By Ramsey Cox
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) argued against McCain’s amendment, saying it would also remove language that allows the Department of Defense to give grants to organizations that support the troops such as the USO, Red Cross and Fisher House.
McCain accused Durbin of not reading the bill because his amendment would remove a part of the bill that had nothing to do with those organizations.
"Sometimes when you can’t argue the merit of the issues, you just make something up," McCain said. "My amendment strikes language that has nothing to do with the USO, mother’s of America or apple pie."
The Senate bill, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), sets the same spending levels as a government funding measure approved by the House last week.
But the Senate bill adds three full appropriations measures to the House version. The House bill, H.R. 933, funded Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs, while the Senate version adds appropriations for Agriculture, Homeland Security and the Commerce, Justice and Science funds.
McCain had blocked consideration of the bill on Tuesday because he wanted to finish reading new parts of the bill. He said he found a provision on Guam that was expressly prohibited by the Defense Authorization Act passed last year. He said Congress has not received the cost analysis on the price of moving troops from Okinawa to Guam that was required in the Defense Authorization before Guam received infrastructure funds. He added that it “explicitly prohibited these kinds of premature investments.”
“At a time when the Department of Defense is facing sequestration, it’s appalling and disgraceful that the bill would be in direct contradiction with the authorizers,” McCain said Wednesday. “What in the world is the job of the authorizers if it’s not to have their language adhered to? … It is absolutely unbelievable.”
McCain proceeded to list programs that are being reduced because of sequestration, such as the reduction of troop readiness and operations.
“These are the effects of sequestration so what do they do in the continued resolution, they add $140 million to Guam for a wastewater treatment plant,” McCain said. “Talk about a detachment from reality … and there are other outrageous and stupid things in this bill.”
Durbin said the wastewater treatment facility was not a “frill,” but a basic health need for the troops already stationed on Guam.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has allowed amendment votes to the bill, but says he wants to finish work on the continued spending resolution by the end of the week in order to send it back to the House for a final vote. If the House and Senate do not agree to a measure by March 27, the government could shut down.