12.20.18

Statement of Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Leahy On Passage Of The Third Continuing Resolution

Today we will pass a third Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating through February 8th.  I support this CR because a government shutdown is never good for our country - in fact it is a terrible idea - but this whole process has been a missed opportunity. 

For six of the seven appropriations bills covered under today’s CR, we have a clear path forward.  These bills — Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Interior, Financial Services, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development, and the State-Foreign Operations bill — could be done by close of business today if there was the will.  They are largely finished, are the product of bipartisan compromise, and provide the funds necessary to address critical needs of the American people and to protect U.S. national security.  Unfortunately, the President held them hostage for $5 billion to try to wall off our southern border — a wall he promised American taxpayers that Mexico would pay for. 

What will be lost because of the President’s intransigence? 

These six bills provide much-needed funding to help combat our nation’s opioid epidemic, and critical investments in infrastructure to help rebuild our nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, and highways.  They provide resources to protect the environment and help ensure that the water we drink and the air we breathe is safe and clean for this generation and the next. 

They provide important assistance for our nation’s farmers and rural communities who have been particularly hurt this year by the President’s trade policies.  And they support key allies and national security programs that are what enable the United States to be a global leader – a role that is being increasingly challenged by China and Russia. 

Unfortunately, this much-needed assistance is put on hold because the President held out for $5 billion for his wall, at the exorbitant cost of $31 million per mile straight from the American taxpayer’s pocket.     

We also should be passing a disaster package to help families and communities devastated by Hurricanes Maria, Florence, and Michael, the Hawaii volcanoes, California wildfires, and Alaska earthquakes.  We should remember that no one in this chamber is immune from disaster.  Seven years ago, Tropical Storm Irene devastated my home state of Vermont.  Marcelle and I observed the wreckage from that storm in Vermont – large parts of communities washed away, homes and farms demolished, local landmarks and bridges destroyed.  Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, from across the country, stood by Vermont’s side then to help us rebuild, because that is who we are as Americans. 

This year, the images of flattened homes, buckled pavement, and raging flames, have been matched in horror only by the devastated lives they have left in their wake.  Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, California, Hawaii, and Alaska, they all need our help, and it is indefensible that because of the President’s obsession with one issue, his wall, we are punting this disaster funding until the New Year.  These communities need to know their government stands behind them in times of crisis.

Why didn’t we get this done?  Why can’t we pass the six bills that are finished, and a disaster package to help those communities in need before we adjourn?  There is one clear answer to that question — President Donald J. Trump.  He has held all of our good work – by Democrats and Republicans – hostage over $5 billion for his misguided wall along the southern border.  It is a travesty. 

My opposition to his border wall, a wall he over and over pledged to the American people that Mexico would pay for, has been clear from the start.  The United States is a country founded by immigrants, and walling ourselves off from our neighbors to the south is not only impossible and an expensive waste of American taxpayer dollars, it is immoral, ineffective, and an affront to everything this country stands for.  Everyone agrees that we need to keep our border safe and secure, but there are better and smarter ways to accomplish that than building a 30-foot high concrete barrier between us and Mexico. 

Let’s not be fooled by recent White House rhetoric that President Trump was backing down from his demands on the wall.  The price demanded by the White House for letting the rest of these bills advance without $5 billion for the wall was a $1 billion slush fund to fuel the President’s extreme, anti-immigrant agenda.  Why should we give a blank check to a President who has shown, time and time again, that he is more interested in vilifying immigrants than he is in solving our immigration problems? His immigration policies have already caused immeasurable human suffering along our southern border and tarnished our reputation around the world.  Providing his administration with an additional $1 billion slush fund to enact this agenda is a non-starter. 

The fact is the President’s wall does not have the votes to get through the House or Senate, and he is in no position to practice horse-trading of one untenable, unpopular, wasteful policy for another.  Nor will Congress stand by and watch the President take funds from our men and women in the military, or their families, in order to pay for the wall. This fight will continue into the next Congress, but I do not anticipate those basic facts will change.  It is long past time for President Trump to recognize that we live in a democracy.  We have three co-equal branches of government.  Governing effectively is not about making threats and false promises.  Campaign slogans are no substitute for practical, affordable solutions. 

I want to thank Chairman Shelby for his steadfast partnership this year as we tried to get the appropriations process back on track.  I know that he shares my disappointment that we were not able to complete our work, but I am proud of what we have accomplished this year.  By working together across party lines, we moved all 12 bills out of the Committee on strong bipartisan votes. We advanced nine of the 12 bills through the Senate, also with strong bipartisan votes.  And we were able to enact five of the 12 appropriations bills on time for the first time in decades. 

I also thank Chairman Shelby’s staff and my staff for their hard work, expertise, and their commitment to accomplishing our goals this year.  I ask unanimous consent to place a list of the bipartisan Committee staff in the record.  I look forward to working with him and his staff, and our colleagues in the House, in the next Congress to finish our work. 

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