My Dear People of Guam:
Tonight, as many of you get ready to sit down for dinner at your kitchen table, having come home from work and school, and discussing your day and many things weighing on your minds, I thank you for listening. I welcome this opportunity to have a very frank discussion within our Guam family about many federal issues important to you and the challenges that we face as we move forward.
Our nation is in transition. The United States continues to recover from a prolonged recession, our economy is turning around but is not yet fully recovered, and every Member of Congress and federal agency is faced with the daunting task of reducing the federal deficit. Gone are the days when Congress could write a blank check for a federal program or Members could earmark money for pet projects in their districts. The federal government has amassed a huge national debt--$15.3 trillion to be exact—and our country continues to spend far more money than we take in. To put it in perspective, it would be as if your family earned $29,000 a year, spent $38,000 for expenses, and financed the difference, $9,000 in credit thereby amassing $153,000 in debt over the years. This is the fiscal reality of the federal government today, and the reality of the budget issues that are driving the agenda in Congress and throughout our nation. It is in this context that I would like to speak to you just as every family faces challenges by gathering around the kitchen table and talking frankly about the issues they face. Tonight, let's have an open and candid discussion as a family and as a community about the federal issues important to all of us.
Just as our country is in a state of transition, so too is our island's role in regional security for our nation and our allies. Congressman Robert Underwood, in his report to the Legislature in 1997, stated that, "Strategically, Guam has always been important to the military. Our military importance has been the core of our relationship with America. This has not changed." And as far back as 1975, we were making the case for a better utilization of our existing bases. Congressman Antonio B. Won Pat asserted, "I particularly question the wisdom of placing greater dependency on Navy bases in foreign countries of the Western Pacific as a suitable alternative exists in nearby Guam." Congressman Won Pat also stated in remarks supporting military construction appropriations in 1975, "As the representative of Guam, which stands as the most forward United States defense bastion in the Pacific, I am particularly aware of the need for fully adequate military preparedness. In Guam, national defense and military readiness are a major part of our everyday existence and thus we are constantly aware of their importance to our nation." Governor Paul Calvo in 1982 stated, "Nobody respects more than I do the fact that our geographical location gives us a heavy responsibility in the defense of our nation. This island is the very pivot point of the Western Pacific. No other island for hundreds of miles is as big, or has such a big potential as Guam." The U.S. needs Guam's help again, and as General Ben Blaz said in his testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, "Once again, as it has done in the past during World War I, World War II, [the] Korean War, [the] Vietnam War and other conflicts which followed, Guam, by virtue of its strategic location, will have a major role to play in the security and defense of the United States. No other community in the U.S., territory or state, has served the national and international security interest of the United States as consistently and loyally as Guam and its people."
While our strategic role has not diminished the nature of what is being asked of us is changing. The Obama Administration and the Government of Japan recently announced that they are revisiting the 2006 Roadmap for Realignment and intend to make significant changes to the agreement. I believe that for Guam, the key revision will be a reduction in the estimated number of U.S. Marine Corps forces that will be relocated from Okinawa. What was once anticipated to be a build-up involving approximately 8,600 Marines and some 9,000 dependents is now expected to be about 5,000 Marines and far fewer dependents. The Department of Defense is also considering revising the mixture of Marines who will be relocated to Guam, relying on a blend of a rotational force and a permanently stationed force. The revised negotiations also solidified that the original 2014 timeline for completion was unrealistic and will be extended for a time yet to be determined.
It seems clear from President Obama's statements and Department of Defense's recent budget request that they remain committed to a forward-deployed presence of our military in the Asia-Pacific region. However, this posture will be more dispersed and, in some cases, include a rotational force that may train in the Philippines and Australia. As Secretary Panetta indicated to me in a posture hearing last week, the Department of Defense and the Administration remain committed to Guam and we remain a critical component of the future of Asia-Pacific strategy. However, it will be in our own interest to present a unified "One Guam" front going forward. As Governor Joseph Ada reminded us in 1994, "We have learned to set aside our partisan differences when it comes to dealing with Federal issues and this is good." Governor Ada further stated, "I believe that elections notwithstanding, we can work together. And who knows. Maybe if we avoid talking against each other and instead talk with each other, if we promote our ideas rather than denigrate our opponents, the people of Guam will be pleased." As an unintended benefit, the impact of Senators Levin, Webb and McCain's proposal to reduce the forces coming to Guam as well as the Defense Department's re-negotiation with the Government of Japan gives us a chance to reset and re-engage with an even stronger, more determined and more unified message to our federal partners.
However, make no mistake; this will not be an easy case to make. In that same hearing last week with Secretary Panetta, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Buck McKeon, indicated that he is re-thinking the realignment in the Pacific and suggested that we should move many of those Marines back to Camp Pendleton in California. While I take issue with the serious implications of Chairman McKeon's comment, it only serves to highlight the challenges ahead and the need for our community to support a Marine presence on Guam. And we should make no mistake about it—our "friends" in the Senate will continue to have their concerns and we will need to work together to overcome their objections. To that extent, I thank our business community for forming GUÅSA, the Guam US-Asia Security Alliance, and for their advocacy in support of the realignment of Marines to Guam. I also commend the continued efforts of the Guam Chamber of Commerce's Armed Forces Committee for their advocacy work in Washington. More importantly, I commend Governor Eddie Calvo for reaching out to the Legislature by empanelling a Guam First Commission by Executive Order today, which Senators Respicio and Guthertz have been advocating for months. As Congressman Underwood so eloquently put it, "The reef must be the boundary of our disagreements, the ocean must contain the emotions of the moment and surely the land of Guam will become ever so prominent in Washington because it is strong, because it is united and because it speaks with one voice."
