(Senate - January 16, 2014)

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[Pages S441-S447]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Mr. KAINE (for himself, Mr. McCain, and Mr. King):
  S. 1939. A bill to repeal the War Powers Resolution and to provide 
for proper war powers consultation, and for other purposes; to the 
Committee on Foreign Relations.
  Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I am pleased today to join my colleague, 
the junior Senator from Virginia, as we introduce the War Powers 
Consultation Act of 2014.
  This legislation is the final product of the National War Powers 
Commission, which was a bipartisan effort co-led by former Secretary of 
State Jim Baker and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. The 
commission was set up by the Miller Center at the University of 
Virginia to devise a modern and workable war powers consultation 
mechanism for the executive and legislative branches. It included some 
of our Nation's most distinguished and respected thinkers and 
practitioners of national security policy and law. In 2008, after more 
than a year of hard work, the commission released the final product--an 
actual legislative proposal to repeal and replace the War Powers 
Resolution of 1973, which no American President has ever accepted as 
  As does my colleague, I view our introduction of this legislation 
today as the start of an important congressional and national debate, 
not the final word in that debate. We wish to pick up where the 
National War Powers Commission left off 6 years ago, and we do so fully 
understanding and hopeful that this legislation should be considered 
and debated and amended and improved through regular order.
  My colleague from Virginia has done a great job on this legislation, 
and I am proud to join him. I wish to expand a bit on why updating the 
War Powers Resolution is such a worthwhile endeavor for the Senate to 
consider right now.
  The Constitution gives the power to declare war to the Congress, but 
Congress has not formally declared war since June of 1942 even though 
our Nation has been involved in dozens of military actions of one scale 
or another since that time. There is a reason for this. The nature of 
war is changing. It is increasingly unlikely that the combat operations 
our Nation will be involved in will resemble those of World War II, 
where the standing armies and navies of nation states squared off 
against those of rival nation states on clearly defined fields of 
battle. Rather, the conflicts in which increasingly we find ourselves 
and for which we must prepare will be murkier, harder to reconcile with 
the traditional notions of warfare; they may be more limited in their 
objectives, their scope, and their duration; and they likely will not 
conclude with a formal surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.
  The challenge for all of us serving in Congress is this: How do we 
reconcile the changing nature of war with Congress's proper role in the 
declaration of war? It is not exactly a new question, but it is a 
profound one, for unless we in Congress are prepared to cede our 
constitutional authority over matters of war to the executive, we need 
a more workable arrangement for consultation and decisionmaking between 
the executive and legislative branches.
  We have seen several manifestations of this challenge in recent 
years. In 2011 President Obama committed U.S. military forces to combat 
operations in Libya to protect civilian populations from imminent 
slaughter by a brutal, anti-American tyrant. I, for one, believe he was 
right to do so. But 6 months later, when our armed services were still 
involved in kinetic actions in Libya--not just supporting our NATO 
allies but conducting air-to-ground operations and targeted strikes 
from armed, unmanned aerial vehicles--the administration claimed, as 
other administrations would, that it had no obligations to Congress 
under the War Powers Resolution because our Armed Forces were not 
involved in combat operations. That struck many Members of Congress, 
including me, as fundamentally at odds with reality, and unfortunately 
it pushed more Members of Congress into opposition against the mission 
  More recently, we saw the opposite problem manifested with regard to 
Syria. Perhaps due to the backlash in Congress that the 
administration's handling of the Libya conflict engendered, President 
Obama decided to seek congressional authorization for limited 
airstrikes against the Assad regime after it slaughtered more than 
1,400 of its own citizens with chemical weapons last August. An 
operation that likely would have lasted a few days and thus been fully 
consistent with the President's authority under the existing War Powers 
Resolution had he decided to act decisively and take limited military 
action instead devolved into a stinging legislative repudiation of 
executive action. The tragic result was that the Assad regime was 
spared any meaningful consequences for its use of a weapon of mass 
destruction against innocent men, women, and children, and, as with 
Libya, the forces that want to turn America away from the world were 
not checked but empowered.
  Some of us may see the problem in these two instances as a failure of 
Presidential leadership, and I would agree, but I also believe the 
examples of Libya and Syria represent the broader problem we as a 
nation face: What is the proper war power authority of the executive 
and legislative branches when it comes to limited conflicts, which are 
increasingly the kinds of conflicts with which we are faced?
  It is essential for the Congress and the President to work together 
to define a new war powers consultative agreement that reflects the 
nature of conflict in the 21st century and is in line with our 
Constitution. Our Nation does not have 535 commanders in chief. We have 
one--the President--and that role as established by our Constitution

