Tuesday, September 27, 2011

McCain hits appropriation for Guam military buildup


UNITED States Senator John McCain said on the Senate floor that it was incredible to him that the Senate

Senator John McCain

Appropriations Committee would prioritize and appropriate $33 million to purchase school buses for Guam’s school children, build Phase One of a repository for Guam’s cultural artifacts, and fund a facility for Guam’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

The Committee last week passed H.R. 2219, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which included the $33 million for Guam.

“That legislation should reflect the will of the Defense Authorization bill, but runs directly contrary to it in many areas,” said McCain.

The $33 million is for operation and maintenance funds, that is, money used to maintain the readiness and combat capability of U.S. troops.

The $33 million and the $40 million appropriation expected next year “to complete these facilities, is, at least in theory, supposed to help promote Guam’s cooperation as part of the plan to move 8,700 Marines and 9,000 family members from their current bases on Okinawa to Guam,” said McCain.

But McCain warned that the plan to move the Marines, which will require spending between $18 and $23 billion on Guam to build up its capabilities as a permanent base, “is so much in doubt that both the Armed Services Committee and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee have stopped funding Guam military construction projects until the Department of Defense provides a master plan and considers alternatives that may provide the needed Marine forward presence at much less expense.

“In the face of all the doubt about the scope and timing of the eventual buildup, the Appropriations Committee put a premium on buying school buses, an artifact repository, and a mental health clinic in Guam. Those simply are not my idea of top Defense priorities in the fiscal environment we face.”

Bordallo response

Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo criticized McCain for his comments.

“Senator McCain’s views are out of step with the Department of Defense, the House, and the State Department, and they are not consistent with his previous stance on infrastructure funding for Guam,” said Bordallo.

“During last year’s debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate expressed concern about infrastructure funding and requirements in Guam. This $33 million address critical civilian infrastructure needs and provides funding for the Department of the Navy to fulfill certain obligations agreed to in the Programmatic Agreement.”

Bordallo said McCain’s comments are not consistent with recent developments in Japan.

“For the first time, the government of Japan has a concrete plan on how to achieve tangible progress in Okinawa next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has expressed his government’s support for moving forward with the realignment. The buildup in Guam is an absolute necessity for the United States to ensure regional stability, and Congress must provide the resources necessary to ensure that it is a win-win for both our military and Guam’s civilian community,” said Bordallo.

Guthertz response

Senator Judi Guthertz, Guam buildup chair, also responded, saying McCain’s remarks are “irresponsible and suggest his memory is failing.”

“He has forgotten many promises that were made to pave the way for the buildup,” she said.

“Now I know the Marines will enjoy being on Guam,” McCain said. “I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary for them to have a repository for cultural artifacts.”

Guthertz said, “If Senator McCain or his staff had bothered to look into why these decisions were made, rather than firing off cheap media shots, they would understand, unless they have been totally brainwashed by the Tea Party,” Guthertz said.

The funding for these projects came about when the Department of Defense offered to fund the museum in view of widespread concern that the massive development planned for the buildup would destroy archaeological and culturally significant artifacts on the island. It is supported by a 2010 Programmatic Agreement signed off by both the government of Guam and the military.

Guthertz said the “sniping at the construction funds for the mental health facility was particularly outrageous since the Environmental Impact Statement process made it quite clear that the arrival of Marines and their dependents envisioned in the original buildup plans would push present mental health facilities in Guam past the breaking point.”

Guthertz accused McCain of not caring “one bit about the U.S. citizen civilians on Guam, who have been assured by the DOD that impacts on the civilian community would be mitigated in exchange for their support of the buildup.”

McCain said in the Senate, the process of authorizing prior to appropriating money for the federal government was a “fundamental problem of this body,” and “it is time this process be stopped.”

McCain said this was because “a handful of senior appropriators, and their unelected staffs, dictate the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars – often in a manner that directly contravenes the will of those committees that still authorize spending.”

The solution, said McCain, is to not authorize appropriation bills and any funding proposed for unauthorized projects which should be subject to the scrutiny of the authorizing committees and reflect the will of their members.

“We are all to blame for this problem. The fact is that routine passage of authorizing legislation simply doesn’t occur as it should. And far too often, even routine passage of appropriations legislation has devolved into passage of a single ‘omnibus’ bill. This also must stop.”

McCain said at a time when the government is facing a $14.7 trillion national debt, “the Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing a Defense spending bill that uses a budget gimmick totaling over $10 billion to mislead the American people about the savings the Committee claims to achieve.”

“And while the Department of Defense is struggling to find more than $400 billion in cuts directed by the President, the Appropriations Committee is still conducting business as usual by rewarding special interests and funding pet projects that have little or nothing to do with our national defense,” he said.

McCain listed roughly 580 items that were changed by the Appropriations Committee which are differences from the bill adopted unanimously by the Armed Services Committee in June in the Department of Defense Authorization bill. The list is 45 pages long and represents $20 billion in changes.

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