Floor and Committee Statements

Thursday, September 27, 2007 -

Floor Statement on Iraq

Thursday, September 27, 2007

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Floor Statement on Iraq
Remarks as Delivered on the Senate Floor

Mr. President, I rise today based on an occurrence that took place last evening that caused me to think a little bit about this body and our priorities right now at this time.

Two gentlemen from my home community of Cobb County, GA, invited me to go to dinner with them and about 25 other members of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce--Mr. Don Beaver, a distinguished retired marine who now works at the Chamber; and the chairman-elect, Sam Kelly. The invitation was to talk about their issues. But they did an amazing thing last night: They called Walter Reed, they called the Army, and they said they would like to entertain a couple of our wounded warriors who are being treated as outpatients at Walter Reed hospital.

So last night, I sat at a table at Old Ebbitt Grill with citizens from my community and two distinguished wounded warriors from the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. One had served in Iraq as a sniper and was injured when an IED exploded on his humvee as he was coming back from deployment near Baghdad. Since that hit, he has had 12 surgeries, with substantial reconstruction on the entire left side of his body, from his head to his toe. The other, a special operations soldier of the 82nd Airborne Division, lost his leg. Both--some time now, a year after their initial treatment--still take pain killers, still are in therapy, and still show the scars from their tragic injuries suffered at the hands of an IED in the case of one, and in the case of the other, an RPG, a rocket-propelled grenade.

As we sat at the table, I thanked them so much, as all of us do, for their service to our country and listened to their concerns and listened to their thoughts and listened to their prayers for the soldiers they left when they were injured in Iraq.

It occurred to me as we were talking that we are now in the third week in the Senate--over the third week--of debating the reauthorization of the Defense bill. Think about that. You sit at dinner one night with two soldiers who sacrificed limbs and pain and suffering for you and for me, and we continue to dawdle and get off track on authorizing or reauthorizing probably the single most important thing we ought to be doing. I am concerned that the leadership has decided to take ancillary issues unrelated to defense, unrelated to our men in the field, unrelated to what is going on in the world today, and protracting the debate on what is absolutely essential and needed.

As I sat there and listened to these two wounded warriors, both of whom suffered from explosive devices that hit their humvee or their armored personnel carrier, I realized we were still dawdling on the debate on the authorization of the MRAP; I realized we are dawdling on the debate in terms of the pay raise for our soldiers; I realized, as meritorious as some of the amendments we are discussing may well be, they all pale in comparison to the 170,000 men and women deployed right now in Iraq fighting on our behalf.

Now, there are differences of opinion on the war in the Senate, and I respect that. This is the body and this is the place where those differences should be debated and be debated thoroughly. But I want to jog everybody's memory for a second. It was May when we did the emergency supplemental that we spent not 1 week but 2 weeks on, not debating the supplemental but debating whether we should withdraw or set dates certain or leave Iraq. We had numerous votes--none of them successful--on setting a date certain. Finally, as Memorial Day approached, we decided to pass on the money so needed to support our troops. Then, 60 days later, in the middle of July, pressing before the August break, another bill came up, and once again we redebated all the same issues with regard to dates certain, with regard to withdrawal, even one with regard to defunding the military operations in the war on terror and the battle in Iraq.

Now here we are, 2 months later, in the third week of a Defense authorization bill, and we have already had these same debates once again, and the votes have not changed except they have lost by a little bit more than they lost in July. Yet, all over the country, and last night at Old Ebbitt Grill, Americans are sitting down with their sons and daughters, who fought in harm's way and have come back, many of them wounded and harmed, and how do you explain to them it takes 3 weeks to debate the reauthorization of their pay or 3 weeks to debate the reauthorization of MRAP that just might have prevented the very injuries those two soldiers I sat with last night incurred?

So I think it is important that we set priorities. It is very important, I am sure, to the Senator from Massachusetts to discuss hate crimes legislation. I understand that. But in setting priorities, is it right to take something such as hate crimes--which already exists in 45 States, already exists in the Federal law in terms of race and religion--and get all off track on MRAP and reauthorizing the pay of our troops and an increase? Is that right? Is that setting the right priority? Is it important for us to do that?

Is it important for us to do some of the things that have happened over the last 3 weeks? In fact, to give a little report card, because I have been intimately involved in amendments on this bill, this Senate, in 3 weeks of debate, has passed en bloc 34 amendments to this bill--all technical, none requiring debate, one of them mine. It would seem that instead of having all the debate about ancillary subjects or about recirculating amendments that twice before on the floor of the Senate, within 6 months, have failed, it is about time we got our priorities straight. It is about time we authorize the Department of Defense. It is about time we get to the pay raise for our soldiers. It is about time we get to the MRAP that Republicans and Democrats--the Senator from Delaware, Mr. Biden, and all of us--have worked so hard on.

It is about time we set our priorities and get them straight. Whatever the merit of other issues may be, if they are unrelated to the Department of Defense reauthorization, they can wait until another day because every day our sons and our daughters are deployed for you and for me in harm's way. We can differ on the war, and I respect that, but there should not be a difference on the funding of our men and women deployed in the Middle East.

I, for one, call on the leadership for us to get back to the business we are called on to do. Let's complete the DOD authorization without any other dilatory tactics or any other ancillary amendments, other than those that relate to the Department of Defense.