[[Page S442]]

must be respected. Our Nation is poorly served when Members of Congress 
try to micromanage the Commander in Chief in matters of war.
  At the same time, now more than ever, we need to create a broader and 
more durable national consensus on foreign policy and national 
security, especially when it comes to matters of war and armed 
conflict. We need to find ways to make internationalist policies more 
politically sustainable.
  After the September 11 attack, we embarked on an expansive foreign 
policy. Spending on defense and foreign assistance went up, and energy 
shifted to the executive. Now things are changing. Americans want to 
pull back from the world. Our foreign assistance and defense budgets 
are declining. The desire to curb Presidential power across the board 
is growing, and the political momentum is shifting toward the Congress. 
America has gone through this kind of political rebalancing before, and 
much of the time we have gotten it wrong. That is how we got 
isolationism and disarmament after World War I, that is how we got a 
hollow army after Vietnam, and that is how we weakened our national 
security after the Cold War in the misplaced hope of cashing in on a 
peace dividend. We can't afford to repeat these mistakes.
  A new war powers resolution--one that is recognized as both 
constitutional and workable in practice--can be an important 
contribution to this effort. It can more effectively invest in the 
Congress the critical decisions that impact our national security. It 
can help build a more durable consensus in favor of the kinds of 
policies we need to sustain our global leadership and protect our 
Nation. In short, the legislation we are introducing today can restore 
a better balance to the way national security decisionmaking should 
work in a great democracy such as ours.
  Let me say again. Neither the Senator from Virginia nor I believe the 
legislation we are introducing today answers all of the monumental and 
difficult questions surrounding the issue of war powers. We believe 
this is a matter of transcendent importance to our Nation, and we as a 
deliberative body of our government should debate this issue, and we 
look forward to that debate. This legislation should be seen as a way 
of starting that discussion both here in the Congress and across our 
Nation. We owe that to ourselves and our constituents. Most of all, we 
owe that to the brave men and women who serve our Nation in uniform and 
are called to risk their lives in harm's way for the sake of our 
Nation's national defense.

  Before I yield to my tardy colleague from Virginia, I wish to mention 
again another reason why I think this legislation should be the 
beginning of a serious debate which we should bring to some conclusion. 
The fact is that no President of the United States has recognized the 
constitutionality of the War Powers Act. That is a problem in itself. 
That is a perversion, frankly, of the Constitution of the United States 
of America. That is one reason, but the most important reason is that I 
believe we are living in incredibly dangerous times. When we look 
across the Middle East, when we look at Asia and the rise in the 
tensions in that part of the world and we look at the conflicts that 
are becoming regional--and whose fault they are is a subject for 
another debate and discussion, but the fact is that we are in the path 
of some kind of conflict in which--whether the United States of America 
wants to or not--we may have to be involved in some ways.
  We still have vital national security interests in the Middle East. 
It is evolving into a chaotic situation, and one can look from the 
Mediterranean all the way to the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Aqaba, 
and throughout the region. So I believe the likelihood of us being 
involved in some way or another in some conflict is greater than it has 
been since the end of the Cold War, and I believe the American people 
deserve legislation and a clear definition of the responsibilities of 
the Congress of the United States and that of the President of the 
United States.
  Again, I thank my colleague from Virginia, whose idea this is, who 
took a great proposal that was developed at the University of Virginia 
and was kind enough to involve me in this effort. I thank him for it. I 
thank him for his very hard work on it, despite the fact that, as the 
Chair will recognize, he was late for this discussion.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Virginia.
  Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Arizona for 
pointing out to all in the Chamber my tardiness, and I should not have 
been tardy because I do not like to follow the Senator from Arizona. I 
would rather begin before him. But I want to thank him for his work 
with me, together, on this important issue and amplify on a few of the 
comments he has made.
  Today, together, as cosponsors we are introducing the War Powers 
Consultation Act of 2014, which would repeal the 1973 War Powers 
Resolution and replace it. I could not have a better cosponsor than 
Senator McCain and appreciate all the work he and his staff have done 
over the last months with us.
  I gave a floor speech about this issue in this Chamber in July of 
2013, almost to the day, 40 years after the Senate passed the War 
Powers Resolution of 1973. Many of you remember the context of that 
passage. When it was passed in the summer of 1973, it was in the midst 
of the end of the Vietnam war. President Nixon had expanded the Vietnam 
war into Cambodia and Laos without explicit congressional approval, and 
the Congress reacted very negatively and passed this act to try to 
curtail executive powers in terms of the initiation of military 
  It was a very controversial bill. When it was passed, President Nixon 
vetoed it. Congress overrode the veto at the end of 1973. But as 
Senator McCain indicated, no President has conceded the 
constitutionality of the 1973 act, and most constitutional scholars who 
have written about the question have found at least a few of what they 
believe would be fatal infirmities in that 1973 resolution.
  It was a hyperpartisan time, maybe not unlike some aspects of the 
present, and in trying to find that right balance in this critical 
question of when the Nation goes to war or initiates military action, 
Congress and the President did not reach an accord.
  I came to the Senate with a number of passions and things I hoped to 
do. But I think I came with only one obsession, and this is that 
obsession. Virginia is a State that is most connected to the military 
of any State in the country. Our map is a map of American military 
history--from Yorktown, where the Revolutionary War ended, to 
Appomattox, where the Civil War ended, to the Pentagon, where 9/11 
happened. That is who we are. One in nine Virginians is a veteran. If 
you add our Active Duty, our Guard and Reserve, our military families, 
our DOD civilians, our DOD contractors, you are basically talking about 
one in three Virginians. These issues of war and peace matter so deeply 
to us, as they do all Americans.
  The particular passion I had in coming to this body around war powers 
was because of kind of a disturbing thought, which is, if the President 
and Congress do not work together and find consensus in matters around 
war, we might be asking our men and women to fight and potentially give 
their lives without a clear political consensus and agreement behind 
the mission.
  I do not think there is anything more important that the Senate and 
the Congress can do than to be on board on decisions about whether we 
initiate military action, because if we do not, we are asking young men 
and women to fight and potentially give their lives, with us not having 
done the hard work of creating the political consensus to support them. 
That is why I have worked hard to bring this to the attention of this 
body with Senator McCain.
  The Constitution actually sets up a fairly clear framework. The 
President is the Commander in Chief, not 535 commanders-in-chief, as 
Senator McCain indicated. But Congress is the body that has the power 
both to declare war and then to fund military action. In dividing the 
responsibilities in this way, the Framers were pretty clear. James 
Madison, who worked on the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, 
wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson and said:

       The constitution supposes, what the History of all 
     Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of 
     power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It

[[Page S443]]

     has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war 
     in the Legislature.

