Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today made it clear that Congress welcomes dialogue with the Bush Administration on addressing the priorities of the American people, but added that the President must be willing to find common ground.
In a letter to President Bush, they wrote: 'While our bipartisan priorities differ in key areas with your levels of funding, the differences have never been so great that we cannot reach agreement on a spending plan that meets the needs of the American people...
'Mr. President, this is a valid national debate on how we address the priorities of the American people and provide for their security, health, and prosperity, both today and for years to come. Together, we can do so in a fiscally responsible way. We welcome further discussion.'
Congress passed fiscally responsible appropriations bills this year because they were done so in the context of a budget that balances in five years. The full text of the letter to the President follows:
November 10, 2007
The White House
Dear Mr. President:
We have worked in good faith to fund our national priorities in this year's appropriations measures. We have done so in the context of a budget that balances within five years. Our work has had strong bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.
While our bipartisan priorities differ in key areas with your levels of funding, the differences have never been so great that we cannot reach agreement on a spending plan that meets the needs of the American people.
We write today to make it clear we welcome this dialogue. Press reports indicate your budget director, Mr. Nussle, is alleging he does not know whom he should be speaking with to reach mutual agreement. Chairman Obey and Chairman Byrd remain the appropriate representatives.
Key to this dialogue, however, is some willingness on your part to actually find common ground. Thus far, we have seen only a hard line drawn and a demand that we send only legislation that reflects your cuts to critical priorities of the American people--priorities that have been supported strongly by both parties in Congress.
As we approach Veterans Day this weekend, the Congress is sending two bills to your desk that contain billions in funding for our nation's veterans. The Department of Defense appropriations bill provides $23.5 billion for veterans and military health care programs -- including $70 million to ease the transition of wounded soldiers from the Pentagon's health care system to the Veterans Affairs health system. In addition the Defense appropriations bill contains a Continuing Resolution that funds services to our veterans at the level you proposed. The Labor-Health-Education appropriations conference report also provides major funding for veterans: $228 million for veterans' employment programs, including $23.6 million for homeless veterans program; $3.4 billion for substance abuse and mental health services, a large portion serving veterans; and $9.5 million for programs to help those suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries.
We would have greatly preferred to send the largest increase in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration, $3.7 billion more than your budget provides, which would make crucial investments in health care in the 5th year of a war that is sending far too many of our service men and women home with traumatic and difficult injuries and disorders.
Unfortunately, some members of your party stalled our efforts to send this legislation in conjunction with the Labor-Health-Education appropriations bill that makes critical re-investments in other key American priorities: improving K-12 student performance, making college more affordable, supporting life-saving medical research, and providing relief for families struggling with rising home heating costs.
Mr. President, this is a valid national debate on how we address the priorities of the American people and provide for their security, health, and prosperity, both today and for years to come. Together, we can do so in a fiscally responsible way. We welcome further discussion.
Speaker of the House Senate Majority Leader