May 6, 2017 (Windy Hill Beach, South Carolina) — The following comments on 2017 federal budget bill by John Cornyn (R-TX) are excerpted from May 4, 2017 Congressional Record:
Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, if I may speak on the bill before the Senate, yesterday the House of Representatives passed the Omnibus appropriations bill. Of course, this is the legislation that keeps the Congress and the government up and running through the end of the fiscal year, the end of September. It actually represents the first demonstration of Republicans and Democrats in both Houses of Congress working with the White House in order to pass an important piece of legislation and keep the government up and running through the end of the fiscal year.
Over the last few weeks, we have had many productive conversations and debates about how best to establish our priorities, how much we should spend — particularly my concern about underfunding our military and our national security funding but also to update our priorities because that is one of the things that happens in an appropriations bill. When programs are obsolete or ineffective, there is no way to eliminate them while operating under a continuing resolution. It takes a positive piece of legislation like an appropriations bill — like this appropriations bill — to eliminate those obsolete or no longer effective programs.
I am hopeful that once we pass this bill and after the President signs it, we will continue to plot a course toward a long-term strategic budget that reflects the priorities of the American people. I firmly believe we were elected to govern, not to shut down the government. In my view, that is an abdication of our responsibilities. I hope we will continue to follow on now after we have been able to accomplish this bipartisan, bicameral negotiation with the White House, and we will continue to govern and to demonstrate our sense of responsibility to the American people for doing just that.
This omnibus package includes a good blueprint for how we can order our priorities and take care of our country.
2017 federal budget bill: Border Security
Yesterday I mentioned the increases in resources to better shore up border security. This is the largest increase in border security funding in 10 years. That is a significant accomplishment. This funding will help the Department of Homeland Security hire more Border Patrol agents and Customs officials to improve the infrastructure at our ports of entry and checkpoints and hire more immigration judges to process more immigration cases.
2017 federal budget bill: Military
It also creates funding for our troops fighting abroad and for our military in general and includes a pay raise for our men and women in the military, which is very important as well, particularly in an All-Volunteer military and one that has been stressed by 15 years of continuous conflict around the world.
This bill also takes a more strategic look at the threats we are facing, including resources to shore up technology and equipment that will help our military stay No. 1. After years of putting military improvements and readiness on the back burner, actually cutting defense spending by 20 percent during the two terms of [alleged] President Obama, this bill is a solid first step toward regaining our readiness and maintaining a capable and modern military.
While I never will doubt the American people responding or our military responding to the needs or the threats to our security, we don’t want to be roused out of our complacency by a crisis occurring somewhere in the world, whether it is North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, Crimea, or elsewhere. We want to be ready on day one. Some of that readiness has seriously been called into question by some of our lack of prioritizing defense spending and military readiness generally.
2017 federal budget bill: Disaster relief
In addition to those two important topics, many across the country have been impacted by severe weather, including violent storms and tornadoes. Of course, Texas has been a part of that sad story. Several in Texas have lost their lives due to these storms and the flooding caused by them. Of course we mourn for those who have lost loved ones and those who have been injured, but we have to do more than just grieve for them — we have to help them as well. This omnibus bill includes funding for previously approved disaster relief, which will help communities in Texas and throughout the country rebuild and recover following a natural disaster.
2017 federal budget bill: Rape Kit Backlog reduction
This legislation also includes money to help reduce the rape kit backlog. This is a topic which most people are not all that familiar with, but years ago we passed something called the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Act, named for a heroic woman, Debbie Smith, who championed the use of forensic evidence and the tracing of DNA samples in order to solve sexual assault cases.
The amazing thing about this great technology and DNA testing is that it is enormously powerful. Even as long as 20 years later, we have had rape kits taken out of evidence lockers at law enforcement agencies and tested and come up with a hit on the FBI’s database, which is the purpose of the testing. It also has the power to exonerate people who are perhaps falsely accused by excluding them scientifically from the possibility of being the assailant in a given case.
It is very important for us to fund important programs like the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Act. I know at one point there was an estimate that there were 400,000 untested rape kits in America. The problem was that we didn’t really know how many there were because some of them were sitting, as I indicated earlier, in police evidence lockers, and others were sitting in the laboratory and not tested.
The question arose, when the identity of the assailant was known, what purpose could be served by testing the rape kit, which is not inexpensive? What we found is that the assailant, even if identified in the present case, is very likely to have been engaged in a course of conduct or serial assaults, and it helps us solve not only the present case but also other cases as well. Some of them are very old. That is important so that criminals can be brought to justice.
2017 federal budget bill: Other priorities
This bill also funds the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA. It funds a Federal study for a Gulf Coast protection project and active-shooter training for first responders — all priorities important to my home State of Texas.
This legislation also represents changes in Washington since November. It is the first major piece of bipartisan legislation negotiated with the new Trump administration. Instead of pushing more regulations and rules that cripple our economy and disregarding the needs of our military and the stark realities of the border, this legislation begins to steer our country in a better direction.
I know that no piece of legislation is perfect, and perhaps the best definition of a negotiation is that both sides are dissatisfied because nobody gets everything they want. I look forward to voting for this legislation because I believe we were elected last November 8 to govern, not to abdicate those responsibilities or somehow engage in a shutdown narrative, which I don’t think serves anyone well, certainly not the American people. I look forward to voting on this legislation and encourage all of our colleagues to do the same.