  Despite that original constitutional understanding, our history has 
not matched the notion that Congress would always be the initiator of 
military action. Congress has only declared war five times in the 
history of the United States, while Presidents have initiated military 
action prior to any congressional approval more than 120 times.
  In some of these instances where the President has initiated war, 
Congress has come back and either subsequently ratified Presidential 
action--sometimes by a formal approval or sometimes by informal 
approval such as budgetary allocation--but in other instances, 
including recently, Presidents have acted and committed American 
military forces to military action without any congressional approval. 
The Senator from Arizona mentioned the most recent one. President Obama 
committed military force to NATO, action against Libya in 2011, without 
any congressional approval, and he was formally censured by the House 
of Representatives for doing so.
  The current context that requires a reanalysis of this thorny 
question, after 40 years of the War Powers Resolution, was well stated 
by the Senator from Arizona. Wars are different. They start 
differently. They are not necessarily nation state against nation 
state. They could be limited in time or, as of now, we are still 
pursuing a military force that was authorized on September 18, 2001, 12 
or 13 years later. Wars are of different duration, different scope, 
different geography. Nation states are no longer the only entities that 
are engaged in war.
  These new developments that are challenging--what do we do about 
drones in countries far afield from where battles were originally 
waged--raise the issue of the need to go back into this War Powers 
Resolution and update it for the current times.
  As the Senator from Arizona mentioned, this has been a question that 
Members of Congress have grappled with and thought about, as have 
diplomats and scholars and administration officials and Members of 
Congress for some time.
  In 2007, the Miller Center for the study of the presidency at the 
University of Virginia convened a National War Powers Commission under 
the chairmanships of two esteemable and bipartisan leaders--former 
Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and James Baker. The remaining 
members of the Commission were a complete A list of thinkers in this 
area--Slade Gorton, Abner Mikva, Ed Meese, Lee Hamilton. The 
Commission's historian was no less than Doris Kearns Goodwin, who 
looked at the entire scope of this problem in American history and what 
the role of Congress and the President should be.
  The Commission issued a unanimous report, proposing an act to replace 
the War Powers Act of 1973, briefed Congress and incoming President 
Obama on the particular act in 2007 and 2008, but at that time, the 
time was not yet ripe for consideration of this bill.
  But now that we are 40 years into an unworkable War Powers Resolution 
and now, as the Senator indicated, we have had a string of Presidents--
both Democratic Presidents and Republican Presidents--who have 
maintained that the act is unconstitutional and now that we have had a 
40-year history of Congress often exceeding to the claim of 
unconstitutionality by not following the War Powers Resolution itself, 
we do think it is time to revisit.
  Let me just state two fundamental, substantive issues that this bill 
presents in the War Powers Consultation Act of 2014.
  First, there is a set of definitions. What is war? The bill defines 
significant military action as any action where involvement of U.S. 
troops would be expected to be in combat for at least a week or longer. 
Under those circumstances, the provisions of the act would be 
  There are some exceptions in the act. The act would not cover defined 
covert action operations. But once a combat operation was expected to 
last for more than 7 days, the act would be triggered.
  The act basically sets up two important substantive improvements on 
the War Powers Resolution.
  First, a permanent consultation committee is established in Congress, 
with the majority and minority leaders of both Houses and the chairs 
and ranking members of the four key committees in both Houses that deal 
with war issues--Intel, Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and 
  That permanent consultation committee is a venue for discussion 
between the executive and legislative branches--permanent and 
continuous--over matters in the world that may require the use of 
American military force.
  Because the question comes up often: What did the President do to 
consult with Congress? Is it enough to call a few leaders or call a few 
committee chairs? This act would normalize and regularize what 
consultation with Congress means by establishing a permanent 
consultation committee and requiring ongoing dialogue between the 
Executive and that committee.
  The second requirement of this bill is that once military action is 
commenced that would take more than 7 days, there is a requirement for 
a vote in both Houses of Congress. The consultation committee itself 
would put a resolution on the table in both Houses to approve or 
disapprove of military action. It would be a privileged motion with 
expedited requirements for debate, amendment, and vote, and that would 
ensure that we do not reach a situation where action is being taken at 
the instance of one branch with the other branch not in agreement, 
because to do that would put our men and women who are fighting and in 
harm's way at the risk of sacrificing their lives when we in the 
political leadership have not done the job of reaching a consensus 
behind the mission.
  To conclude, I will acknowledge what the Senator from Arizona said. 
This is a very thorny and difficult question that has created 
challenges and differences of interpretation since the Constitution was 
written in 1787. Despite the fact that the Framers who wrote the 
Constitution actually had a pretty clear idea about how it should 
operate, it has never operated that way.
  Forty years of a failed War Powers Resolution in today's dangerous 
world suggests that it is time now to get back in and to do some 
careful deliberation to update and normalize the appropriate level of 
consultation between a President and the legislature.
  The recent events as cited by the Senator--whatever you think about 
the merits or the equities, whether it is Libya, whether it is Syria, 
whether it is the discussions we are having now with respect to Iran or 
any other of a number of potential spots around the world that could 
lead to conflict--suggest that while decisions about war and initiation 
of military action will never be easy, they get harder if we do not 
have an agreed-upon process for coming to understand each other's 
points of view and then acting in the best interest of the Nation to 
forge a consensus.
  With that, I appreciate the opportunity to stand with my colleague, 
after a number of months of discussion, to introduce this bill, and I 
look forward to the opportunity to carry this dialogue forward with my 
colleagues in this body.
  Thank you very much.
      By Mr. LEAHY (for himself, Mr. Durbin, and Mr. Coons):
  S. 1945. A bill to amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to revise the 
criteria for determining which States and political subdivisions are 
subject to section 4 of the Act, and for other purposes; to the 
Committee on the Judiciary.
  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, almost five decades ago, President Lyndon 
Johnson signed the original Voting Rights Act into law. At the signing, 
he spoke eloquently about the central purpose of the law. He said:

