Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Fiscal Year 2011 Appropriations

The Folly Of Trading An Updated Budget For A 'Robo Budget'

Mr. President, earlier this week, Republican members who had pledged to support the fiscal year 2011 Omnibus Appropriations Bill changed their minds and chose instead to walk in lockstep with the House and Senate Republican leaders who believe that freezing spending at the fiscal year 2010 level is good politics. 

On the face of it that approach has an appeal to it – no new spending.  What a nice sound bite.  It makes everything seem so simple. 

But while one Senator of the Minority party gleefully remarked on the Senate floor “we won,” it is worth taking a minute to consider what a Continuing Resolution means – not for the Republican Party, but for the American people.

That it is a short-sighted abdication of Congress’ responsibility over Federal funding almost goes without saying.  But in fact it is worse than that. 

The Senators who profess to care about the security of this country, but refuse to put their money where their mouths are, bear responsibility for the consequences.

Every American family – yours and mine – knows that in a year’s time our budget priorities and the necessities of our families change from the year before.  So do the budget priorities of a diverse country of more than 300 million people in a rapidly changing and dangerous world.   

Those who celebrated after defeating the Omnibus – a bill that is supported by a majority of Senators – are implicitly promoting the myth that priorities and circumstances do not change from one year to the next. 

They would substitute the mindlessness of a copy machine for the judgment that the American people pay their representatives to use in making these decisions.

A robo budget is a disservice to the American people, to our national security, and to this Nation’s needs and interests here at home.  Yet that is the option we are left with.

What is our job here?  Is it to rubber stamp what we did last year, despite different circumstances and the passage of a year’s time?  I won’t speak for the chairs of the other Appropriations subcommittees.  They know the consequences of a Continuing Resolution for the programs in their jurisdictions better than I.  But as chairman of the Department of State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, I can say unequivocally that freezing spending for global security programs – as we are about to do – will shortchange the American people – this generation and future generations, compromise the security of this country, and cost the lives of countless people in the world’s poorest countries. 

Contrary to what some of our friends in the Minority seem not to fully appreciate, the United States is a global power.  We have vital interests around the world, from the Korean Peninsula to Mexico, that are important to the lives and livelihoods of every American. 

We are involved in two wars, with over 150,000 troops deployed in harm’s way – wars that will not be won by military force alone.

Our economy is tied to the economies of countries far and wide.  Our security depends on what happens thousands of miles from our shores, as much as it does at our borders.

Americans are traveling, working, studying and living in every country on Earth.  We have diplomats and military personnel stationed on every continent.  

Our environment, the health of our citizens, the security of our borders, and relations with our allies as well as our adversaries, are not static.  Time does not stand still.  It marches on, either with us or without us. 

What the other party is saying is that while China and our other competitors aggressively expand their influence, the United States will pull back.  While other countries become global markets, we will freeze our export promotion programs. 

While international terrorism, trans-national crime and corruption threaten American businesses and fragile democracies, including in our own hemisphere, we will retrench.    

That is the vision of the Minority.  It is myopic.  It is self-defeating.  It pretends to help solve the deficit, when in fact it will have virtually no impact on the deficit.  But it will weaken our influence around the world.

In contrast, the Omnibus Appropriations Bill that was abandoned three nights ago would have cut spending below the President’s budget request by some $29 billion, as our Republican friends insisted just a few short months ago.   Then they moved the goal posts. 

And three nights ago they walked off the playing field altogether, when those who said they would support it changed their minds – or had their minds changed for them. 

The Omnibus would have cut the budget for the Department of State and Foreign Operations by $3.2 billion below the President’s request.  The funding for the Department of State and Foreign Operations, which represents 1 percent of the Federal budget – 1 percent – is a far cry from what we should be allocating to protect America’s interests.

Fifty years from now I suspect our grandchildren or great grandchildren will look back and wonder why we were so penny wise and pound foolish, when so much was at stake.   

But if one asks which would be better for our national security, a Continuing Resolution or the Omnibus; or which would be better for protecting America’s interests in the global economy; or which would be better for strengthening our alliances and improving our image around the world?  There is no comparison.

Let me cite a few examples. 

The Omnibus would have funded global health programs, including vaccines and nutrition for children, maternal health, and programs to prevent or treat infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, West Nile, the Asian Flu, and drug-resistant tuberculosis.  These and as yet unknown viruses can become raging pandemics overnight.  They can spread across the globe to our shores with the ease of an air plane flight. The other party may not want to talk about cutting these programs.  

But when there is an outbreak of a deadly disease like the Asian Flu that could endanger the lives of millions of Americans, we can predict they will demand to know what the State Department is doing about it.  It won’t matter that they just cut the budget for disease surveillance and prevention.

At a time when there are more than 7,000 new HIV infections each day, a Continuing Resolution will reduce the U.S. contribution to the Global HIV/AIDS Fund by $75 million.  That will almost certainly cause other donors to reduce their contributions too.  Millions of people who need drugs to stay alive, won’t get them.

The Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, which is a cornerstone of our partnership with the Pakistani Armed Forces in fighting Al Qaeda, will be cut by $300 million in a Continuing Resolution.  It makes no sense. 

