Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Omnibus Appropriations Bill

Mr. President, I want to add my voice to those who have spoken in support of the Omnibus appropriations bill.  I spoke about it earlier this week, so I am not going to repeat those remarks, but I want to be sure the American people understand the importance of what we are doing.

Only Chairwoman Mikulski could have said it as well as she did.  This compromise bill represents the end – hopefully for a long time – of “shut down, slow down, slam down politics.”   

It shows that when people here want to govern, when they have had enough of political stunts, when they are no longer intimidated by extremists, they can work together to get it done.

Chairwoman Mikulski, Ranking Member Shelby, Chairman Rogers, and Ranking Member Lowey made it possible for the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees to do what we have always been able to do if given the chance – we forge agreements.

Two days ago I spoke about the portion of this Omnibus bill that funds the Department of State and foreign operations.

The bill also provides funding for many vital domestic programs that have suffered painful cuts in recent years. 

It provides increased funding for public health, including mental health, and will increase the National Institutes of Health budget by $1 billion. 

In Vermont, local community health centers are essential for rural families, and this bill includes nearly $700 million more for these health centers nationwide. 

Head Start programs have been some of the hardest hit by sequestration, and this bill helps rebuild these programs by investing $1 billion.

The bill invests $194 million more in the Women, Infants, and Children program, providing nearly 90,000 more mothers and children with nutrition assistance. 

Many Americans are struggling to pay for college, and this bill maintains funding for the Pell Grant program and increases funding for TRIO and Gear Up programs that help low-income and first-generation students get a college education.  Many of these programs reach Vermonters through the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC), and I am pleased that this bill includes an investment in this and similar nonprofits around the country.

The Omnibus includes funding for programs authorized by the Violence Against Women Act for grants to rural areas, for transitional housing, sexual assault services, legal assistance for victims, and support for Native American victims.

The bill raises the cap on the Crime Victims Fund by $15 million, an historic high, which means more money for victims’ assistance grants at the state and local levels.  It makes a lifesaving investment in the Bulletproof Vest program, to protect police officers and other first responders.

The bill provides increases for homeless assistance grants and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, and preserves funding for Rural Economic Area Partnership Zones. The Omnibus also lifts the pay freeze that has impacted thousands of Federal workers in Vermont and millions across the country. 

This bill makes strong investments that will support our National Guard, and overturns a provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act that would have reduced cost of living adjustments for medically-retired service members and survivor benefit plan recipients.  It paves the way for Congress to repeal the reductions for all impacted military retirees.

As with any compromise appropriations bill, there are programs that are not funded at the levels many of us wanted, including some programs that are important to Vermonters. There are also provisions I wish had not been included. 

I am disappointed that, because of limited budget caps, we are unable to make larger investments in the Byrne/JAG program and juvenile justice programs, which continue to face steep cuts year after year.

I am disappointed that the Omnibus includes authorizing language that we have been debating as part of the ongoing Farm Bill negotiations.  This anti-farmer policy rider will tie the hands of the Grain Inspection Packers, and Stockyard Administration, and is an unfortunate case of legislating on behalf of powerful corporations while leaving our family farmers out in the cold.

But the alternative was another continuing resolution, and more sequestration, which, without question, would have been far worse.  This bill is an important step back from the destructive politics of the past few years. 

Let us hope it is only the first step, and that we can go on from here to make progress on other important issues the American people sent us here to address.

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