       This act flows from a clear and simple wrong. Its only 
     purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are 
     denied the right to vote because of their color. This law 
     will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no 
     American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which 
     no American, true to our principles, can deny.

  A lot has changed since 1965 and much progress has been made, but 7 
years ago the Senate and House examined whether racial discrimination 
in voting was still a problem that required a Federal solution. After a 
long series of hearings in both Chambers and based upon a mountain of 

[[Page S444]]

Democrats and Republicans came together to conclude that racial 
discrimination in voting is still a problem and the protections that 
voters have had under the Voting Rights Act were still needed. Yet, 
last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that struck at 
the heart of the Voting Rights Act when it held that the coverage 
provision of section 5 was unconstitutional because it was not 
sufficiently based on current conditions. In doing so, the Court made 
clear that Congress could update the law to reinstitute the protections 
of section 5 coverage if it were based on more recent conduct.
  Today, I am pleased to announce that we are responding to the Court's 
decision by introducing a bill that helps reinvigorate the most vital 
protections of the act. Through months of cooperation, negotiation, and 
compromise, Congressmen Sensenbrenner and Conyers and I have agreed on 
a bipartisan and bicameral proposal to restore the protections of the 
Voting Rights Act that were weakened by the Supreme Court's decision 
last summer. Our sole focus throughout this entire process was to 
ensure that no American would be denied their constitutional right to 
vote because of discrimination on the basis of race or color. We 
believe that this is a strong bipartisan bill that accomplishes this 
goal and that every Member of Congress can support.
  Under our bipartisan bill, all States and jurisdictions are eligible 
for section 5 protections under a new coverage formula, which is based 
on repeated voting rights violations in the last 15 years. This 
coverage provision is based solely on a State's or local jurisdiction's 
recent voting rights record. Significantly, the 15-year period 
``rolls'' or continuously moves to keep up with ``current conditions,'' 
as the Supreme Court stated should be a basis for any coverage 
provision. If a State that is covered establishes a clean record moving 
forward, it will fall out of coverage. In addition, the existing 
bailout provision would still be available for States or jurisdictions 
that can establish that they had a clean record in a 10-year span. 
These provisions ensure that the coverage provision is not over-
inclusive because jurisdictions that have not repeatedly violated the 
voting rights of its constituents can come out from under preclearance 
  Our bill would also improve the Voting Rights Act to allow our 
Federal courts to bail-in the worst actors for preclearance. Current 
law permits States or jurisdictions to be bailed in only for 
intentional voting rights violations, but to ensure that the worst 
discrimination in voting is captured, the bill would amend the act to 
allow States or jurisdictions to be bailed in for results-based 
violations, where the effect of a particular voting measure is to deny 
an individual his or her right to vote.
  In recognition that voters need to be aware of changes in laws 
affecting their right to vote, the bill provides for greater 
transparency in elections. Sunlight is a great disinfectant, as Justice 
Brandeis once observed, and in this instance, the additional sunlight 
will protect voters from discrimination. The transparency provisions 
provide for public notice and information in three areas. The first 
part requires public notice of late breaking changes in Federal 
elections. The second part requires information on polling place 
resource allocation for Federal elections. The third part requires 
information on changes to electoral districts, including demographic 
information, to prevent racial gerrymandering, impermissible 
redistricting, and infringement on minority voters. The last part 
requires this information for Federal, State, and local elections 
because the most impermissible conduct oftentimes occurs in State and 
local elections.
  Finally, our bill revises the preliminary injunction standard for 
voting rights actions. The principle behind this part of the proposal 
is the recognition that when voting rights are at stake, obtaining 
relief after the election has already concluded is too late to 
vindicate the individuals' voting rights. We recognize that there will 
be cases where there is a special need for immediate, preliminary 
relief where the plaintiff can establish that the voting measure is 
likely to be discriminatory.
  This proposal is a bipartisan effort to provide a narrow fix to 
address the Supreme Court's Shelby County decision to ensure that all 
Americans are protected from racial discrimination in voting. I am 
confident and hopeful that the Congress can work together as a body--
not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans--to ensure that we 
root out all voter discrimination with a strong and reinvigorated 
Voting Rights Act.
  I am confident we can do this because protecting voting rights has 
always been a bipartisan effort. In 1965 President Johnson signed the 
Voting Rights Act into law. That law was passed with overwhelming 
bipartisan support in Congress. In the Senate the vote was 79 to 18. In 
the House the vote was 328 to 74. In the four times since it was 
reauthorized, the support for the law has only increased. In fact, when 
President George W. Bush signed the most recent reauthorization in 
2006, the vote in the Senate was 98 to 0 and the vote in the House was 
390 to 33. Too often there is gridlock in Congress, but when it comes 
to the Voting Rights Act, there is almost unanimous agreement on the 
principle that no American should be denied his or her right to vote or 
to participate in our democracy.
  My hope is that we can continue this legacy of bipartisanship on the 
issue of voting rights. As we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King, 
Jr. Day on Monday, we should remember the words of Dr. King, who, in a 
powerful speech about the right to vote, said:

       So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the 
     right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my 
     mind--it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic 
     citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact--I can 
     only submit to the edict of others. So our most urgent 
     request to the president of the United States and every 
     member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.

  I believe that the bipartisan bill we are introducing today honors 
the spirit of those words. I thank Senators Durbin and Coons for 
working with me and I look forward to working with all Senators on this 
important legislation.
      By Mr. WYDEN (for himself, Mr. Schatz, and Mrs. Feinstein):
  S. 1946. A bill to amend the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act of 1978 
to modify the authorization of appropriations; to the Committee on 
Energy and Natural Resources.
  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, today I rise to introduce a bill to protect 
valuable water resource infrastructure across the West. I am pleased to 
be joined by Senators Schatz and Feinstein who share my concern for dam 
safety. The Bureau of Reclamation's Dam Safety Program is not a new 
program, but it is vital for farmers, local economies, and communities 
in 17 Western States. Because the Safety of Dams, SOD Program is 
running out of money, it is essential that Congress extend the program 
and allow projects to proceed by permanently authorizing the funding 
  The SOD Program has a straightforward mission: ``to ensure that 
Reclamation facilities do not present unreasonable risks to the public, 
public safety, property, and/or the environment.'' The challenge of 
meeting that mission is complicated by the strains of aging 
infrastructure and population growth within dam failure zones. 
Reclamation manages 476 dams and dikes, 370 of which are listed within 
the high or significant hazard class, meaning failure of the dam or 
dike would cause life loss or significant damages. Once Reclamation 
begins risk modifications to a dam, the local partners share 15 percent 
of the associated costs. Since the creation of the SOD Program, 
Congress has seen fit to raise the program's authorized ceiling four 
times--in 1984, 2000, and 2002. Twelve years later, it is time to keep 
this program going once more before we hit the ceiling.
  My bill would do away with the authorization ceiling and permanently 
authorize this important program. No longer would the ceiling be a 
hindrance on advancing dam safety. A project in my home State helps to 
illustrate the problem. Scoggins Dam is located in Washington County, 
OR. The dam forms the heart of the water system in the Tualatin Basin, 
providing drinking water to residents, irrigation for valuable 
croplands, and support for nearly a quarter million jobs. The risk to 
Scoggins Dam comes from its position within the Cascade subduction 
zone, where a typical earthquake has a magnitude of 8.7 to 9.2. As the 
first U.S. Senator to visit Fukushima after its

[[Page S445]]