One thing is clear from my meetings with senior Defense leaders and from recent hearings: the Defense Department has its own ideas of what it wants to do with the realignment of Marines in Asia-Pacific and on Guam. We need to be equally clear about what works best for us so that our input is considered in the planning stages. I share the concerns expressed by our Senators and the Governor about the mix of rotational versus permanent forces. We welcome a permanent force of Marines to Guam and we welcome an appropriate mix of rotational forces too. We are ready to welcome them into our community and I know this is a sentiment that is shared by our Mayors Council. I thank Mayor Melissa Savares for making this welcome message clear over the years. Even at a reduced level, the military relocation will still have a significant economic impact for our island. As Governor Ricky Bordallo stated in 1978, "While its primary reason for being on Guam is the security of our nation of which we are a part, let us not forget that the military presence gives Guam an important and steady base of economic support."
We want our businesses to grow. We want our businesses to become more competitive in other federal or private contracting opportunities. A case in point is a recent federal award for facilities maintenance services in the Norfolk, Virginia area that was awarded to Advance Management Incorporated, a small business here on Guam. GFS Group also won a multi-million dollar contract in July 2011 to perform Navy services in San Diego. L.A. Painting & Construction, another women-owned minority small business on Guam, recently won a $5 million federal contract for services to be performed off-island. Part of what allows local businesses to compete on the mainland is having a HUB Zone preference here on Guam. This is a preference that I enabled through legislation in 2005. This designation has afforded businesses on Guam to obtain contracts here on-island, to grow and compete elsewhere in the country. And compete they will.
These are the types of stories I want to hear about Guam businesses in the coming years. It is that type of growth that I hope will benefit our island's economy and create jobs. And, I will continue to work closely with Governor Calvo, our Legislature and other stakeholders on Guam to make sure that our needs are understood by the Department of Defense as they re-negotiate the Agreed Implementation Plan with Japan. We should view this as an opportunity to advance our interests and do this build-up right.
The Department of Defense must still achieve 5 requirements mandated in the 2012 defense authorization bill before direct contributions from Japan for the realignment of Marines to Guam can be spent. I believe that this re-negotiation of the agreement with Japan will provide a potentially easier path for the Department of Defense to achieve those 5 requirements in a timely fashion. I will continue to urge the Department to meet those obligations so that nearly $900 million dollars of prior year military construction can be spent here on Guam. It's time to get on with military build-up.
The DoD acknowledges and we all want them to get on with projects that help enhance our military's capabilities on Guam. Moreover, the de-linking of moving Marines to Guam contingent on the development of a Futenma Replacement Facility is a potentially beneficial move for Guam. Without the complication of the Futenma issue, backlogged military construction projects could move forward. Further, de-linkage of these actions is a recognition by both nations that moving forward enhances our security as forces are re-deployed for maximum effectiveness in a tight budget environment. It's yet again a reaffirmation of the strategic importance of Guam to ensuring regional stability which also enhances our economic opportunity.
We must be mindful, though, that the negotiations between the US and Japan will also open up the discussion about Japan's financial commitment to this realignment. Part of this contribution from Japan is financing of infrastructure improvements that are meant to support and sustain the direct and induced population increase from the military build-up. These infrastructure improvements are critical to our quality of life and the creation of jobs here on Guam. As "One Guam" we must continue to stress the need to improve our roads, water, wastewater and other critical infrastructure. The Fiscal Year 2013 budget requests $139.4 million in funding through the Office of Economic Adjustment. The funding is for a $20.1 million mental health and substance abuse facility, $12.9 million regional public health laboratory and the bulk of funding, $106.4 million, is for critical improvements to our water and wastewater system on Guam. I want to give credit to the Obama Administration's support of critical infrastructure needs. And, while I fought hard to protect the $33 million in socioeconomic projects last year it was not an easy fight nor should we believe that Senator McCain will ignore this year's request. Senator McCain called attention to our budget requests and he took issue in particular with Guam's request for school buses coming out of the defense budget. We should be cognizant that our budget requests must survive scrutiny by the Senate and the public and therefore we should have a family discussion that includes the Legislature on what these "outside the fence" projects should be and how they are directly related to the Marine re-location.
The lesson is that we can ill afford to look like we have thrown every un-met local need into the basket. Not in these tight budget times. I understand that we have an issue with the state of school buses on our island but we must find other ways to address these needs. I appreciate the efforts of Senator Tom Ada who has suggested that we look at using Interior funding for school buses and I am informed that Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta has agreed to provide funding requested by Governor Calvo. In an age of austerity we must be realistic in what we can expect from the Defense budget. It is hard for the Defense Department to justify several million for school buses or other infrastructure when the end strength for the Marines and Army are decreasing or when weapons systems are being terminated. I believe that the federal government, particularly the Department of Defense, should pay its fair share of impacts to infrastructure directly related to the build-up but we must still be mindful of the environment in which we find ourselves today. Again, let us use this time of re-negotiation to review what our most pressing needs are. Let us speak as "One Guam" and harness the opportunity that the build-up represents. We must be mindful that the build-up is not a guarantee but an opportunity and we must approach issues and solutions with that mindset. We don't have to be timid but we have to be more focused and more savvy. We don't have to be the most savvy, just as savvy as Senator Respicio.
