09.18.18

Latest Major Appropriations Progress: Statement Of Appropriations Vice Chair Leahy As Senate Passes The Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, And Education Appropriations Conference Report

[The Senate passed this Appropriations package this afternoon, in an overwhelming and bipartisan vote of 97 to 3.  It is the latest in the unbroken string of successes that Leahy, as Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the committee’s chairman, have had in their partnership this year to fix an Appropriations process that has been broken for more than a decade.  This bill, passed by the Senate today, and expected to be passed by the House and signed by the President, includes the annual budget bills for several federal departments, including the Defense Department, and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor.  This will be the first time in 22 years that the annual bill that funds the Depts. of Labor, HHS and Education will have reached a President’s desk and will have been signed into law in time for the new fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.]

For the second time in two weeks, we are considering a Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations conference report.  The two bills in the package before us – the Defense bill, and the Labor, HHS, and Education bill – are the products of months of hard work and bipartisan cooperation, and I am pleased that we have been able to work out all of the differences between the House and Senate bills.   

These bills make important investments not only in our national security but also in the future of our country.   Together they demonstrate the importance of the bipartisan budget agreement reached earlier this year. 

The Labor, HHS, Education bill makes important new investments in health care and education.  We increase funding for the National Institutes of Health; invest in working families by improving access to childcare and promoting college affordability; and provide new resources to combat the opioid epidemic.  And the Defense bill provides critical resources to support our men and women in uniform and their families, and invest in our national security.  

I am also pleased that this conference report is free of new controversial poison pill riders, as was the one we passed last week.  We did our job and focused on what we should be doing – making responsible, thoughtful decisions about how to fund these federal agencies, and leaving controversial policy issues out of it.   

This conference report contains a continuing resolution (CR) to keep federal agencies up and running through December 7.  This is necessary to ensure that we do not face a government shutdown in the event that we do not finish our work on the remaining bills.  Funding the government by continuing resolution is never something that we want to do; it is inefficient and in the end it wastes, rather than saves, money.  That is why Chairman Shelby and I have worked so hard to get the appropriations process back on track.  But we have more work to do. 

We are still in conference on a four-bill minibus, and we should finish that work and send it to the President’s desk for signature before the start of the new fiscal year so that a CR for those agencies becomes unnecessary.  It can be done.  We are very close to an agreement.  Most of the funding issues have been resolved, but we are hung up on controversial poison pill riders.  We should not delay this package over unrelated policy matters that have no place on must-pass spending bills.  

The four bills – the Interior bill, the Financial Services bill, the Agriculture bill, and the Transportation-HUD bill – fund programs that are important to the American people; they should not be frozen at Fiscal Year 2018 funding levels, not even for a few months, especially when we are so close to a deal. 

The Agriculture bill provides critical support for our country’s farmers and rural communities through its investments in rural development and housing, agricultural research, and clean water programs.  Every state in this Nation, including my home state of Vermont, have rural communities and farm economies that benefit from these important programs.  There is no reason they should have to operate under a CR when we are close to a deal. 

The Financial Services bill supports regulatory agencies that the American people rely on to protect them from unfair, unsafe or fraudulent business practices, and we should fund these agencies in a responsible way, not put them on autopilot.  I am also pushing to include a cost-of-living adjustment for federal civilian workers in the final bill, which is not provided for under the CR.  Failure to pass this bill on time with a cost-of-living adjustment included means 2.1 million federal workers will not see a pay raise, including doctors and nurses serving our veterans and FEMA employees responding to federal disasters.       

The Interior bill is also important and should be enacted on time.  It funds programs that are critical to ensuring our children and grandchildren will enjoy clean air and clean water.  It supports important conservation programs, including funding for our National Parks and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  The Interior bill also provides much-needed funding for fire suppression to help battle wildfires that have ravaged the west.  This fire season has been one of the worst in recent memory and we must provide the resources needed to meet the extraordinary need.       

Finally, we are close to a deal on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill and we should finish negotiations on this bill this week.  This is our nation’s infrastructure bill.  The funds provided not only help us rebuild our crumbling bridges and roads and invest in our communities, but they create jobs for thousands of workers across this country.  We should make sure this funding is allocated in a way that addresses the priorities of today, not of yesterday.

Funding the government is one of Congress’s most basic responsibilities and we owe it to the American people to do our jobs.  I challenge the House Republican leadership to drop their poison pill riders so that we can send the four-bill minibus to the President before October 1st. 

I am committed to this path, and I know Chairman Shelby shares that commitment.  In order to do that we need conference reports that can muster 60 votes in the Senate, and that means House Republicans must drop their insistence on including poison pill policy riders.  If we can get 9 of the 12 bills across the finish line by October 1, it will be the most enacted by the beginning of the fiscal year since 1996.   

I am pleased that we are voting on the Defense and Labor-HHS package before us today and I urge the President to sign it.  I want to thank Chairman Shelby and the Chair and Ranking Members of the subcommittees, Senators Blunt, Murray and Durbin.  I also want to thank the staff of the Appropriations Committee for their hard work on these two bills.  Both my staff on the Full Committee as well as Chairman Shelby’s staff and the Subcommittee staff, both Republican and Democrat.  It takes a lot of cooperation to get these bills finished, and it could not be done without them.  I ask unanimous consent that a full list of staff be entered for the record. 

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