resources themselves to sustain this kind of immediate and rapid 12:52:28.6 expenditure. a recent assessment by the corps found that this project levees and dam did need repairs. the corps has been given the -- the city, rather, until february of 2008 to make these repairs. otherwise, the project may no 12:52:44.1 longer be eligible for federal construction funding through the army corps of engineers. in addition, if these repairs are not made, the federal emergency management agency may determine that the levees no longer offer adequate flood protection and could require 12:53:00.4 residents to buy flood insurance, which is a very expensive proposition. the city of winsocket is economically distressed. it needs federal assistance. there are other communities around the country that might be in similar condition. 12:53:14.9 i think they also should be assisted. the devastation brought by katrina in new orleans shows us what could happen. now we have the knowledge, the foreknowledge, and now we have to afpblgt and i'm disappoint -- to act. and i'm disappointed we did not act in this situation to protect this complex of levees. 12:53:31.9 i will continue to bring this issue to my colleagues again and again because i believe with this knowledge requires action, prompt appropriate action to ensure this community is protected. let me make a very final point because my colleague has been very patient and very 12:53:48.2 considerate in allowing me to go ahead. we have included in this supplemental language with respect to our policy in iraq, which i think is important, indeed perhaps historic. it recognizes that we should begin a phased redeployment of 12:54:03.7 our forces. it recognizes that we also must maintain certain missions in iraq. counterterrorism operations, training iraqi security forces, protecting our forces. but it does emphasize the fact that we should begin at a date 12:54:20.2 certain going forward to take out our forces at a pace, at a level decided by operational commanders. and there is a goal, not a fixed deadline but a goal that our combat forces, those not performing these residual 12:54:38.2 missions, should be out of iraq by march 31, 2008. this is a solution proposed essentially by the iraq study group. it has been recommended, endorsed by the public sentiment of the american people by a wide margin. 12:54:53.6 it allows us to continue missions that are critical to the safety, security of not only ourselves but of the region, but it does, we hope, disengage us from a potential and sometimes very real civil war in iraq. i hope that in the deliberations 12:55:10.6 with the house, we can come up with a measure that combines the best elements of both versions of the spending bill. i hope we can bring this to the president and discuss it with him. it does represent, i think, the 12:55:26.3 sentiment of the american people. it does represent not only the sentiment that we change course in iraq. but as this budget does, we fully fund our forces in iraq. so, i'm hopeful that we can make progress and that we can send to 12:55:41.4 the president a bill after discussing it with him that could be signed rather than vetoed. that is my hope at this moment. and at this point, i would yield the floor to my colleague from tennessee. mr. alexander: mr. president? 12:56:00.7 the presiding officer: the senator from tennessee. mr. alexander: mr. president, i believe i'm to be recognized for 20 minutes. the presiding officer: that is 12:56:06.9 correct. mr. alexander: mr. president, i'd like to make remarks about three matters of importance to the great american outdoors, all of which have been happening this week and which are important for our country. first, i would like to comment on a provision that the senate struck from the iraq 12:56:25.7 supplemental bill this morning when we were considering it. we struck it in a procedural move based upon a point of order that i raised. and it was a provision that put into the supplemental 12:56:43.8 appropriations bill a billboard amnesty proposal, a billboard amnesty proposal in the midst of legislation that was supposed to be in support of our troops. i called it a billboard amnesty 12:56:59.4 proposal because it suddenly treats as legal billboard sites that have been illegal for 40 years and effectively gutting the highway beautification act of 1965, which is one of the legacies of former first lady, 12:57:16.9 ladybird johnson. i think this deserves a little attention and a little explanation before we leave it, because it was a full-scale assault on one of the most important pieces of legislation 12:57:30.8 that helps keep our country beautiful at a time when we are growing and adding to it a lot of technological developments. there are three problems with this billboard amnesty proposal, as i saw it. 12:57:46.0 the first was the proposal does, or would have done for the billboard industry something that the law does not allow for churches, doesn't allow for schools, doesn't allow for businesses, doesn't allow for other structures. but since 1965 have been on 12:58:03.6 illegal or nonconforming sites. here's what was really happening. in 1965 at the urging of president johnson and mrs. johnson, the nation decided that it would restrict billboards both in terms of 12:58:19.9 their location and their size. as we often do with legislation, we looked ahead and said the billboards could not be some places, could be some places, had to be this size. and as the interstate system grew across the country, much of 12:58:36.3 it is relatively free of large billboards or has a limited number of billboards. the question then arose about what do we do about the billboards and signs that are already up prior to 1965? and the decision was made by the congress at that time to say 12:58:52.6 we'll leave those sites up. we'll grandfather them in. as long as they can stay there, they're fine. but when they fall down, they're gone. 12:59:06.2 in other words, we have been waiting for 40 years for those sites to die a natural death. that was the compromise in 1965. and many of these billboards are large billboards and are in places that we really don't want them; rural areas, scenic areas across the country. 12:59:24.1 but that was the decision we made. now the problem with this legislation as it came into the supplemental appropriations appl for troops was that it said in 13 states suddenly, all of the billboards that were in that state, that were on sites where 12:59:41.8 it would be illegal to put a new billboard were suddenly legal. in other words, it was instant amnesty, overnight amnesty for illegal billboards. now, there are a lot of billboards like this. in the state of tennessee, for 12:59:56.9 example, there are nearly 3,000 sites where there are now billboards, but when those billboards fall down they can't ever be put back up. we've known that for 40 years. in north carolina, probably 2,600 illegal sites in the sense