09.05.18

Statement of Vice Chairman Leahy On The Conference Meeting For The "Minibus I" Appropriations Bill

I am pleased to be here for the first conference of the FY 2019 Appropriations season.  The “minibus” before us contains three important appropriations bills. 

This minibus provides important resources for the support and care of our Nation’s veterans, and it makes critical investments in our country’s water infrastructure and energy programs.  It also provides support to numerous agencies under the umbrella of the Legislative Branch.  We have made a lot of progress toward an agreement that will allow us to move this package forward, but we still have work to do and differences to resolve.

Chairman Shelby and I have worked hard to get the Appropriations process back on track in the Senate.  One of the reasons we have been successful in this endeavor is that we have advanced appropriations bills that have bipartisan support, that comply with the bipartisan budget deal, and that are free of poison pill riders, from the left or the right.  That is the only path to success in the Senate, where we rightfully need 60 votes to advance legislation, and that is the only path to success for the conference on this minibus.  No one should mistake Democratic cooperation in the Senate for a sign that we will support a Conference Report that contains poison pills.  We will not. 

I must raise one additional issue with respect to veterans’ care.  Under the MISSION Act passed earlier this year, veterans’ healthcare currently being provided under the Choice Program and paid for with mandatory dollars, will be merged with the VA’s other Community Care programs and funded with discretionary dollars. 

Unfortunately, the MISSION Act only provided funding to cover the costs associated with the Choice Program through May 2019, leaving the balance unaddressed.  The Bipartisan Budget Act, which was enacted prior to the MISSION Act, did not contemplate this change.  As a result, we will have a shortfall for this program this fiscal year, and an even larger shortfall in the out years (to the tune of $8 billion per year, according to CBO) 

I said during Senate consideration of the MISSION Act that I would support the bill because I believe the existing program needed reform.  But in order to implement reform we need to allocate adequate resources for the new program – we do our veterans no favors when we make promises to them that we cannot keep. 

During the Senate debate, I filed an amendment that would allow us to address this shortfall.  Regrettably, my amendment was not considered and nothing in the agreement we have reached so far cures this problem.  I understand there is fierce opposition to my amendment from the Trump Administration and from many House majority members.  I will not offer it today because the House majority has made clear they will reject it. 

The OMB Director believes that the cost of this program can be paid for by slashing the budget for the NIH and other important programs, and by cutting other veterans programs.  I do not share that view.  I will continue to advocate for a solution that will ensure we live up to the commitments we have made to our veterans. 

I want to thank Chairman Shelby, Chairman Frelinghuysen, Ranking Member Lowey, and all of the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Subcommittees for their hard work on these bills.  I look forward to producing a good compromise bill that can pass both Chambers with bipartisan support.  It is my hope that Congress will send this bill and two more minibus appropriations bills to the President, for a total of nine appropriations bills, before September 30. 

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