A Continuing Resolution will cut funding by more than $700 million for agriculture and food security programs, small business development, clean water, energy, basic education, trade capacity, and other priorities of both Democrats and Republicans, as well as of American businesses, universities, and other organizations that implement these programs.   

There are thousands of American diplomats stationed in almost every country of the world, assisting American citizens and businesses, defending our interests and our security.  They risk their lives in countries where Americans are targeted, and many have lost their lives in the line of duty. 

A Continuing Resolution will provide half a billion dollars less than the Omnibus would have for the State Department’s overseas operations, including for Afghanistan and Pakistan, requiring cuts to personnel, information technology, and public diplomacy programs that counter extremist propaganda and other misinformation about the United States.   

How, in the world, does that make sense?  Will anyone advocating this recklessness come forward to explain it to the American people?  Apparently not.  Better to declare “we won,” and hope the public never finds out that they lost. 

A Continuing Resolution will cut funding for U.S. Embassy security, construction, and maintenance programs, delaying the completion of new facilities to replace the most vulnerable embassies in some of the most dangerous locations. 

Security costs money, but the Minority will cut these programs.  Any delay in the completion of these facilities will extend the risks to American diplomats, consular officers, and other personnel overseas. 

A Continuing Resolution will cut funding for Educational and Cultural Exchange programs – programs that Republicans have claimed to strongly support.  That means thousands fewer participants in exchange programs, including those from Muslim-majority countries and Muslim communities worldwide, and a corresponding retreat for our national security interests. 

A Continuing Resolution will cut hundreds of millions of dollars for clean technology and other programs to reduce global warming.  Whatever one may think about climate change, 95 percent of new births are occurring in the world’s poorest countries where the demand for energy is exploding.  The environmental consequences of this exponential growth in energy consumption are staggering, and we ignore it at our peril.

There are dozens of other examples, but the point is simple.  The other party may think this is good politics at home, but it represents a dereliction of duty. 

It will have no appreciable impact on the deficit.  In fact, over time, it is just as likely to cost the taxpayers more.  But most important, the Omnibus, while billions of dollars below the President’s budget request, would have at least enabled us to not lose ground.  We would have at least been able to respond to new threats as they develop.  We would have at least been able to continue the effort started by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and strongly supported by Secretary of Defense Gates, to build the diplomatic corps we need.  We would have at least been able to compete in new and emerging export markets.  We would have at least been able to maintain programs with Mexico and Pakistan, transfer responsibility in Iraq from the Department of Defense to the Department of State, support public diplomacy and exchange programs with countries where large majorities have hostile and distorted opinions of the United States, and continue initiatives that are strongly supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

That is the choice.  It is not theoretical; it has very real consequences.  It should not be a political or partisan choice. 

Senator Gregg and I worked hand in hand to write our portion of the Omnibus within the allocation we were given, an allocation that was $3.2 billion below the President’s budget request. 

I am not among those who believe the Congress should hand over our responsibility for the budget to an unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy, but there were no earmarks in our portion of the Omnibus.  That has been the practice of our Subcommittee for many years.

The Minority has elevated hypocrisy to a new level over the issue of earmarks.  There are earmarks I have felt were a waste of money.  Many of them were Republican earmarks.  Other earmarks, by both parties, have been enormously beneficial to the people of our states. 

Less than 1 percent of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill consisted of earmarks – many of them requested by Republicans.  Many of them would have improved the lives of their constituents. 

But to score cheap political points those same Republicans who took credit for earmarks, now want the American people to believe that eliminating a few billion dollars in earmarks will fix the deficit. 

And so they would hand to the Administration total discretion to earmark every dollar of the budget.  There will come a time, I predict, when they will regret having done so.

I want to thank the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Inouye, for the Herculean efforts he made this year – first to get 12 individual appropriations bills reported by the Committee, and then to try to get the Omnibus passed.

He did everything humanly possible, right up to the bitter end.  But when those who had pledged their support walked away, there was nothing more he could have done.  As he has said, this is no way to run a government. 

I also want to thank Senator Gregg, who is retiring this year, for the many years he has served on the Appropriations Committee, and as Ranking Member of the Department of State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. 

It has been a pleasure working with him.  He cares about these programs, he supports the people who serve in our Embassies, he understands what is at stake for our country, he asks important questions, and he insists on accountability for the use of funds. 

Contrary to what some might think or guess, there were not many times when Senator Gregg, a conservative Republican Senator, and I, a liberal Democratic Senator, disagreed over the need to find the funds to support these programs.  We will miss him greatly.

Mr. President, one year ago, 37 Senators – Democrats and Republicans – wrote to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee urging full funding of the President’s budget request for the Department of State and Foreign Operations.  The funding in the Omnibus was $3.2 billion below that amount.   

Rather than voting for a sound bite, Senators should consider the consequences.  The consequences are unmistakable. 

A Continuing Resolution says whatever was okay last year, is okay this year.  I understand that is where we are.  Even though a majority of the Senate would support the Omnibus, the Minority party has made it impossible to pass anything without 60 votes.

It is no way to govern, and when it involves issues of national security, it is foolhardy.

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