03.22.18

Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Statement On The Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act

After months of intense negotiations, tough choices, and good-faith compromises, we have reached a bipartisan agreement to fund the government for this fiscal year, make renewed investments in the American people, and protect our national security. 

The Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill provides $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending, including $700 billion for defense programs to support our men and women in uniform, and $600 billion for non-defense programs that will help us invest in America and support our working families. 

The bill dedicates critical resources to combatting the opioid epidemic, rebuilding America’s infrastructure, improving health care facilities for our veterans, improving access to affordable health care for all Americans, ensuring the security of our elections, supporting advances in scientific research, and investing in rural communities across the country. 

These investments would not have been possible without the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Agreement, which lifted the budget caps on discretionary spending—for defense by $80 billion and for non-defense by $63 billion—providing relief from the severe cuts known as sequestration. 

The consequence of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which mandated sequestration, has been devastating to our military and domestic priorities.

This bill is a long-awaited step toward reversing those cuts and reinvesting in the American people.  Unfortunately, President Trump is calling these investments in our country’s priorities a “waste.”  This morning he tweeted that they were “Dem giveaways.”

Mr. President, is it a “giveaway” to provide medical care for the seven million veterans who rely on the VA? 

Is it a “giveaway” to help the family in Rutland, Vermont, heat their home during a dangerously cold winter so they can afford their groceries? 

Is it a “giveaway” to finally take the opioid crisis seriously by making investments in research, treatment, and prevention? 

The President slammed our efforts for budget parity.  But he has since shamelessly held press conferences to tout initiatives only made possible by this agreement, including the sizable new investments to counter the opioid epidemic.

A budget is where you set your priorities.  The President made clear in his budget that his priorities do not rest with the needs of hardworking, middleclass Americans.  

This bill rejects many of those proposed cuts.  Instead, this bill sets a vision for the future of our country, where we invest not only in the wealthiest among us, but in middle class families and those struggling to make their way. 

This bill dedicates $18.25 billion to rebuilding our infrastructure.  The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our country’s infrastructure a D+.  This was the collective grade for the roads, bridges, dams, drinking water and wastewater, public parks, and schools on which we all depend.  This is not acceptable, and this bill is an important – long overdue – step toward bringing our infrastructure into the 21st century. 

The bill takes the threat of the opioid crisis seriously by investing $3.3 billion into law enforcement, health care, and community efforts to rid our country of this scourge. 

The time for sloganeering and soundbites is over.  The time for real, effective, meaningful investment in ending this epidemic is now.

Marcelle and I have met with too many Vermonters impacted by opioid abuse, too many neighbors and friends who are struggling to get the help they need, or to help those in need.  I am glad that when I return to Vermont I can say that we heard them, and we delivered.

The bill strongly rejects the partisan package passed by House Republicans in September, which would have recklessly slashed funding for domestic priorities by $68 billion below the bipartisan agreement introduced Wednesday. 

Most importantly, this bill rejects the devastating cuts proposed by the Trump administration. These included the President’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, which helps ensure we have clean air and drinking water. 

This bill rejects his cuts to job-training, education, and childcare programs that so many of our nation’s working families rely on.  And it rejects the President’s misguided proposal to slash the budget for the Department of State. 

This bill also rejects the President’s misguided immigration priorities by refusing his request to hire an additional 850 ICE agents, and increase the number of ICE detention beds. 

It also rejects his request to build a “big, beautiful wall” on the Southern border.  Instead of his original $1.6 billion request for 74 miles of wall, which was later increased to a request for $18 billion to build a wall along the entire southern border, the bill funds only a fraction of that and includes important restrictions on how the funds can be used.

The bill provides $641 million for 33 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley, $251 million to replace secondary fencing in San Diego, and $445 million for replacement of existing pedestrian fencing. 

Importantly, the bill includes language requiring the Department of Homeland Security to use proven fence designs that currently exist on the border, instead of allowing the President to build a 30-foot concrete wall, which would endanger our men and women who patrol the border. 

I would still like the President to tell us when, and how, he wants Mexico to cover these costs, as he promised the American people he would.  I think we all know by now that was never a promise he could keep. 

One critical thing missing from this bill is a remedy for the crisis the President has created, and that crisis relates to DACA recipients.  I have watched with fury as the President has, day after day, tweeted that Democrats are responsible for not addressing DACA.  Late last night, he tweeted, “Democrats refused to take care of DACA.  Would have been so easy, but they just didn’t care.” 

For nearly two decades I have been a proud supporter of the DREAM Act.  I included it in the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill.  I care.  Democrats care.

Yet, after promising before members of Congress, and the American people, that he would sign an agreement to address DACA, President Trump walked away from a bipartisan DACA and border security compromise in February. 

There is no fix for DACA because the President, and the Republican leadership, are not serious about getting one.

This bill also strikes more than 130 poison pill riders from this agreement.  The riders would have restricted women’s access to health care, rolled back environmental protections, and put significant restrictions on consumer financial protections.  Had these riders been included, we would not have reached a successful conclusion to this negotiation. 

I do not agree with everything in this bill.  When you have a package of this magnitude, there will always be matters included that we like, and things on which we disagree.  That is the nature of compromise, but the Senate requires compromise.  Yet this bill represents tangible progress that will benefit all Americans. And I am proud of the compromise we reached today. 

I need to thank my own staff, who have worked days, nights, weekends – all hours for the last several weeks, and non-stop in the home stretch of finishing this comprehensive bill. 

My Staff Director, Chuck Kieffer, whose experience and depth of knowledge has become essential to me in this role as Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. 

Chanda Betourney, a native Vermonter and my Deputy Staff Director and General Counsel, who has taken with her to these negotiations her Vermont values and her long Senate experience. 

Jessica Berry, also a native Vermonter, who has fought for many of my priorities – and those of other members in this body – in this spending bill. 

Jay Tilton, my committee press secretary, who has gotten the word out far and wide about the importance of this bill. 

And Jean Kwon, who has provided hours of support to the entire Appropriations Committee Staff.

I also want to thank the Democratic Subcommittee Clerks for their support and tireless efforts in crafting this bill:

Tim Rieser, Jessica Schulken, Jean Toal Eisen, Erik Raven, Doug Clapp, Ellen Murray, Scott Nance, Rachel Taylor, Alex Keenan, Melissa Zimmerman, Chad Schulken, and Dabney Hegg.

I want to thank my dear friend, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Thad Cochran. 

It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve with him since 1978.  It was a particular honor to work with him on this appropriations bill, his last in the United States Senate.  He will be sorely missed. 

I also want to thank Chairman Cochran’s staff for all their hard work on this bill.  In particular, I want to thank Bruce Evans and Fitzhugh Elder.  They have both had long careers in the United States Senate.  They share Chairman Cochran’s dedication to this institution and his dedication to Mississippi, and they have been a pleasure for me and my staff to work with. 

And to the Appropriations Committee staff on both sides of the aisle, some of whom are in the Chamber today, I thank you for the long nights and weekends you have worked to get this bill across the finish line.  We could not have done it without your hard work.  

I urge an ‘aye’ vote on the measure.

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