devastating subduction zone earthquake and resulting tsunami, I saw 
firsthand the incredible damage a seismic event can have on a region 
and its infrastructure.
  The Bureau of Reclamation is already well into the process of risk 
assessment on Scoggins Dam, and the current SOD Program ceiling poses a 
significant obstacle to advancing the project to concrete risk-
mitigation actions. Reclamation has evaluated Scoggins Dam and 
predicted that an earthquake could cause spill wall failure and 
potential embankment failure due to deformation, overtopping, or 
erosion through cracks. Reclamation completed the correction action 
study for Scoggins in late 2012; however, no modifications can proceed 
until there is room in the SOD Program budget. The uncertainty around 
fixing this Federal facility is taking a toll on economic development 
at a time when pivotal Oregon companies like Intel and Nike are 
undertaking expansions in Washington County. Scoggins Dam joins a list 
of other dam projects on the near horizon that won't be able to proceed 
without this bill.
  Ensuring that dams continue to provide the benefits they do across 
the West in a safe manner is an important responsibility. I want to 
express my thanks to the Tualatin Basin Water Supply Partners for their 
diligent work to see that safety modifications are made for the 
public's benefit and to meet the region's long-run water needs. I look 
forward to working with Senator Schatz, Senator Feinstein, and other 
colleagues and the bill's other supporters to continue the work of the 
SOD Program.
      By Mr. SANDERS:
  S. 1950. A bill to improve the provision of medical services and 
benefits to veterans, and for other purposes; read the first time.
  Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, today as the chairman of the committee I 
have introduced the most comprehensive piece of veterans legislation 
that we have seen in a very long time. The Comprehensive Veterans 
Health and Benefit and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 
delivers on the promises that we have made to our servicemembers and I 
believe will have the support of Members of the Senate and of the 
House. It addresses virtually every single issue the veterans community 
has been concerned about.
  What we have done now is taken two omnibus bills and wrapped them 
into this legislation. In addition, we have taken other pieces of 
legislation passed by the committee, and we have added to that based on 
some recent developments.
  This legislation is the product of a year of bipartisan work and 
includes provisions important to almost every single veterans service 
organization and dozens of Members of the Senate, Republican, Democrat, 
and Independent, many of which were reported out of the Veterans' 
Affairs Committee with strong bipartisan support.
  This legislation completely eliminates the cuts that were made to the 
military retiree cost-of-living adjustments. I know there was great 
concern here in the Senate from Democrats and Republicans about that 
cut, as well as in the House of Representatives. I am happy to say this 
legislation completely eliminates the cuts that were made to the 
military retiree cost-of-living adjustments.
  As we all know, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 that was passed a 
few days ago would lower cost-of-living adjustments for military 
retirees by reducing the annual adjustment by 1 percent until age 62. 
The American people have spoken very loudly and very clearly. They have 
told the Congress to restore those cuts to military retirees and we 
have listened. I applaud the House and the Senate for restoring these 
cuts for disabled military retirees and survivors in the appropriations 
act we passed today. Today we took care of part of the problem. But we 
have to do more. What the comprehensive veterans bill I have introduced 
today does is restore the full COLA to all military retirees, every 
single retiree. This bill restores these COLAs and does much more.
  I wish to take a moment to highlight some of the key provisions of 
this comprehensive piece of legislation. Let me say, this legislation 
is based on listening very carefully to what the veterans organizations 
have told us in private meetings, in hearings, and at some of the very 
large hearings we have held with the American Legion, the VFW, the DAV, 
and many other service organizations. Let me briefly touch on some of 
the provisions we are addressing, some of the concerns we are 
addressing in this comprehensive veterans legislation which, I should 
add, is fully paid for. It is fully paid for.
  In the first omnibus bill that we passed, S. 944, the Veterans Health 
and Benefits Improvement Act of 2013, we dealt with in-State tuition 
assistance for post-9/11 veterans, an issue of great concern to young 
veterans and to all of the veterans organizations. This package 
includes provisions the committee's ranking member Senator Burr and I 
worked together on, that would help servicemembers transition back into 
civilian life by making recently separated veterans eligible for 
tuition at the in-State rate.
  Given the nature of our Armed Forces, servicemembers have little to 
no say as to where they reside during military service. Therefore, many 
of these servicemembers have not had sufficient time to establish 
residency by the time they go back to school. This legislation would 
help the transition of our brave men and women who have sacrificed so 
much in defense of our country by giving them a fair shot at attaining 
educational goals without incurring an additional financial burden. We 
address that issue in this legislation.
  Clearly one of the issues that has been an embarrassment to all of us 
is the degree of sexual assault we have seen in the military. What this 
legislation does is address that issue as well. While the Pentagon, 
Congress, and other stakeholders continue to work to end sexual assault 
within the military, something we have to focus on, we must nonetheless 
do everything we can to ensure that the VA is a welcoming place for 
those who have survived sexual assault. That is why this legislation 
includes important provisions that would improve the delivery of care 
and benefits to individuals who experience sexual trauma by serving in 
the military. These provisions were inspired by Ruth Moore, a veteran 
who struggled for 23 years to receive VA disability compensation.
  It would expand access to VA counseling and care to active-duty 
servicemembers and members of the Guard and Reserve who experienced 
sexual assault during inactive-duty training. It also takes a number of 
steps to improve the adjudication of disability compensation claims 
based on military sexual trauma.
  This legislation will give the VA additional tools to provide victims 
of sexual trauma with the care and benefits they need to confront the 
emotional and physical consequences of these horrific acts. Sexual 
assault in the military is unacceptable and this committee is, in a 
significant way, addressing that issue.
  One of the concerns we have heard from many veterans and veterans 
organizations is the issue of overmedication. Many of our veterans come 
back and receive in some cases 5, 10 different types of pills to 
address some of the very serious problems they have. What this bill 
does is expand, among many other things, access to complementary and 
alternative medicine. The VA already does a good job in that area. This 
would expand their capability to provide complementary and alternative 
  Maintaining the VA's world-class health care system remains a 
priority for our committee. I am pleased we were able to respond to 
calls from veterans to increase access to complementary and alternative 
medicine for the treatment of chronic pain, mental health conditions, 
and chronic disease. By expanding access to these treatment options--
options such as acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy, and many 
others--we can enhance the likelihood veterans get the care they need 
in the way that works for them. These treatments are becoming more and 
more popular. More and more veterans want access to them and that is 
what we do in this legislation.
  Additionally, this legislation calls for the VA to promote healthy 
weight in veterans by increasing their access to fitness facilities as 
a healthy weight is critical to combating multiple chronic diseases, 
including diabetes and heart disease. In other words, the

