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Cole Opening Remarks on H.J. Res. 124

September 16, 2014

Washington, D.C. - Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) offered the following opening remarks today on the House Floor while managing the rule for H.J. Res. 124, the Continuing Appropriations Resolution for fiscal year 2015:

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Rules Committee met and reported a rule for consideration of H.J. Res. 124, the Continuing Appropriations Resolution for fiscal year 2015. The rule is a structured rule which provides for the consideration of a short-term continuing resolution keeping the government funded until December 11, 2014.

The rule provides for 1 hour of debate equally divided between the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, this rule provides for the adoption of a technical amendment by Chairman Rogers and makes in order an amendment by Chairman McKeon. That amendment provides the authority for the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups or individuals.

For this amendment, the rule provides 6 hours of debate equally divided between Chairman McKeon and Ranking Member Smith. The rule also provides for one motion to recommit.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, the rule corrects a technical error and puts in place the base rules of the House regarding media access to the hearings and meetings of the Benghazi Select Committee.

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my friend Chairman Rogers for bringing a bill to avoid a government shutdown to the House. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, it is frustrating that we are forced into acting on a short-term continuing resolution when we spent much of this year, both in committee and on the floor, updating congressional funding priorities for fiscal year 2015.

This House has done its work. I wish I could say the same for the other body. While the Senate has chosen not to pass even one appropriations bill on the floor, this House has passed seven.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed eight of the 12 appropriations bills out of committee, the House Appropriations Committee has approved all but one. If the Senate would work with us, I believe we could pass all of our bills on time.

The CR we are considering today is a clean bill continuing the funding of government operations at last year's levels. It includes only 36 so-called anomalies all within the total level of funding.

These changes are necessary to address current immediate needs like addressing the Ebola crisis, funding programs to counter regional aggression toward Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries, and funding to ensure appropriate treatment of veterans and continued oversight of the VA.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, this bill extends the Export-Import Bank through June 30, 2015. I know some of my friends will disagree with me; however, I believe the Export-Import Bank provides a vital service. In an era when foreign governments are directly subsidizing industries, our companies are in need of a level playing field. I believe the Export-Import Bank does that.

In my home State of Oklahoma, since 2007, financing provided by the Export-Import Bank has supported over $1.1 billion in sales by U.S. companies that would not have existed otherwise; in addition, the Export-Import Bank has returned over $2.6 billion to the United States Treasury since 2008.

Finally, and most significantly, the McKeon amendment would provide the President with the authority he has requested to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition. The amendment ensures congressional oversight by requiring detailed progress reports on a plan, a vetting process, and procedures for monitoring unauthorized end use of provided training and equipment. It would also require the President to report on how this authority fits within a larger regional strategy.

Mr. Speaker, when we look back on what brought us to this point, there are at least three significant failures that we can point to: first, former Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki was given the opportunity to create a multiethnic, multisectarian, inclusive State of Iraq, but, instead, he squandered it; secondly, President Obama didn't insist forcefully enough to keep a residual American presence in Iraq; and, third, Mr. Speaker, when ISIL expanded out of Syria and into Iraq, both Prime Minister al-Maliki and President Obama were slow to respond.

When Ramadi and Fallujah fell to ISIL, their indecisive leadership allowed and encouraged this terrorist organization to assert itself in the Middle East. Mr. Speaker, the salient discussion is not about the past and how we got here but about the future and what we must do now.

I agree with the President that ISIL represents a clear and present danger that must be dealt with, confronted, and destroyed. I am willing to give the President the authority and the funds needed to accomplish this mission. This amendment gives the President what he has requested while maintaining an appropriate role for Congress, but I do disagree with the President on several important issues.

I don't believe that he has the inherent authority to use military force in Syria, and nothing in this amendment authorizes him to do so.

I believe that going to war on the authorizations that were passed in 2001 and 2002, which dealt with very different times, places, and peoples, is shaky, at best. In fact, Mr. Speaker, a vast majority of my colleagues, including myself, were not even here in Congress when those authorizations were approved.

When we return in November, I hope that we repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations and replace them with ones that reflect the views of this Congress not the Congress of the last decade.

Additionally, I disagree with the President's choice of tactics. Regardless of whether he intends to use them or not, I believe the President was far too quick to rule out options and tools that he, in fact, may need later. War is the most unpredictable of all human enterprises. History shows that it is vital for a commander to maintain as much flexibility as possible.

I also do not believe that the authority and resources the President has requested will be nearly enough to achieve the mission he has outlined. It is going to take far more from our country, our allies, and our friends on the ground to destroy ISIL than envisioned in this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, I don't believe the President can succeed in the effort to destroy ISIL without bipartisan, popular support, and I hope he will take this opportunity to build on that. We are not Republicans or Democrats in war, but Americans first. The Commander in Chief has asked for our support in the underlying legislation. He should get it.