And as we conduct this review we must invite all stakeholders including We Are Guahan, Fuetsan Famalaoan, our veterans service organizations, the Guam Chamber of Commerce, Chinese Chamber of Commerce on Guam, the Guam Young Professionals, our ethnic communities, our indigenous rights groups, UOG FITE club, our civic organizations and everyone who has a stake in the future of our island to speak up, speak out and be heard. As Congressman Robert Underwood stated in 2001, "I think we all recognize the importance of the military in our economic health and prosperity. But we also need to recognize our own importance in this arrangement. The U.S. military is a substantial base, a cornerstone of our island's economy. As loyal civil servants, skillful and dedicated contract workers, energetic entrepreneurs, vendors and distributors, and commissary and exchange customers, the people of Guam are the backbone of this military economy. We must protect our assets; promote the interest of our island's potential during a time of increased focus and added emphasis on U.S. military posture in our region." And we can have a frank family discussion at our kitchen table. As Congressman Won Pat stated in 1973, "The people of Guam are not anti-military. Their loyalty to America is unquestioned. We want to preserve Guam's role in America's strategic plans. However, I do not believe that asking the military to also consider the growing needs of a civilian population is prejudicial to the Defense interest of our country. A viable civilian community is essential to the military activity and its personnel. Cooperation and understanding between the civilian and military sectors are essential to the orderly development and progress of the Territory." So it is up to us to layout our concerns because this is one of the most important family discussions we'll ever have. This is about whether or not we're watching out for our own family.
The build-up represents future security. Just as much as we look forward, we should also be mindful of supporting those who have provided our national security in the past and are forever owed a debt of gratitude by our nation. Veteran's programs are important, and we have made significant strides in supporting veterans on Guam. We have to do more for our veterans because it is our moral obligation to do so.
In the 111th Congress, I supported provisions to strengthen the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill and give our veterans the benefits they deserve. These improvements gave veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and their families, full benefits to attend and obtain a four-year college education. We have given businesses a $2,400 tax credit for hiring unemployed veterans with a cover over to our local treasury and we have provided veterans with a $250 economic recovery payment. However, more work is needed nationally as well as locally to get veterans back to work. I commend Chairman Tom Ada and the efforts of the Guam Legislature for finding ways to give veterans' preferences in hiring for GovGuam positions just as veterans have preference for federal positions.
I am committed to ensuring that Guam's veteran community receives the federal resources and benefits they have earned through their many years of selfless service and sacrifice to our nation. I will continue to work to ensure that health and mental health services are improved for all current veterans and service members who will need them in the future. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs opened a new Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Agana Heights to meet the growing health needs of veterans on Guam. This clinic, which took five long years to plan, build, and construct, is twice as large as the old clinic and sits outside the Naval Hospital security perimeter, making access much easier and convenient for our veterans.
At my invitation, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, traveled to Guam for the clinic's dedication ceremony and to personally respond to veterans' concerns. He acknowledged that many of the difficulties experienced on Guam are problems that have plagued the VA throughout the country. However he pledged to work in concert with my office and our local VA to address these concerns to provide critical services to our veterans.
Since Secretary Shinseki's visit to Guam, the clinic has increased and improved its staffing levels to better support our veterans. Today, the clinic has two internal medicine practitioners and a third provider being actively recruited. The clinic has also been authorized a traveling doctor who will be visiting the island every quarter for a month at a time. There are now two psychiatrists and the vacancies for a psychologist and mental health nurse practitioner, which will soon be filled. A new Home Based Primary Care Program, for veterans who are bed or home bound and this program is staffed by a Guam based doctor and a Guam based Nurse Practitioner. This program is also actively recruiting a registered nurse and social worker. The nursing staff will soon be augmented with the addition of 2 new nurses and a new licensed practical nurse.
I also continue to advocate for parity in benefits between veterans living on Guam and those residing in the mainland. Last August, I was successful in working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to revisit current regulations to provide veterans pursuing a higher education in Guam with a housing allowance comparable to what is assigned to veterans in the 50 states. Currently Guam veterans using their Post 9/11 GI bill education benefits receive $1,347 a month for housing expenses, but with the revised regulations, Guam veterans will receive $2,450. I thank Mr. Aaron Unpingco, an Army veteran, for bringing this issue to my attention and I am also working to make this change in pay retroactive.
On Sunday I had the opportunity to meet with our local veterans in a town hall meeting in Sinajana. Our veterans raised a number of important issues that we can address together. One of the most pressing concerns is to ensure that our veterans are given full military honors when their time on earth has ended. I will get to the heart of this issue. I will determine if its federal policies, local policies or a mixture of both that is causing this problem. I ask the Active Duty military services, the Guam National Guard and the Army Reserves to please join me in solving this problem and ensuring that every veteran receives the full military honors that he has earned from his service to our great nation.
I will also look into the issue of how housing allowances and the question of why Guam uses Overseas Housing Allowance whereas servicemembers in the mainland have a different system. Our men and women in uniform deserve equal treatment and I will work with them to find the best solution for their housing allowance.
Further, I continue to work with Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta provided Department of Interior technical assistance grants to help Guam's Veterans Affairs Office improve services by providing them funding for computers and other equipment that will help veterans electronically file their claims. At my insistence, in September of last year, Assistant Secretary Babauta awarded $25,000 in technical assistance to the Guam VA office to upgrade its information system. This complete computer upgrade will enable inter-operability between the Federal Hawaii VA Office and our local office to help improve the claims benefit process, reduce transaction processing times, and assist in decreasing fraud, waste, and abuse. In addition, Assistant Secretary Babauta also provides $35,000 for maintenance equipment for the Guam Veterans' Cemetery. I know that John Unpingco appreciates the resources and he has been doing a great job for our veterans.
I have also sought to ensure that our veterans receive the recognition they deserve for their contributions to our nation and to our community. In May 2011, I introduced a bill, H.R. 1843, to honor the late John Gerber by designating the Guam Main Post Office Facility in Barrigada, the "John Pangelinan Gerber Post Office Building." John dedicated his life to helping his fellow Marines, veterans, and servicemembers, and he worked to help educate the public about the important role Guam played during World War II and continues to play today. He never sought personal recognition for his endeavors but he was instrumental in ensuring that our community never forgot the sacrifices of those who served and continue to serve in defense of our nation. In November, the Congress passed and President Obama signed this bill into law, and our community will now have a lasting tribute to John and the thousands of Marines who fought and died to liberate our island from enemy forces during World War II. His family is here tonight and I would like to recognize them.
