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Last Updated:4/5/00
Speech by Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-Texas), April 4, 2000

[Page: E487]



in the House of Representatives

The House in Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union had under consideration the bill (H.R. 3908) making emergency supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2000, and for other purposes:

Mr. BENTSEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in reluctant support of the Fiscal Year 2000 Supplemental Bill, which provides over $9 billion in emergency funds for this year. This bill provides $5 billion for ongoing operations in Kosovo, $2.2 billion for natural disaster assistance, $2 billion additional funds for the Defense Department, and $1.7 billion in assistance to Colombia, Peru, and to fight narcotics traffickers.

While I support the Supplemental Appropriations bill, I have strong reservations about using this legislation as a vehicle to circumvent the regular appropriations process. Many initiatives and decisions contained in this bill should be part of the regular FY 2001 appropriation process rather than trying to slip under the past and current year spending levels. This bill reduces the non-Social Security budget surplus for this year by about 35%. Such efforts don't speak well for the often-stated Congressional pledges to pay down the debt. Too often under this GOP leadership, the term `emergency' is misunderstood and misused. This Emergency Supplemental request should not be an opportunity to evade spending caps for non-emergency items.

I supported the increases of the Lewis-Spence amendment, which would provide $4 billion in additional emergency funds, mostly targeted at maintaining critical need areas under the Department of Defense. While it would be preferable to consider this funding during the regular budget process, I believe the military has urgent needs in the areas specified by the amendment. Under the amendment, an additional $4 billion will be provided to fund the operations and training of currently deployed forces, as well as provide much-needed increases for the military health care program, personnel recruiting and retention, and improvements to military housing. However, this amendment underscores the fallacy of the Majority's FY 2001 Budget Resolution adopted last week.

The Supplemental Appropriations bill does include important funding for fighting the drug war in Colombia and providing the military with adequate funding levels to pay for rising fuel costs; health care and repairing damages to military facilities caused by recent hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters is understandable. These are truly unforseen costs.

I decided to support the Emergency Supplemental because the assistance package for Colombia is a vital priority and is clearly in our nation's fundamental interest. Colombia is the source of more than 80 percent of the cocaine and much of the heroin that enters the United States. In fact, Colombia produces 60 percent of the world's cocaine crop, an astonishing 90 percent of which makes its way to the U.S. The cost of illegal drugs to the U.S. is $110 billion a year, and the U.S. Drug Czar, Barry McCaffrey has reported that illegal drugs account for 114,000 American deaths a year. Assisting Colombia is clearly in the interest of our nation and especially in the interest of our nation's youth.

In 1999, Colombia's President Pastrana unveiled a proposal, known as Plan Colombia, to address the country's drug production and civil conflict. The Government of Colombia has estimated that $7.8 billion will needed over the next three years to reverse the country's role as the hemispheric center for drugs, rebuild its economy and bolster its democratic institutions.

But as we offer assistance to Colombia, it is important that we include tangible means for measuring the actions of the government-supported forces. We must ensure that the funds we provide to Colombia are utilized in a manner consistent with our national interest. That is why I supported the amendment offered by my colleague from Wisconsin, Mr. Obey that would have delayed funding for military hardware and training contained in the Colombia assistance package until July 15, 2000. The amendment would have provided for immediate funding of all drug interdiction efforts under the Administration's plan, but with withheld military aid until sufficient review by Congress. The delay would have provided the Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on International Relations, and the Select Committee on Intelligence time to hold hearings about the conflict in Colombia and the need for this kind of hardware and training before the funds are appropriated.

I believe the funding contained in the aid package should not serve as a blank-check for the Colombian military to engage in actions that may violate human rights, including the killing of innocent civilians. It is important to remember that since 1987, it has been reported that more than 35,000 noncombatant civilians have been murdered or made to disappear by the Colombian security forces and their paramilitary allies. While President Pastrana has made important strides in restoring the rule of law and improving the human rights record of the military, the U.S. should act very carefully before appropriating funds to any army with such a decidedly bloody record.

I also believe this legislation should have included drug prevention measures to reduce the demand for illegal drugs in the United States. Such an effort must be part of a comprehensive U.S. anti-drug strategy. Indeed, I find it ironic that we're considering an emergency supplemental bill in the House of Representatives whose emergency status is in part due to the production of illegal drugs in Colombia, without one dollar in the bill being used for drug prevention in the U.S.

Illegal drugs are killing our kids at an alarming rate. In 1998, five million young people in this country required treatment for drug addiction, and nearly 600,000 required an emergency room visit. In the United States, there are 1.6 million drug-related arrests annually, and over half of our prison population committed drug-related crimes. Even more disturbing, while the average age for marijuana users in increasing, heroin abusers are getting younger. The cost of drug abuse to our society is estimated to be $110 billion per year, but it is much higher if measured in countless lives lost and young dreams broken. This problem, Mr. Chairman, is staggering. As such, I supported the motion to recommit the bill back to the Appropriations Committee with instructions that it be reported back to the full House with sufficient domestic drug prevention funding. While this effort failed, I hope the Administration and the Majority take important steps to address the demand side of the drug problem in this country. If we are to truly eradicate drugs from our streets, we must recognize that when there is a demand, there will always be a willing supplier.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I sincerely hope that, should this bill progress, the leadership will pare back spending which is not truly emergency. Much of this bill can be considered under the regular appropriations process for FY 2001. We should be reticent to completely ignore spending caps for the current fiscal year as this bill does.

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