Memorial Day is a rare but essential opportunity to honor our nation’s true heroes—those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and preserve these United States and our values. We honor them by doing our part, in serving this country in whatever way we best can. It is ironic then that with hundreds of thousands of our brave warfighters in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the globe pursuing an enemy who attacks innocent civilians and crowded subways and seeks to exploit our transportation and information systems, Congress is all but failing to do its duty. Congress needs to put our troops first, protect our citizens, and pass a clean, wartime supplemental spending bill.
The president sent up the FY10 supplemental spending request four months ago. Since then, Congress has done nothing short of abdicate its responsibility both on this legislation and so much more. Out-of-control spending, failure to oversee and eliminate wasteful programs, shirking entitlement reform, and amassing record-level debt are a shameful way to remember and honor all those who have valiantly worn the Stars and Stripes; never mind our abysmal record at creating jobs for our soldiers, sailors and airmen when they return home.
Congress should be voting on a clean, unadulterated supplemental that funds the troops, funds true emergency expenses in the wake of the Haitian earthquake, and addresses the depleted FEMA Disaster Relief Fund before taking a week off to celebrate the start of summer. Instead, the supplemental is quickly becoming another story of budgetary shenanigans and the fiscal year 2011 budget process is on track to be another punch line at parties.
We have serious work to do to bring our fiscal house in order and we have serious work ahead in getting our troops the support they need. But alas, the Appropriations Committee has not held one single hearing on the Pentagon’s $58.8 billion request. While we may see a hastily called Committee mark-up this week, it appears to be simply a rubber-stamping session of the Pelosi-approved text, completely overriding any true Committee deliberation.
Worst of all, the supplemental is on track to add unrelated spending provisions like a teacher retention program and youth summer employment. I have incredible respect for our nation’s teachers and want to inspire young people to work hard, but this isn’t a school board meeting and we’re not running a summer camp. We’re at war. We disrespect the service of our men and women in uniform when we undermine our democratic processes and use them to hand out political favors.
The truth is, our soldiers are making sacrifices, so why aren’t we? They are fighting with purpose and conviction, but where’s our sense of urgency to support them? Why can’t we get our priorities straight, instead of election-year pandering? One would hope that we could at least set aside differences and get body armor, bullets, and fighting vehicles to our troops.
Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
It goes without saying that this doesn’t bode well for the 2011 budget process. To have any chance of completing the generally bi-partisan Homeland Security Appropriations bill before Sept. 30, we desperately need a budget resolution to begin to build the ship. And yet, it’s as though the Majority has forgotten the near-disastrous Zazi plot, the Christmas Day attack, the Fort Hood massacre, and most recently, the attempted Times Square bombing. We need to move with deliberate speed to address deficiencies in our aviation security system and in our intelligence collection and dissemination capabilities. We need to repair the damage wrought by the Obama administration in slashing DHS’s 2011 operational components, like the Coast Guard and CBP, in favor of policy shops and corner offices in D.C. These events suggest urgency, if not a downright emergency; not ambivalence, delay, and dickering. Most of all, we honor our brave men and women in uniform best when we act deliberatively through regular order, examine all the issues, allow for amendment and debate and ensure true democracy occurs.
We owe it to them to do no less than our duty—the duty of actually governing when our country needs it most.
Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) has served on the Appropriations Committee for over 25 years and currently serves as the Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.