We must also recognize veterans like retired Master Sergeant Isak Elbelau who did two tours in Vietnam before retiring from the US Army. He was wounded in action by shrapnel, but was never recognized for his injuries. After numerous failed attempts at getting his military record corrected he turned to me for assistance. We worked closely with Jack Shimizu and the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. After extensive work with the Army Board of Correction of Military Records, Isak's record was finally corrected in late 2011 and last month he was awarded the Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained protecting our great Nation. I would like to ask Master Sergeant Elbelau and all members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart who are in attendance, to stand and be recognized. Our community is grateful for your service to our nation, and we recognize the injuries you sustained in combat in defense of our freedom.
Finally we must never forget the 34 men and women from Guam that paid the ultimate sacrifice in the two most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They gave their lives in defense of our freedom and our way of life. At this time, I would like to pause for a moment of silence to remember them and their families for the sacrifices they have made for our country.
Our men and women in our Guam National Guard have done so much for our country and for our island. After over a decade of conflict our Guam Guard has answered every call to duty and done so willingly. And, again next year, many of our sons and daughters will be gearing up to support our country in Afghanistan. The exact mission and deployment figures will depend greatly on our posture in Afghanistan but we must do all that we can to support our sons and daughters who may deploy over the coming year. Every time I travel to Afghanistan or Iraq I meet our men and women in uniform from Guam and it inspires me. I know that we are all proud of what they do and what they stand for. Could our Guam Guard representatives please stand and be recognized.
This year's budget shows a continued commitment to the Guam National Guard. The budget contains a military construction project for $8.5 million to expand the Joint Force Headquarters in Barrigada. This project will help to support our deploying Guardsmen and their families. However, we must be mindful of the continued importance of our National Guard and I am seriously concerned about this year's budget impact to our Air National Guard. In part, the same budgetary constraints that have had an effect on the realignment are going to impact our National Guard nationwide. While our Guam Guard isn't immediately or directly impacted I will work as Ranking Member of the Readiness Subcommittee and with my colleagues in the House Armed Services Committee to address these proposed force structure changes to the Air National Guard. We cannot let the misguided leaders who tried to effectively eliminate the Air National Guard in BRAC 2005 be successful today. Our National Guard has proven time and time again that it is the most effective force for our nation's defense.
Additionally, we must be alert that other proposed savings in the 2013 budget could impact our island's installations. In particular, we will closely scrutinize the proposal to cancel the Block 30 program for the Global Hawk. We have three aircraft at Andersen Air Force Base that provided critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance during Operation Tomodachi last March. In fact, these assets based on Guam provided critical information on the status of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and the effects of the tsunami. As our country pivots to the Asia-Pacific region it would be extremely short-sighted to remove critical assets that assist the United States in providing stability in the region and assistance to our allies.
While the military installations on Guam play an important role in our national security they are also part of our extended family. They deserve a seat at our kitchen table. I appreciate the efforts of Admiral Paul Bushong and General John Doucette and commend them for keeping positive and strong relations with our local community. The last several years have tested the civilian-military relationship on Guam but strong leadership at these installations has helped to keep the relationship positive. Whether it is rotational forces, Navy or Air Force, painting our bus stops or helping to maintain our public schools these types of activities help to bring our communities closer together. Our Mayors and Vice Mayors have shown in their villages that you can build strong friendships between our local community and our military servicemembers through an array of service programs in the community. And I thank our Mayor's Council for the quiet work they do every day.
Another way to build relationships between our civilian and military communities is having some of our sons who grew up on Guam come back and serve at Andersen Air Force Base, Navy Base Guam or up at Joint Region Marianas. I would like to recognize some recent Service Academy graduates. Our Naval Academy graduates Lieutenants David Blas, Thomas Ham, Timothy White and his wife Franicia. I would also like to recognize our Air Force Academy graduate Second Lieutenant Dominic Leon Guerrero. Lieutenant Blas, Ham and White are serving at Navy Base Guam and Joint Region Marianas and Second Lieutenant Leon Guerrero is serving as a contracting officer at Andersen. I appreciate having these young men serving on Guam. I have also appreciated their willingness and efforts to help high school students who are seeking appointments to the Service Academies. They have participated in events that are sponsored by my office and have been willing to share their wisdom and experiences at the Academies. Let's thank them for their service and dedication to our community.
I understand the dynamic relationship that our local community has with our military installations. It is important to always work closely together on all types of matters. It is important to find a way for local military installations to comply with the recently enacted bottle bill legislation here on Guam. I applaud Senator Tina Muña Barnes for passing the Bottle Bill legislation in December 2010. Yet, there is no federal requirement for commissaries or exchanges to comply with local bottle bill legislation anywhere in the United States. And, as such, the effectiveness of the local bill's impact on our community is diminished if there isn't cooperation from the local military installations. I am developing legislation that will require commissaries and exchanges to comply with local bottle bill legislation. I want to make sure that Senator Muña Barnes' efforts achieve the ultimate impact that was intended by her legislation.
Another important aspect of our civilian and military community relationship is the enhancement of our island's most important economic facet—our tourism industry. I have worked since 2008 to expand our island's tourism industry by creating a joint Guam-CNMI visa waiver program. While immediate efforts to expand our tourism market to Chinese and Russian visitors was thwarted, we have made progress over the last year. It would be nice to just broadly expand the visa waiver program as Congress intended but that goal is unrealistic at this time. Instead, we are seeking expansion of parole authority for Chinese and Russian tourists market as is the case in the CNMI. In fact, while aboard Air Force One with President Obama I was informed that parole authority would be extended to Russian tourists. It was the "One Guam" approach in working with Governor Calvo and Senator Respicio and Senator Muña Barnes that made parole authority for Russian tourists a reality. I also thank GVB General Manager, JoAnn Camacho, for quickly working with my office and appropriate federal agencies to make sure implementation of parole authority will benefit our local economy.
