09.26.13

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy Consequences of a Government Shutdown and a Full Year Continuing Resolution for U.S. National Security Senate Floor

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I have listened this week to the distinguished Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee who has made a compelling case for passing a clean, short term continuing resolution through November 15th so we can get on to the business of debating and passing appropriations bills. 

I agree with everything she has said, and particularly about the bipartisan way the Committee has written and reported bills this year.  Any of those bills could be debated and voted on today, conferenced with the House, and sent to the President.  That is the way we have worked together for two hundred years.   

Instead, we are repeating an all too familiar drama.  We are again in a high stakes stalemate over simply keeping the Federal government functioning.  What was once the regular business of Congress has again been replaced by political theater and another artificial, made-in-Congress crisis that threatens the economy and, in ways large and small, every single family in America. 

To those threatening this siege, once again it is their way, or no way forward at all. 

I also listened to the remarks of the junior Senator from Texas, who singlehandedly kept the Senate from doing any business for 21 hours. 

When he wasn’t using the Senate’s time to inform us about himself or to lecture about democracy, he asserted that the real problem with Washington – the reason that he and his Tea Party supporters have been trying to keep the law of the land from being implemented – is that Senators don’t listen to their constituents.

The Senator from Texas has a right to his opinion, but to suggest that only he speaks for the American people is notable for the perspective it highlights. 

Putting politics, intransigence and an extremist ideology above all else – the same thinking that landed us in the sequestration mess in the first place – is leading us toward an utterly unnecessary and avoidable government shutdown. 

Those same Senators who preach about the need for efficiency and the elimination of government waste are unmoved by the fact that American taxpayers will pay for the higher costs of a shutdown – those same American taxpayers for whom the junior Senator from Texas claims to speak.  

Once again, grandstanding prevails over common sense, comity and cooperation – three values that are vital to the effective functioning of a representative democracy. 

They are willing to play games with shutting down the government in an attempt to force yet another vote on an issue that the House and Senate have collectively voted on more than 50 times already:  to provide affordable healthcare to millions of uninsured Americans.

Those of us who travel around our states and listen to our constituents know the costs of a government shutdown, and the devastating effects of sequestration.  

Vermont is not unique in having fewer children in Head Start programs, medical researchers at our universities who cannot obtain research grants, seniors cut off from Meals on Wheels, young veterans back from Iraq or Afghanistan who can’t find jobs, or families sleeping in shelters or on the streets because there is no safety net housing assistance. 

The decisions we make have real and serious consequences for our economy, for children, and for communities – from St. Johnsbury, Vermont to Houston, Texas. 

Whether it is a government shutdown or draconian budget cuts under a full year continuing resolution, we will do less good, we will help fewer in need, and we will renege on our commitments to our men and women in uniform, and to the seniors, children and families in our states who depend on us. 

As the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of State and foreign operations, I want to speak briefly about the consequences of shutting down the government and a full year continuing resolution for U.S. national security, because it should make very Senator think long and hard about the role they want the United States to play in an increasingly competitive and dangerous world. 

We all have heard the saying “freedom isn’t free.”  It isn’t, and the corollary of that is that neither are U.S. security and U.S. influence. 

That is what is at stake – U.S. leadership in the Middle East, at the United Nations, in Africa, in South and Central Asia, in our own hemisphere.  If the government shuts down, the impact will be felt here at home and by our allies, and exploited by our adversaries. 

It is the worst hypocrisy, because those same Senators who are toying with shutting down the government want the United States to respond when war breaks out in Syria, or famine in Ethiopia, or an outbreak of the Ebola virus, or a devastating earthquake in Haiti, a terrorist attack in Kenya, the false imprisonment of a constituent in Nicaragua, or the kidnapping of an American missionary in the Philippines. 

They expect the United States to solve the problem, or to rally others to help solve it, but they are willing to dispense with paying the salaries of our diplomats, or our aid workers, or our dues to the United Nations, or emergency food aid, or support for NATO or the World Health Organization, or the myriad of other programs and organizations that depend on us and that serve our interests around the world. 

And when we pull back, when we don’t lead, others are only too happy to fill the vacuum.  The choice is real. 

A shutdown would mean the immediate suspension of most consular and passport operations at U.S. Embassies.   American and foreign students, missionaries, professionals, and others who want to travel to and from this country would be stranded. 

How long would it be before our phones start ringing off the hook from desperate constituents whose passport applications are suddenly put on hold, or from U.S. universities and businesses whose foreign students or employees can’t get visas?

The Export-Import Bank, which provides financing to U.S. companies, would immediately stop processing new applications, losing $2-4 billion in monthly income for U.S. exporters, jeopardizing approximately 30,000 American jobs, and reducing deposits to the U.S. Treasury by $15-20 million per month as a result of fees uncollected by the Bank.

But, according to the junior Senator from Texas, this is what the American people want. 

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Government agency that provides financing and insurance to American companies that invest overseas, would lose its authority to function.  No longer able to make disbursements, it would bring to a screeching halt the activities of hundreds of U.S. businesses that depend on OPIC financing.  

Again, those who would shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act would have you believe that this is what the American people want. 

The State, Foreign Operations bill that Senator Graham and I wrote, and that was reported by the Appropriations Committee on July 25th by a bipartisan vote of 23 – 7, protects U.S. national security interests and responds to compelling humanitarian needs. 

But if we cannot find a way out of the sequestration trap and are forced to live under a continuing resolution for the remainder of the fiscal year, the consequences will be devastating for the United States and our international partners.    

Senator Graham’s and my bill includes $8.5 billion for global health programs.  A full-year continuing resolution would mean $389 million less to combat HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and pneumonia, and malnutrition. 

It would mean tens of thousands of additional deaths from these diseases, tens of thousands of additional children orphaned by AIDS, and millions fewer life-saving immunizations for children resulting in tens of thousands of preventable deaths. 

Those who support a full year continuing resolution bear responsibility for the deadly consequences of these cuts, yet some of those same Senators have written letters to our Committee urging us to do more.

The Senate bill includes $2.5 billion, which is $115 million above a full-year continuing resolution, for programs in the poorest countries that have bipartisan support for basic and higher education, food security, energy, and water and sanitation programs. 

The alternative to development and opportunity is poverty, religious extremism, transnational crime, and violent insurgencies.  It is a growing reality across the globe, from Somalia to Mexico.  It threatens our economy, our security, and the security of our allies. 

Yet those who favor a continuing resolution would slash the funds to counter these threats.

The Senate bill includes $2.9 billion for aid for refugees, which is $200 million more than a full year continuing resolution.  There are 2 million Syrian refugees and an additional 4.5 million internally displaced Syrians in that devastated country. 

As the humanitarian crisis in Syria escalates the need for food, shelter and medicine is increasing.  Millions of refugees and war victims in Africa and other parts of the world also depend on our help.

Senators want the Administration to do more to help them, but then they turn around and cut the funding. 

The list goes on and on.  

A government shutdown is a complete failure of our responsibility as legislators who are sent here to make decisions – not slogans – to make government work for the American people and for the good of the nation, including our national security and our interests around the globe.    

Funding the government by continuing resolution is irresponsible and it is dangerous.  

It diminishes our standing in the world. 

It erodes our leadership.

It is unworthy of the Congress.

It is a betrayal of the people who sent us here. 

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