Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, I again urge my colleagues to vote for cloture and express their support for consideration of S. 1315, the proposed "Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007.'' This comprehensive bill, reported by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, would improve benefits and services for veterans , both young and old. We should be debating and voting on this bill now. It has been on the calendar since last August.
It is well past time for this body to address and resolve the differences of opinion on provisions in this bill--so active duty service members, veterans , and their survivors can receive improvements to benefits for which they may be entitled without further delay.
Mr. President, I respect the fact that Members have different points of view on parts of this bill, but I do not understand why there is an unwillingness to debate.
As I noted yesterday, for seven months, all I have asked for is debate on this bill. I reached out in October, November, and December of last year, in an effort to come to an agreement to hold that debate. This session, my efforts to reach a time agreement or to negotiate, including in February after the committee's ranking member introduced an alternate bill to S. 1315, have been rejected time and time again.
Mr. President, I am disappointed that members of the minority have continually stood in the way of veterans receiving the enhanced benefits they deserve. I am discouraged that they have not been willing to engage in debate--the business of the Senate. This is not the way that we should be conducting business on behalf of those who have served under the U.S. flag.
A number of things were mentioned yesterday by my colleague, the committee's ranking member, which seem to demonstrate significant confusion about the process that has brought us here.
For example, the ranking member spoke of being asked to agree to no amendments and limited debate time. That is simply not true. What I asked for was an agreement to limit amendments to the bill to only those that relate to the bill. After identifying such amendments, we would then seek to define the time needed to debate these amendments. This represents the way the Senate most often gets its business done and certainly is the process that the Veterans' Affairs Committee follows on those occasions when there is a need for floor debate.
It may be that my colleague does not believe there should be any limitation on amendments to this bill.
If there is no limitation on what amendments can be offered during debate of this bill, I anticipate that other Senators will bring forward a significant number of amendments. Some will be based on measures considered by the committee and not adopted. Some will be based on measures that were debated by the committee and included in other bills now pending on the calendar. Some will represent issues not yet considered by the committee and thus not subjected to the hearing and debate process. And lastly, I am certain that a number of amendments will represent issues not under this committee's jurisdiction.
That does not appear to me to be a desirable way to get our business done. However, if that is the ranking member's preference, let him say so.
Another misleading statement made by the ranking member was his suggestion that the committee was not willing to talk about changes to the bill. That statement cannot refer to the actual committee process last year--where the provision relating to Filipino veterans was noticed--and an amendment was offered--and debated.
After the bill was reported, I clearly expressed my willingness--on multiple occasions--to reach a compromise on the pension provision. As I noted yesterday, the only debate raised in the committee was on the amount of the pension for Filipino World War II veterans, not on eliminating the pension entirely.
The provision prevailed in committee. Now the ranking member offers one option: to give these elderly Filipino veterans nothing. That is not a compromise.
I am ready to debate the core issue--but I am not prepared to abandon a provision that I believe is right.
I believe it is the moral obligation of this Nation to provide for those Filipino veterans --who fought under the U.S. flag during World War II. We must act to ensure that these veterans are not left to live out their twilight years without acknowledgment that their service during World War II is valued. I am not going to abandon them without a fight.
Mr. President, I ask my colleagues to agree to begin the process of debating this bill. If cloture on the motion to proceed is achieved, I hope that the ranking member will join me and our party leaders to craft a workable agreement that allows for a full debate on this bill--and on his amendment to it--along with any other amendments to provisions in the bill. Once this bill is disposed of , our committee will be in a position to bring forward other bills, including whatever bills we report out of committee later this year.
I look forward to a spirited and in- depth debate on this bill. This is a debate we could have had two months ago or even late last year. Let us not waste any more time. Let us work together to join the issues and have the Senate do its business. I ask my colleagues to join in voting for cloture.
I yield back the remainder of my time.
April 22, 2008