However, the real goal is to expand our market to Chinese tourists. I believe that we need to find ways to address legitimate security concerns and we are working with Governor Calvo and the visitor industry to provide necessary information to help us succeed. The key issue is having an appropriate screening of Chinese visitors with enough lead time to be able to address any concerns. A November 2011 trip by local stakeholders to Washington DC highlighted that the debate on this matter has moved forward. Although the security concerns are valid and serious, I believe that President Obama's call for a 40% increase this year in tourists from China and Brazil will help make our case for parole authority here on Guam. Some of the most conservative estimates indicate that expansion of the tourism market to more Chinese visitors would result in $144.5 million in net annual revenues for the Government of Guam by 2020. That is a real and tangible benefit to our community and bolsters the President's argument that greater access to Chinese tourists means more jobs and economic opportunities. I want to thank our visitor industry stakeholders who have worked closely with me over the years on this issue including Bruce Kloppenberg, Dave Tydingco, Jim Beighley, Gerry Perez, Bart Jackson and Mary Torre. And it has been a pleasure working with the Governor and his Director of Policy Arthur Clark on this important matter.
Unfortunately, last year my top legislative priority, passage of H.R. 44, the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, suffered a setback when it was not added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill. Despite this set back the legislation remains my top legislative priority however these setbacks offered a window into understanding the true challenges of passing this legislation.
Last July the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on H.R. 44. At the hearing opposition to this important matter was made clear—fiscal conservatives. For years previously, I had cautioned that certain fiscally conservative Senators were the obstacle but the group that has obstructed passage of this legislation was made clear at the hearing. Fiscal conservatives objected to the legislation on the basis of its cost and they objected to the rationale that the United States should pay this cost in 2012. While our local community knows all too well why this legislation is needed nothing seemed to satisfy the concerns of fiscal conservatives. Former Congressman Ben Blaz, who testified, was visibly angered at the opponents of this legislation. He stated, "Forgive me sir, forgive me for speaking so loudly for this is so dear to my heart". He also stated his understanding of why there is a need for the bill, "I say it's incomplete. We need to give them a second shot." His statement and his anger underline the challenges that we face in this current Congress and budgetary environment.
The hearing also highlighted the Americans for Tax Reform's strong opposition to the legislation. The Acting Chairman of the hearing entered testimony from this group into the record. Subsequently, an article in the Politico—a Capitol Hill publication—highlighted this organization's lobbying efforts against H.R. 44. What's significant about this opposition is that the group is led by Republican super-lobbyist Grover Norquist. Mr. Norquist is behind the effort to ensure that all Republicans oppose any legislation that raises taxes or involves new spending. It was this "no taxes" pledge that nearly plunged our country back into recession and scuttled the collaborative efforts of the so-called Super Committee charged with coming up with a budget agreement. It was this pledge, in part, that helped to downgrade this country's credit rating. Mr. Norquist is a registered lobbyist and in his lobbying disclosure form he specifically lists H.R. 44 as a bill that he is lobbying against. I highlight this organization's opposition to H.R. 44 not to be partisan, but to be candid about the challenges and difficulties in passing this legislation. I have not and will not give up efforts to pass this bill but the challenges are significant. One of the challenges is to find funding as a budget offset to meet the concerns of fiscal conservatives. I am working to identify an offset to the cost of H.R. 44 and I hope this will help to move this legislation forward.
It is important to note that H.R. 44 passed the House five times and was brought up twice on the Senate floor for consideration. While I cannot predict if H.R. 44 will be successful, nothing will ever diminish the magnitude of the sacrifice our man'mako made during the occupation during World War II.
H.R. 44 is among the issues that our family has to consider at our kitchen table. I must be candid in saying that the challenges we face in the current budget environment make passage of H.R. 44 more difficult than ever but I commit to you again that I will do everything to keep this issue in front of our leaders. In fact, last week, I asked Secretary of the Interior Salazar about the Administration's commitment to H.R. 44 and he reiterated that the Administration continues to support this legislation. When I met President Obama in December aboard Air Force One I personally thanked him for his support of H.R. 44 and asked him to help me find a way to break the stalemate in the Congress so that we can finally bring justice to our man'mako.
As we look forward as an island to our future, we must continue to place a premium on educating our younger generations. I commend Speaker Won Pat and Senators Chris Duenas, Tony Ada, Mana Silva Taijeron, Sam Mabini and Aline Yamashita for their commitment to education and education reform in our schools. Our young people must understand our history, our culture and way of life. We must also prepare them for the dynamic workforce of tomorrow. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for a national commitment to train two million workers with skills that will lead directly to employment. As part of this commitment, last week the President announced a proposal for a new $8 billion Community College to Career Fund to help community colleges develop new partnerships with businesses and train workers for well-paying jobs. Such an initiative will help community colleges to become career centers where students learn skills critical to local businesses. I support the President's proposal and have led an effort among my colleagues to ensure the full inclusion of the territories in the Community College to Career Fund. Guam Community College is expanding, its enrollment is increasing, and it provides excellent career and technical education for our island. It is critical that GCC is eligible for the same federal resources and support as its counterparts in the states. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and the Administration, to ensure our island has equal access to this critical Community College to Career Fund.
