The bill also contains much needed resources for health care for wounded servicemembers at facilities like Walter Reed, as well as funding for veterans' health care.
Additionally, the bill includes a necessary and overdue disaster package for farm and ranch families in South Dakota who have been devastated by a multi-year drought. But most importantly, it calls for accountability in Iraq.
As the war in Iraq enters its fifth year, we are faced with very tough decisions and I have been disappointed with partisans on both sides. This issue demands more than overused and hollow partisan rhetoric; it requires a thoughtful debate and a balanced solution.
The calls by those on the far left for an immediate withdrawal and those on the far right to stay the course indefinitely are equally irresponsible and impractical. However, this bill reflects a common ground, centrist approach to the challenges we face abroad.
I have always rejected arbitrary or irresponsible timelines that would tie the hands of our military leaders, and I will continue to do so. I do not support an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and am adamantly opposed to cutting off funds to our troops in the field.
But the time has come to responsibly transition our troops from a direct combat role amidst deepening sectarian violence. This bill will not remove all of our troops, but will gradually shift their role to counter-terrorist operations, the protection of U.S. military and civilians working within provincial reconstruction teams, and the continued training of Iraqi security forces – a function I have always supported and which I witnessed firsthand during my first trip to Iraq in 2004.
The bill also calls for the Iraqis to forge the political compromises all of our generals have insisted are necessary to achieve stability. It is essential to hold the Iraqi government accountable within a reasonable timeframe for making good faith progress on political benchmarks – the very governmental and economic benchmarks outlined by President Bush in January.
Moreover, I cannot overstate my concerns about the state of our military readiness, which has become a serious national security risk. This week, the National Guard Bureau Chief testified about the negative impact on training caused by the lack of equipment plaguing the Army and Air Guard.
In addition, retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, broadly respected within the military, has concluded that U.S. forces are in "strategic peril."
Most South Dakotans aren't satisfied with the progress we've been seeing in Iraq, and I support this plan because I'm not satisfied either.
While there are no perfect options remaining, this is the most responsible course of action going forward, and it is consistent with Congress' legitimate oversight role. There must be funding for troops in harm's way, so the question becomes funding with accountability, or without it.
This bill represents a way forward that enhances our security, aggressively protects our troops, respects our veterans, leverages political reconciliation by the Iraqis and ensures a level of accountability that my constituents deserve.