12.11.14

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Omnibus Appropriations Bill

Mr. President, after nine months of hearings and briefings, and many long days and nights of negotiations, this past weekend the Appropriations Committee completed work on the fiscal year 2015 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act. 

Earlier this year, many of us came to the floor to praise Chairwoman Mikulski for her heroic effort to pass the fiscal year 2014 Omnibus.  While many in Washington thought that feat could not be repeated two years in a row, she proved them wrong. 

Chairwoman Mikulski rallied her twelve subcommittees, and reached across the aisle to negotiate this omnibus and avoid another shutdown.  Without her, this would not have been possible.

Like Chairwoman Mikulski, my friend Senator Shelby from Alabama, the Committee’s Vice Chairman, also deserves a great deal of praise for the role he played.  Without Senator Shelby’s recognition of the importance of passing appropriations bills rather than continuing to fund the government on autopilot, we would not have reached this point.

As chairman of the Department of State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee I also want to thank Ranking Member Lindsey Graham, Chairwoman Kay Granger, and Ranking Member Nita Lowey who were, as always, able partners whose wealth of experience is invaluable to the subcommittee’s work and is reflected throughout the final agreement. 

I look forward to working with incoming subcommittee chairman Graham next year to continue to fund the diplomacy and foreign aid programs that are essential to protecting United States interests around the world, in a manner that reflects American values.

This bill was negotiated with the full participation of representatives of both parties, in both Houses of Congress.  It is a balanced, bipartisan bill.  Every word was discussed and agreed to by Republicans and Democrats, and our respective bills have been publicly available since they were reported out of Committee in June.   

Division J of this Omnibus, for the Department of State and Foreign Operations, provides a total of $51.8 billion in discretionary budget authority to protect United States security, humanitarian, and economic interests around the world. 

Of this amount, $9.2 billion is for Overseas Contingency Operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and other areas of unrest.

Anyone who doubts that these funds are important should think about the devastation being wrought by ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and its impact on neighboring Lebanon and Jordan, in addition to what is happening in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and other areas where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced because of ethnic and tribal violence.  Part of this funding will support aid for refugees and other victims of disasters, in an amount that is $1.5 billion above the budget request. 

It also provides $2.5 billion in emergency funding to respond to the Ebola epidemic, which has reminded us all that deadly viruses are only an airplane flight away.  This funding will support international efforts to help those infected with the virus, contain its spread, and assist the region’s governments strengthen their public health systems and recover from the economic impact of the outbreak.

Additionally, the bill includes full funding for diplomatic security and UN peacekeeping.  It fully funds our commitments to key allies like Israel and Jordan.  And it fulfills our commitments to the United Nations and other international organizations.

Here are a few more specifics:

Funding to combat HIV/AIDS has long been a bipartisan priority.   Members of both parties continue to unite in efforts to curb the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases that threaten millions of lives each year, especially in the world’s poorest countries.  In fiscal year 2015 we will provide a total of $6 billion, matching the current level for programs to combat HIV/AIDS, including $4.32 billion for PEPFAR and $1.35 billion for the Global Fund.

 

The bill provides historic levels to combat polio, malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases, and it provides $200 million for the GAVI Alliance which provides life-saving vaccines to children in the poorest countries. 

 

It provides $386 million in economic and law enforcement assistance for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which is $130 million above the budget request, to address the migration of unaccompanied children from Central America, a problem that ebbs and flow but cannot be ignored.  These funds are available for border security, reintegration of migrants, and programs to improve education, employment, counter gangs, prevent human trafficking, and professionalize police forces.

The bill also provides $400 million for Middle East Response in addition to funds otherwise made available for humanitarian aid and refugees and direct support for our allies in the region, and over $500 million to support our allies in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, to counter Russian aggression.

I am pleased that we were able to include the amounts requested for programs that protect biodiversity and tropical forests, support clean energy and reduce global warming, and combat wildlife poaching and trafficking.  These are important national security issues.

 

There is a lot more in this bill to support friends and allies and combat disease, hunger, and poverty, and to strengthen the rule of law and protect human rights.  These are all programs that are directly linked to our national security, and fulfill our moral obligations as Americans.

 

There are some things I wish were not included, particularly a House provision carried from last year that would weaken limits on carbon emissions from projects financed by the Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation.  Our European partners are wisely ending public subsidies for coal, in favor of cleaner, healthier, renewable energy.  But the House continues to block such progress here. 

 

I am also very disappointed that a Senate provision to bring the United States into compliance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was rejected again this year by the House.  Even the Bush Administration understood the necessity of this.

 

But I am pleased with the reforms that were agreed to, including to improve the way we train our aid workers, and to enhance how we track the impact of humanitarian aid to maximize its effectiveness.  

 

I am also pleased that provisions relating to our contributions to the international financial institutions, particularly relating to evaluations, beneficial ownership, human rights, industrial scale logging, and financing for large dams, were included.  I look forward to discussing them with officials at the Treasury Department.

 

Mr. President, no bill is perfect, and this one is no exception.  But the State, Foreign Operations portion of this Omnibus is a whole lot better than a continuing resolution that ignores the changing global realities and challenges we face.  It was a collaborative effort from beginning to end and it should be supported overwhelmingly. 

 

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