Ensuring higher education is financially possible for students is also important. In 2007 Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which reduced the interest rate on federal subsidized Stafford student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over a four-year period. This reduced interest rate is set to expire this year, effectively doubling interest rates for participating students and would cost students up to $5,200 dollars over a 10 year repayment period. To prevent this unnecessary increase, I have cosponsored HR 3826, a bill which will prevent subsidized Stafford student loan rates from doubling at the end of this year. This legislation will have a real impact on the financial stability of our students on Guam. Further, I want to recognize Derrick Hills, who raised the issue of colleges and universities receiving federal funds should not subsequently raise their tuition. I thank him for his activism and raising this important matter at a recent town hall meeting.
I have also joined my colleagues in the fight to ensure the territories are treated equitably under the Upward Bound Federal TRIO program. On Guam, the TRIO program through the University of Guam assists disadvantaged students throughout our community to increase college attendance and graduation rates. TRIO is an effective federal program that enjoys bi-partisan support. Yet over the past several years, TRIO's funding has remained level including in this year's budget proposal. I am concerned about this level funding as it will likely force TRIO administrators around the nation to do more with less, or serve fewer students.
We all have a responsibility to encourage and broaden their horizons and grasp opportunities. I have had an internship program since taking office in 2003. I applaud Speaker Won Pat and Governor Calvo for implementing internship programs in their offices too. I have had over 69 interns in my office and I'm also proud to have had 4 high school pages work in the House of Representatives. These young men and women have had an experience of a lifetime. Recently we instituted an internship for a UOG student and that has been very successful. And tonight, I announce we are initiating a new internship program for the Guam Community College. I am working with Dr. Mary Okada and her Board of Trustees so their program will be as successful as the UOG internship program. So tonight I want to recognize all the young people in the audience who have been an intern or page in my office as well as any parent who has had a son or daughter who was a page or intern. Moving forward, it is important that we seek ways to address the underlying inadequacies of the Compacts of Free Association and work to lessen the burden on Guam and other affected jurisdictions. I have supported several initiatives this Congress that would help to help make the Compacts migration policy sustainable for Guam.
Last November, the Government Accountability Office released a report that highlighted many of the challenges Guam, Hawaii, and the CNMI have encountered in having to use local funds to cover the costs associated with providing social services to Compact migrants. This report was the result of a request that I, and my colleagues from Hawaii, American Samoa, Arkansas, and the CNMI, made to assess the adequacy of federal funds provided to the governments of the affected jurisdictions and to better inform our policy decisions regarding the impact of the Compacts on the United States moving forward. The GAO report found that the current state of the Compacts is unsustainable for the affected jurisdictions and that solutions must be found to reduce the burden on affected local governments.
As a result of this report, I co-sponsored H.R. 3320, the Compact-Impact Reimbursement Act of 2011, introduced by Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa which would increase annual Compact-impact assistance to costs reported in the GAO report. This bill would amend the Compact of Free Association Act of 1985 to authorize $185 million, for each fiscal year from 2012 through 2024, for Federal Compact-Impact grants for Guam, Hawaii, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to address Compact-Impact costs. In 2004, I worked with the Hawaii Congressional Delegation to increase Compact-Impact funding from $4.5 million to its current $17.5 million per year for Guam. The President's budget for 2013 includes an additional $5 million to address Compact-Impact. However, the current rules of the House and federal budget realities make H.R. 3320 difficult to pass. As we've experienced with other bills an offset must be found to pay for these increases.
H.R. 3320 also provides for the inclusion of Compact migrants in Medicaid coverage outside of current statutory caps established for each jurisdiction. Medicaid assistance provided to Compact migrants through H.R. 3320 would not count toward the annual Medicaid caps allocated to Guam, but it will help to address the heavy costs of providing health services to Compact migrants. In the 111th Congress, I included a provision in the Affordable Care Act that incrementally increased Guam's Medicaid cap from $13.7 million in Fiscal Year 2010 to $42 million in 2012 and it will continue to increase to $58 million by 2019. I know that finding the matching funds for the Medicaid payments will be a challenge for our local community but working together with other territorial delegates I believe we can find innovative solutions to address this matter.
While there are many areas where federal grants are inadequate to the need we have been fortunate that under the Obama Administration the territorial delegates have been successful in ensuring that 5 different tax credits have been paid for by federal grants to our local treasuries. And we will continue to work with the Obama Administration to ensure that any new tax credits do not harm our local treasury.
It is critical that Guam's public health system be able to meet the challenges of addressing our community's health needs. Providing Medicaid assistance to Compact migrants outside Guam's Medicaid cap will help in this regard. This is why I have also included this provision in other pieces of legislation before the House. I co-sponsored H.R. 1035, which would provide for this inclusion of FAS migrants in Medicaid as a stand-alone measure. Further, I was successful in including this provision in H.R. 2954, the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2011, a top priority of the Congressional Tri-Caucus. This bill would eliminate Guam's current Medicaid cap and include Compact migrants under Medicaid coverage. Guam's public health system should no longer be burdened with covering the costs of providing services to Compact migrants, and I will seek every viable legislative vehicle to address this issue for our community. I look forward to working with Senator Dennis Rodriguez Jr. on these Medicaid issues.
I also introduced H.R. 888, which would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to provide federal assistance to local educational agencies that educate children admitted to the United States under the Compacts. Many of our island's public schools educate children of FAS migrants. While no current federal program exists to assist local school districts with these expenses, this bill would include FAS migrant children in an existing program aimed at addressing expenses incurred by local school districts for the costs of educating federally connected children.
I have also written to Assistant Secretary Babauta urging him to work with the Freely Associated States to address the issue of overcrowding in our prisons. I commend Vice Speaker Cruz for raising this matter with Assistant Secretary Babauta and me. And I know that Senator Palacios has been at the forefront of trying to resolve the issue of overcrowding in our prisons. I believe that this is a matter where the federal government needs to step up to the plate and assume this responsibility. Tony we know where you live in Agat so you better help us.
