04.14.11

Senator Leahy Speaks In Opposition To The 2011 Budget Bill

Unofficial Transcript Of Speech As Delivered

(3:45 p.m. Thursday, April 14, 2011)

[The House passed the continuing resolution for FY2011 – the recent budget agreement – Thursday afternoon, and the Senate is expected to vote on it early Thursday evening.]

Mr. LEAHY: Madam President, I appreciate the extremely hard work that the Majority Leader – and I’ve told him this – and the President – I’ve told him that – and the distinguished chairman – I’ve told him that – of the work they have done to get the best possible deal under extremely difficult circumstances.  Now pending here is this final resolution, and I will not be able to vote for it, as I assume others in the Vermont Delegation will not. I’m afraid that it creates a Faustian bargain. It averts a government shutdown at the expense of our overall national interest.

This year, Congress spent most of its time negotiating three rounds of deeper and deeper cuts in the current year’s budget, an exercise in oftentimes misguided wheel spinning. It ignores the fact that discretionary spending is but a relative fraction of the overall budget, while it addresses some of the most pressing and urgent needs of ordinary Americans.

Advocates paint this agreement in moral terms. I agree with them on that. Budgets are about our real priorities. There is so much in this budget package that is inconsistent with basic Vermont and American values. Drastic cuts to the anti-hunger programs for low-income women and children, elimination of Vermont’s weatherization program, cuts in economic development programs that grow jobs in my state of Vermont -- these are not my idea of prudent sacrifices.

It is no moral credit to Congress to cut vouchers for homeless Vermont veterans who served their country honorably. Nor has Congress covered itself in glory to deny first-generation Vermonters help in going to college because of cuts in the TRIO program. Is it a moral good to eliminate housing assistance for low-income families facing foreclosure or to slash small stipends for seniors who are on meals on wheels? I must admit that these cuts in my small state range as high as $150 million, a tremendous burden at a time we face the worst time since the Great Depression. Now, the reason we’re here, as a columnist pointed out very well in a national paper yesterday, is because even though we had an agreement to pass an Omnibus Bill last December, at the last minute, those on the other side of the aisle who agreed on that reneged, and of course we then were not able to get the 60 votes necessary in the Senate. I supported that Omnibus budget bill even though there were enormous cuts in it. It would have enacted tens of billions of dollars in carefully drawn, reasonable reductions below the White House budget proposal. The distinguished senator from Hawaii had worked very hard to encourage us to make cut after cut after cut, and we all agreed with him; I agreed with him. It was in the Omnibus. If that had been passed, we wouldn’t be here. But because those who had agreed to support it changed their minds at the last minute and killed the Omnibus bill, it forced the Congress into a series of stop-gap funding bills and now on to this slap-dash continuing resolution.

In addition to the cuts in the Omnibus bill, I also supported reductions of billions more, voted for billions of dollars of cuts in short-term reductions and the continuing resolutions earlier this year. Now, some who tout this round of cuts as the most important discretionary spending in history are the same ones who pushed through hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts to companies who ship jobs overseas -- American jobs,  overseas. The profits of our oil companies who now charge us $4 for a gallon of gas or more. Pushed through for multi-millionaires, many of whom didn’t want the tax cut -- pushed it through nonetheless. And the correlation between those spending cuts and those unfunded tax cuts is direct, and it’s unflattering to the proponents of both initiatives.

And, frankly, Madam President, I’m tired of being lectured on fiscal sanity from those who voted for an unnecessary war in Iraq, saying it was because of 9/11.  As we know from every single report that has come out, Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, but we spent $1 trillion. Thousands of American lives, tens of thousands of other people’s lives in Iraq, and then for the first time in history of this country, instead of paying for a war, as we always have in the past, we say, Oh, no, we’ll borrow the money.  And by the way, we’ll give you a tax cut, too. So, who paid for that war in Iraq? The men and women who valiantly fought there and their families who waited, wondering if they would come back alive, broken or dead, and often they are given the worst news. Others are the ones who got the tax cut, and we borrowed the money from China and everywhere to pay for a war we never should have been in, and a trillion dollars later, ten years later, we still are spending tens of billions of dollars there.

Now, some corporations and some others made a lot of money. We didn’t. And then we spent another eight or nine years we shouldn’t have been in Afghanistan doing the same thing -- borrowed the money for those so it seems that our soldiers paid a great burden, the American people paid a great burden.  But boy, some made out like bandits.  So I don’t want any lectures from those who gave the bandits their bag of gold.

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