The Clock Is Ticking, And The People Are Watching


By:  Appropriations Vice Chair Patrick Leahy

Once again Congress finds itself lurching toward another manufactured made-in-Washington crisis.  We are four months into a new fiscal year, and our government is still operating under last year’s fixed funding levels with little flexibility to adapt to today’s world.  We have not reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), putting the health care of 9 million children, including more than 4700 Vermont children, at risk.  And 800,000 DREAMers live under a cloud of uncertainty and fear of deportation. 

It was President Trump’s cruel, cynical and senseless decision, a crisis of his own making, to end the DACA program that put America’s DREAMers in an untenable situation.  Their lives as productive contributors to our communities have been thrown into chaos.  Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking quickly down to the artificial deadline that the President imposed on their lives.  

DREAMers are American in every way but on paper, having been brought here as children through no fault of their own.  But instead of working with Congress to find a permanent solution, President Trump terminated DACA under false pretenses, yielding to xenophobic voices in his administration. 

Now President Trump is using the DREAMers as negotiable commodities for his unreasonable demands, like $18 billion in American tax dollars -- NOT money from the Mexican government, as he repeatedly promised -- to build his ‘big, beautiful wall’ on the southern border.  Mr. President, DREAMers are not commodities, and it is unconscionable to take and hold them hostage.   

Congress needs to pick up the pieces left in President Trump’s wake and fix this.  We need to pass a bill protecting DREAMers now. 

And amid all of this, we are lurching toward yet another artificial crisis to fund the government by Midnight next Friday.  Since June I have been calling and pressing for a bipartisan budget agreement to avoid this latest fiscal cliff.  But the Republican leadership instead spent Congress’s time rolling back sensible regulations designed to protect American consumers, families, children and our environment, and passing a massive tax cut stacked to the rafters with bonuses for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. 

Republicans and Democrats agree that our military readiness has suffered under the 2011 Budget Control Act’s mandatory spending cuts known as “sequestration” and that we must reach a new budget deal.  But our nation’s economy, our education system, our infrastructure, and care for our veterans have suffered as well.  And our military leaders agree. 

This week, I released two letters, signed by a combined 560 retired Admirals, Generals, and other former military members, that you can find on my website.  They make the case that we must increase our investments in domestic home-based priorities, including education, childcare, and diplomacy, if we are to keep our country safe and to support our military. 

But President Trump and the Republicans have claimed that investing equally in defense and non-defense programs would add too much to our deficit and burden our children.  In the wake of a Trump tax bill that will add $1.5 trillion to our nation’s debt and benefit primarily large corporations and the wealthiest Americans, this argument is simply not credible. 

Months ago, President Trump flippantly threatened that we need a “good government shutdown.”  There is no such thing, and I hope President Trump is not trying to orchestrate one.   

Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House.  This is their government.  We have until Friday to reach a bipartisan agreement to resolve all of these issues.  And I believe that we can if we get serious.  If we get to work, and if we put the American people, and our true national interests, above bumper sticker politics. 

It’s time to get to work and find bipartisan solutions.  We can get this done on behalf of the American people.  

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[Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.]