11.21.13

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Impact of a Continuing Resolution and Sequestration on America’s Children, Teachers and Families

Mr. President.  It has been only a few short weeks since the needless government shutdown that cost the Treasury more than $20 billion dollars, disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of federal workers and their families in every state, threatened to wreak havoc with the world’s financial markets, and accomplished nothing. 

But an important deadline, one critical to determining how we resolve the current budget crisis, is just a few days away.

While this approaching deadline does not come with the threat of another government shutdown, if Congress is going to complete work on Appropriations bills before the continuing resolution expires on January 15th, we need a top-line number from the Budget conferees by the end of this week.

By Friday, the Budget conferees need to find enough common ground to agree on a level to fund the Federal Government for the remainder of the fiscal year.  And while many have expressed their doubts, there is no reason this cannot be done.  People are fed up with putting the process of setting and funding our national priorities on autopilot.  It is an abdication of responsibility and a wasteful way to do business.

It is equally important that the level of funding replace sequestration.  A long term continuing resolution that funds the Government at the House level of $967 billion would be a disaster.  Sequestration would become the new normal, funding programs and agencies at levels far below those passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee and below fiscal year 2013.

It is stunning – and frightening -- that instead of looking to replace sequestration’s devastating cuts, we hear from some members that it is “working.”  If their intention is to stunt the economic recovery and indiscriminately slash services upon which American families and businesses depend, then I guess they are right. 

But I don’t think most Members of Congress, or most Americans, see it that way.   

For those of us who want to support our communities and invigorate and sustain our economic recovery, another year of sequestration would be catastrophic.  While we are still trying to gauge the full impact of the first round of cuts this year, one thing is clear – another year would be far worse.  Agencies have exhausted their carry-over funds and creative budgeting options to avoid layoffs, furloughs, and eliminating programs.  

Absent a budget agreement, the entire Federal Government, from the Department of Defense to the Department of Labor, will suffer significant, mindless cuts.  I have spoken several times about the impact of another full year continuing resolution at the House’s funding level.  I want to take a minute to describe what it would mean for America’s children, teachers and families.

LIHEAP, which provides lifesaving home energy assistance, would not receive the $325 million increase over the level included in a continuing resolution, cutting off assistance to about 760,000 more households this winter and next summer.  Nearly 40,000 Vermont families rely on LIHEAP in the cold Vermont winters.

Early Head Start programs won’t be expanded as the Senate appropriations bill intended, and the 177,000 children who would have received Head Start services will be turned away.  Nearly 1,600 Vermont children depend on this assistance every year.

Schools around the country already facing budget shortfalls, and look to the Federal Government to fund services to disadvantaged children through Title I grants.  Those schools would not receive the $852 million included in the Senate Appropriations bill.  They would have to look elsewhere for money to provide those services to 1.3 million students in need.

Schools would also lose $748 million in grants for special education that were included in the Senate appropriations bill, to help cover the costs of employing more than 9,000 additional special education aides in our schools.   

NIH would not receive the $2 billion in additional funds included in the Senate appropriations bill, and instead would not be able to award 1,300 new research grants.  This means that 1,300 additional opportunities to achieve scientific advances that could lead to life-saving treatments and cures would be missed opportunities.

Under a continuing resolution, 159,000 families looking for assistance through the Section 8 Housing Program to help keep a roof over their heads will be turned away, because the funding won’t be there.  In Vermont, 774 families would face losing their housing assistance.

The WIC program won’t be able to provide food to the nearly 500,000 infant, children and families the Senate appropriations bill would help, and working families won’t receive the $291 million in additional funding the Senate provides for child care subsidies.

Beyond our borders, we would lose the additional $389 million included in the Senate appropriations bill for global health programs to combat HIV/AIDS and other preventable infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and pneumonia, as well as malnutrition. 

The consequences of such a cut can be measured in lives.  Tens of thousands of additional deaths would result from these diseases, tens of thousands of additional children would be orphaned by AIDS, and there would be millions fewer life-saving immunizations for children resulting in tens of thousands of deaths that could have been prevented.

A full year continuing resolution would cut the international development assistance account that supports the basic needs of people in the poorest countries by nearly $115 million, including for primary education, food security, and clean water and sanitation programs.

The examples go on and on.  What we face is, in fact, not a hard choice.  It is a choice between doing what is right, or scoring political points.  The Budget conferees have an opportunity to reach meaningful compromise, to replace the “never supposed to happen” sequester, and to prove to the American people that they can put partisanship aside when it is in the national interest.

That is what is at stake, and I commend the Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski, and her counterpart in the House, Chairman Rogers, for the united stand they have taken for the good of the country.  I hope the Budget conferees follow their example.

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