Last May, I also signed on to a letter that was circulated by Senators Daniel Inouye and Jeff Bingaman urging Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar to enter into negotiations with the governments of the Freely Associated States to mitigate the costs to affected jurisdictions associated with Compact migration. This letter became the center of criticism by some in our community who claimed that Congress was targeting FAS migrants instead of fulfilling its obligations under the Compacts. I would like to underscore two points in this regard:
First: this letter reiterated Congress's belief that the policy of allowing FAS citizens to enter the U.S. for work, study, and residence was sound, but that current implementation of this policy was unsustainable for both the federal government and those of the affected jurisdictions. The signatories recognized that our communities have been overburdened with the costs associated with providing services to migrants under the Compacts, but we also recognize the difficult fiscal environment facing our country. In the current budget environment in Congress, it will be very difficult to get an appropriation for past Compact-Impact reimbursement. We must find sound solutions that address the underlying problems of the Compacts so that our communities do not have to shoulder impact costs.
Second: We recognize the positive contributions many FAS citizens have made to our communities. However, there are some who have taken advantage of this agreement, and have migrated to the United States outside the intent of the Compacts. Our recommendations would urge the FAS governments to educate potential migrants of what is expected of them when they enter the United States, including the original intent of the Compacts to provide educational and socio-economic opportunities to FAS citizens. In fact the GAO reports that FAS citizens stated that they would have benefited by receiving information about migrating to the U.S. before leaving their own islands. We also recommended that funds be utilized from existing assistance given to the FAS to develop medical facilities in their own countries in order to reduce an over-reliance of services in Guam and the other jurisdictions and enable FAS citizens to receive treatment in their own country. Lastly, there are a number of federal laws that govern entry into the U.S., whether or not the individuals are required to have a visa, that prohibit those with felonies and restrict those likely to become a public charge. Our letter sought to address this issue among Compact migrants and urged for better enforcement of these federal laws. Even Congressman Underwood shared this view when he stated in 2000, "We must put admissibility into the U.S. on the table and require documentation of health and criminal records."
When I came to Congress in 2003, I proposed offsetting unpaid Compact-Impact costs against debts that Guam owed to the federal government. Although President Bush did not use the authority provided to him, this idea became the basis for my effort in 2011 to allow unpaid Compact-Impact costs to be used an offset for any future Government of Guam acquisition of Navy water and wastewater assets. The legislative progress we made on this issue forms the basis for future legislation that would provide offsets for past Compact-Impact costs. I want to thank Senator Pangelinan and Senator Blas for encouraging me to continue using offsets to address Compact-Impact. This is another issue that requires our family to have a candid discussion. It is extremely unlikely that Congress will ever appropriate $400 to $500 million for Guam's Compact-Impact costs. First of all, the money is not there. Secondly, our view that we are owed a reimbursement is not shared by Congressional leaders. You will not find the word reimbursement in the Compact-Impact statute. As the GAO pointed out, Compact-Impact grants are authorized to help defray costs to the affected jurisdiction. It is important to note that Senator Dan Inouye who is the Chairman of the Senate appropriations and the Hawaii Delegation have not been successful themselves in appropriating past Compact-Impact costs for Hawaii. That is why in this budget environment we must have a broader focus not just on the rising costs but how we can mitigate these impacts. Senator Inouye proposed and I supported him in asking the Freely Associated State's governments to do more in the area of providing health care and education to their own citizens so that there is not such a great demand for these services on Guam. Further, while much has been said about screening of FAS citizens the idea was to better prepare them for their intended move to Guam. For example, they need to know that we too have high unemployment, we too have limited government services and we may not be able to provide them public housing for years because the waiting list is so long.
These recommendations are certainly not the only solutions but they certainly reflect a different and focused approach to these problems so that the policy can be sustained. Assistant Secretary Babauta has responded to the request from Congress for a more focused approach. He is convening a Pacific Island leaders meeting to address Compact-Impact next month on Guam.
For our island family to succeed we must also continue to ardently promote our Chamorro culture and work to protect our unique environment so that the resources we enjoy today are available to future generations. To that end, I was successful in including new language to the Sikes Act to extend protections of natural resources on national defense installations to include National Guard facilities. This expansion of Sikes Act will ensure that efforts already in place at DOD-managed installations are also observed by state-owned military installations and it will ensure that native species and ecosystems on Guam and throughout the nation are preserved.
I have also recently introduced the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2011, to protect our fishermen from "free riders" who benefit unfairly from those who overharvest fishing stocks. Stopping illegal fishing will ensure that Guam's fishermen are able to compete at an equal level in the market and protect them against predatory fishing fleets.
I have also worked closely with Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta to award over $300,000 in technical assistance grants from the Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs. In addition to the $54,000 that was awarded to upgrade the Guam VA, I worked with Secretary Babauta to provide financial assistance to community organizations that foster environmental stewardship and provide necessary services to our people. The Guam's Fisherman's Cooperative was awarded $58,000 to improve storage and refrigeration facilities and make needed improvements to the fuel pier at the Hagåtña boat basin. These improvements will benefit our local fishermen and I guarantee they'll catch more fish.
I also encouraged Assistant Secretary Babauta to provide Guam's Farmer's Cooperative with $50,000 in technical assistance to help promote sustainable agriculture by providing drip irrigation and high-yield fertilizer to members. This grant was awarded during a launch of Guam's Buy Local Initiative, which aims to promote local businesses by encouraging residents to purchase locally made and distributed goods and services. I am inspired by Governor Ricky Bordallo's vision in 1984 when he stated, "We have renewed the Green Revolution and will give it top priority in our economic rearmament efforts. For every pound of food that we produce locally we take dollars out of the hands of off-island suppliers and put them into the hands of local farmers."