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most cost-effective and best way to treat disease is to prevent that 
disease by making sure our veterans have the opportunity to keep 
healthy. This legislation does that as well.
  This legislation further honors as veterans certain persons who 
performed service in the Reserve components of the Armed Forces. I know 
how important this provision is for all those who wore this Nation's 
uniforms as members of the Reserves. I am pleased we will finally honor 
their service with passage of this legislation.
  This legislation also expands benefits for surviving spouses, for the 
spouses of those who gave their lives to defend this country. I want to 
make special note of provisions that will be included in this package 
that would also strengthen the benefits and services provided to 
surviving family members by addressing a number of concerns brought to 
the attention of this committee by the Gold Star Wives in testimony 
last year.
  Obviously the Gold Star Wives are the spouses of those soldiers who 
died in combat. Specifically, this bill would provide additional 
dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses with 
children in order to provide financial support in the difficult period 
following the loss of a loved one. This bill would also expand the 
Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship to include surviving 
spouses of members of the Armed Forces who died in the line of duty. 
That means surviving spouses would become eligible for post-9/11 GI 
bill benefits, setting them and their families up for success in the 
years to follow.
  One of the issues that has occupied a great deal of time and energy 
on the committee deals with claim processing. We all know that for the 
last number of years the VA has had a very significant backlog. That is 
clearly not acceptable. When a veteran brings forth a claim, that claim 
should be processed in a reasonable period of time with a reasonable 
degree of accuracy. We are all too well familiar with the challenges of 
the claims backlog. I am very pleased to see that the VA is making 
significant progress on this complex issue. They are going from paper 
to digital. That is a huge process. As a result, the backlog is 
declining. That is good news, but we have to do more.
  This legislation would support VA's ongoing efforts and would make 
needed improvements to the claims system. Among a number of claims-
related provisions, this bill for the first time would require the 
Department to publicly report on both claims processing goals and 
actual production. This would allow Congress and the public to closely 
track and measure VA's progress on this difficult issue. The Secretary 
of the VA Eric Shinseki has proposed a very ambitious goal for the end 
of 2015. We want to make sure they are on track.
  That is some of the provisions included in the first bill. Let me 
talk a little about bit about the second omnibus bill. Both of those 
bills passed unanimously out of committee. The Comprehensive Veterans 
Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 
includes provisions from S. 1581, a second omnibus bill that moved out 
of the committee with unanimous support at the November markup. Here 
are some of the provisions in that omnibus.
  The improvement and expansion of dental care. I don't know about New 
Mexico, but I can tell you that in Vermont, and in fact in many parts 
of this country, inability to access affordable dental care is a major 
crisis. It is true for the general public and it is true for veterans 
as well. The truth is, right now the VA, with the exception of service-
connected oral problems, does not provide dental care to our veterans. 
I think that is a very significant omission.
  What this legislation does is, starting off with a large-scale pilot 
project, begin the effort to make sure dental care becomes part of VA 
health care. This is something that I think the veterans throughout 
this country will be very excited to learn about and to participate in.
  Those are some of the provisions that were in the two omnibus bills, 
and they passed unanimously.
  Let me talk about some other legislation that came out of the 
committee, in some cases with bipartisan support, but not unanimously. 
The first one deals with advanced appropriations for the VA; that is, 
S. 932, the Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013. That was 
introduced, as I recall, by Senators Begich and Boozman in a bipartisan 
way. Here is the story, which is very important: As we saw last year, 
in the event of a prolonged government shutdown, the Veterans' 
Administration would not have been able to issue disability 
compensation or pension payments or provide educational benefit to 
millions of deserving veterans.

  The truth is that during that shutdown, we were perhaps a week or 10 
days away from disabled veterans, and others, not getting the benefits 
so many of them depend upon. It is what they depend upon to buy 
groceries, it is what they depend upon to pay a mortgage, and to make 
their car payments. We were a week or 10 days away from those veterans 
not getting those benefits.
  I am happy to say that in this legislation we have addressed that 
issue, and we have moved forward with advanced appropriations for 
mandatory accounts at the VA.
  Our economy is making slow progress. We are creating jobs, but nobody 
believes we are anywhere near where we want to be. Real unemployment in 
this country is close to 13 percent. In my view, we owe a great deal to 
our veterans who have left their families, their jobs, gone abroad, and 
then when they come back, they are unable to find employment. What our 
legislation does is put into this comprehensive bill the Renew Our VOW 
to Hire Heroes, S. 6, the Putting Veterans Back to Work Act of 2013. 
This legislation would reauthorize provisions from the VOW to Hire 
Heroes Act, including a 2-year extension to the Veterans Training 
Assistance Program which retrains unemployed veterans for high-demand 
occupations. There are other employment provisions in this legislation 
as well.
  Several years ago, under the leadership of our colleague Patty 
Murray, who was my predecessor as chair of the Veterans' Affairs 
Committee, we proudly passed the Caregivers Act. The Caregivers Act was 
a very important piece of legislation which said to families who were 
taking care of disabled veterans: We understand what you are doing is 
very difficult, and we are going to give you some assistance.
  The legislation we had passed dealt with post-9/11 veterans and their 
families. After listening to the concerns of pre-9/11 veterans and 
their family members, I introduced S. 851, the Caregivers Expansion and 
Improvement Act of 2013 to extend eligibility for the caregivers 
programs to veterans' families of all eras. So we took this program, 
which was working well, and we said we are going to pay attention to 
the needs of all families who are taking care of men and women who put 
their lives on the line to defend us and have become disabled, and that 
is in this legislation as well.
  Also in this legislation is language which will extend eligibility to 
enroll in VA health care, and that is S. 1604. We all know that early 
diagnosis of health care conditions is critically important. Under the 
current law, recently separated veterans have 5 years of free health 
care from the VA. This legislation would extend the period of time for 
these individuals, including members of the active component, the 
National Guard, and Reserves. They will be eligible to enroll in the VA 
health care system for 10 years post deployment. We go from 5 years to 
10 years.
  This benefit has been incredibly helpful to our most recent 
generation of servicemembers, and extending the enrollment period will 
allow more individuals to take advantage of VA's high-quality, cost-
effective health care system, including important access to mental 
health care services.
  Additionally, this legislation simplifies the process for determining 
eligibility for enrollment in VA health care for lower income veterans. 
Currently VA uses an extremely complex calculation of geographic income 
thresholds that vary from county to county. You can have one veteran in 
one county in Vermont, another person living a mile away, and one is 
eligible for VA health care because of his or her income, but another 
person with the same income is not eligible. My legislation establishes 
one income threshold per State, simplifies the process, and

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will enable more veterans to be eligible for VA health care.
  This legislation also includes S. 131, the Women Veterans and Other 
Health Care Improvements Act of 2013. With the widespread use of 
improvised explosive devices throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, both 
female and male servicemembers have found themselves with increased 
risk of spinal cord, reproductive, and urinary tract injury. Many of 
these veterans dreamed of starting a family, but their injuries 
prevented them from conceiving, and this legislation will help them 
fulfill their dreams.
  We have three more important provisions I want to briefly touch upon, 
and that is, once again, the restoration of full COLA for all military 
retirees. In an effort to address concerns regarding the cost-of-living 
adjustments for all military retirees, this bill would reaffirm the 
commitment Congress made to our servicemembers and veterans by ensuring 
consistent and appropriate funding for military retirees and veterans. 
This very important provision is in this legislation.
  Furthermore, there has been a concern that many CBOCs, community-
based outreach clinics, that have been planned all over this country 
have been unable to be built for a variety of technical reasons. We 
addressed that issue as well. This bill also improves access to mental 
health treatment for veterans.
  Let me conclude by saying we give a lot of speeches about the respect 
we have for the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend 
this country. They have come forward through the veterans committee and 
they have said: We have concerns. We have concerns about health care; 
we have concerns about how quickly the benefits that we apply for come 
to us. They have been very loud and clear in saying--and we agree with 
them--that it is unacceptable that pensions promised to veterans have 
been cut. There have been many other issues dealing with employment and 
dealing with education.
  What this bill does in a comprehensive way is to say to the veterans 
of this country--the millions and millions of people who have given so 
much to us--we hear your concerns. We hear your concerns, and we are 
going to address your concerns.
  I want to take this moment to thank majority leader Senator Reid. He 
has been very supportive of not only veterans in general but supportive 
of this effort to make sure we keep our promises to the veterans of 
this country. That bill has been introduced. My hope is we can get it 
to the floor as soon as possible.
  I hope very much that although there is a partisan climate, that on 
this issue of keeping our promises to the men and women who have put 
their lives on the line to defend this country, we can come together as 
a Senate and as a House and have the President sign this bill which 
will mean so much to so many.
  With that, I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut is recognized.
  Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I want to start by thanking Chairman 
Sanders of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, where I serve, for his 
extraordinary vision and leadership and join him in thanking the 
majority leader for his commitment to this kind of comprehensive and 
aggressive approach to revise and reinvigorate, reinvent and reform, 
veterans programs in a comprehensive and overarching approach.
  I will be speaking at greater length in the days and weeks to come, 
but I want to join the Senator in committing all of us--I hope on a 
bipartisan basis--to this effort to fix the flaws and fulfill the 
vision this Nation owes to the men and women who have served and 
sacrificed year after year.
  This program recognizes a fundamental truth: We are dealing with 
different populations of different ages, and within those populations, 
people with different needs and challenges, and a comprehensive program 
is necessary to address the obligation. It is an obligation we owe them 
to make sure that we leave no veteran behind and keep faith with every 
man and woman who has served and sacrificed for this Nation.
  It fixes the flaws of the last budget agreement that reduced the 
cost-of-living adjustment on retirees' pensions. It commits the Nation 
to economic opportunity and real jobs--training for the jobs that exist 
now and the jobs of the future. It reforms loan and aid programs for 
college education and also for noncollege education.
  It addresses the gaps in health care, not just by promising but 
performing. And, of course, it will also necessarily help veterans who 
may be preyed upon by schemes and scams, legal or illegal, and that is 
a very desperate and challenging need for this Nation to address, and 
hopefully it will do so on a bipartisan basis.
  There should be no reason and no justification for opposing an effort 
that is paid for--and I stress paid for. My hope is we will have 
bipartisan support for this visionary and courageous measure that says 
to America's veterans: We will keep faith with you. We will leave no 
veteran behind.
  One of the first promises I made 3 years ago in the first speech I 
gave on the floor of this Chamber was I would work and fight 
aggressively for the veterans of this Nation. I intend to work for this 
program--work to improve it--and continue to listen to the Veterans of 
Foreign Wars, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the American Legion, and 
all of the groups that represent our veterans so ably, and speak for 
them. The voices and faces of Connecticut's veterans have been with me 
always, and I see them always when I return. I will work tirelessly for 
this program.
  Again, my thanks to all of the members of the Veterans' Affairs 
Committee who will be supporting this program, and to our chairman 
Senator Sanders for his great leadership.