To further support Guam's Buy Local Initiative, I intend to introduce legislation that I have nicknamed the "Green Grocer bill" that will require commissaries and exchanges in the United States and the territories, to purchase for resale to the maximum extent practical, food items from local sources. I want to see more local fish, produce or meats being sold at exchanges and commissaries throughout the United States. Such an effort not only helps our local economy but it is healthier, fresher and more sustainable for our communities.
I also requested that Assistant Secretary Babauta provide $100,000 to enable Catholic Social Services to purchase vans that are accessible for our special needs citizens. These vans will allow CSS to provide access to services for families in need. The vans will increase job opportunities, by providing transportation to job training and employment sites.
And to ensure that Guam continues to receive the resources it needs to support the community, I will continue to work with my colleagues to maintain funding for these important programs and services as Congress considers appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013. I also remain committed to working with the Obama Administration, Governor Calvo, the Guam Legislature, and leaders in our community to resolve the longstanding issue of Guam's political status through a legitimate act of political self-determination. In 2010, the President signed into law a bill that authorizes the Department of the Interior to provide federal funding for political status education in the territories. In order to make informed decisions about Guam's political status, it is important that our residents are provided with the resources and tools they need to learn more about the options they will vote on. Assistant Secretary Babauta has committed to me that he will provide funds to Guam for political status education when he receives a consolidated grant request from Governor Calvo. I am aware that there are controversial issues regarding the nature of the plebiscite vote and I would prefer we resolve these issues as a family rather than relying on a decision from a federal court. This will allow our people to reflect on our relationship with United States and achieve decolonization.
As our family thinks about our future, we should reflect on values we hold dearly. We have rejected casino gambling in, at least, five different occasions but we continue to be confronted by new forms of gambling that we did not ever anticipate. I thank Vice Speaker Cruz of raising the issues of internet gambling based on Guam with me and I have committed to work with him and the Guam Legislature to look at possible amendments to the Organic Act of Guam to close any loopholes that our people have not approved of.
I appreciate having this time to have this family discussion about some of the important issues confronting our community and about our dreams for the future, especially for our children. I wish I had more opportunities to talk to each of you at your own kitchen table but as Congressman Blaz described in 1992, "That is one of the disadvantages of being so far away. Unlike my colleagues, I can't go home every weekend." In responding to criticism that he spends a lot of time in Washington, Congressman Blaz further stated, "That is where the job is located. Let's get to the real issues, folks. That is not an issue. It's absurd." Congressman Underwood also stated in 1997 that, "The Delegate from Guam has to travel the farthest from home to Capitol Hill. In an article in last month's edition of Latte magazine, about how I spend my time in Washington, I mentioned to the reporter in jest that I spend so much time inside an airplane that I had time to calculate exactly how much. Last year the total was 29 days." While being in Washington and travelling home is a necessary part of the job, some people have begun to question whether I intend to return home. Yes, I do intend to come back home. In fact, I plan to stay here forever and just so you know that I plan to stay here forever I've already purchased a condominium next to Ricky's condominium in the Pigo estates.
Also, when you spend a lot of time on airplanes you get to reflect on the nature of the job and on whether we are doing everything we can to make your life better. Whether it is a constituent inquiry, giving White House tours, or promoting good policies for Guam we strive to do our best. In fact, I am very proud of my office's responsiveness to constituent inquiries and requests for assistance. We answer every e-mail on a daily basis and for four years, three months and 21 days we have succeeded in an unbroken streak of answering every constituent e-mail in one day. We have also been very good at answering every Senator's letter in one day, isn't that right Senator Cruz, Senator Pangelinan and Senator Blas? They are the most prolific writers in case you didn't know and sometimes they even get my reply before they send out their press release. And, Ben, you sent me a letter this morning—here is your reply.
You may have noticed that I have interspersed many quotes from past leadership of our island. I did that on purpose. In sitting around our kitchen tables I want our families across our island to reflect on where we've come from and where we want to go. If I had made all these statements many people would have believed that I am preaching or that I am making a lot of political statements for political gain. But there is a thread that runs through the fabric of our leadership from the first elected Governor to the first elected Congressman to Governor Calvo and myself in how we approach the federal government. I want to share some closing thoughts but this time I will tell you who stated it after the quote to show that what unites us is stronger than what divides us.
"We are compassionate people. We understand the strength of our family ties. We are persistent in the pursuit of a decent community. We favor intelligent solutions to those things that might divide us. And although we are basically serious about life, we do know how to laugh." This was Governor Paul Calvo's comments in 1982.
"Let us now, set aside past disagreements and try to help our people. Let us use our energies to be positive. Forget about the anger and the conflict of the past. I say let's clear the slate, start all over and let's all try to do what's best for our people - all our people!" This was the comment of Governor Carl Gutierrez in 1996 and I agree with him.
"We are entering the dawn of a New Era, a period in history during which Guam will fulfill its true potential as the showcase of American Democracy in the Western Pacific." This was Governor Carlos Camacho in 1970.
"We must work together in the spirit of cooperation to make sure that the military changes are positive, and our future remains bright. For at the heart of this expansion is the military's role in defending the freedom of our great nation." This was Governor Felix Camacho in 2007.
My dear people of Guam, I hope you enjoyed our kitchen table discussion as much as I have. I hope that I challenged your thinking by recalling the profound words of our past Congressmen and Governors. So my last thought that I want to leave with you is what Dr. Underwood said about Mr. Won Pat and it bears repeating. "As we reflect on his (Mr. Won Pat's) accomplishments, we must all hold the mirror up to ourselves, to bear honest witness to our own work on the people's behalf—to assess our weaknesses, to find the depths of our soul, to gauge the strength of our commitment. Today is my day for this." So thank you Dr. Underwood I could not have stated this better myself.
God bless Guam and God bless the United States of America.