11.29.16

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Fiscal Year 2017 Appropriations

Mr. President, for the past two years the Republican Party has enjoyed solid majorities in both the House and Senate.  They control the schedule and the process. They can decide which legislation to call up for debate, and frankly for all intents and purposes, they can decide whether anything gets done around here.

A good example is the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  If he had been treated like other Supreme Court nominees throughout the entire history of this country, he would have received a hearing and a vote and he almost certainly would have been easily confirmed just as he was when he was nominated to the DC Court of Appeals. 

Instead, the Republican leadership did not even give Judge Garland a hearing, much less a vote.  The Republican Senators refused to do their job.

There are countless examples of this.  It would behoove people in this country who complain about the “do nothing” Congress to remind themselves that the Republicans are in control.  They can make it possible for work to get done, or they can make it impossible. 

Their track record for the past two years speaks for itself.  Instead of a Congress that sets the standard for the world’s democracies, we have been treated to a lesson of how not to get things done. 

The latest example is the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills.  I went back and reviewed the record.  For months, the Republican leadership extolled the virtues of regular order.  They spoke with great optimism and confidence about passing appropriations bills.  Individual bills, not even an omnibus bill that has become the norm.

They said over and over that they were going to do their job this year and pass these bills, the way we used to do. 

We on the Democratic side fully supported that goal.  And we negotiated 12 individual appropriations bills that were reported, with one exception, with bipartisan majorities – in most cases overwhelming majorities – by the Appropriations Committee. 

Senator Lindsey Graham and I wrote the FY17 State and foreign operations bill.  As we always do, we wrote a balanced bill and it was reported by the Appropriations Committee by a vote of 30 to 0.  

Our staffs have been meeting for weeks with their House counterparts to hammer out a conference agreement that the House and Senate can vote on and the President can sign.  We could easily be finished by December 9th when the current funding resolution expires.

So what is the problem?  It’s simple.  Donald Trump was elected President, and now the Republican leadership has a different idea.  Forget all those uplifting speeches about passing appropriations bills.  Forget about so-called regular order.  Forget about doing our jobs.  What’s their new plan?  Throw ten months of work into the trash can.

Now we are going to punt the ball down the field for another four months, and after that who knows?  Maybe then we will do it again and end up with a continuing resolution for the rest of the year.  There is no way to predict.

For Members of Congress who may not be familiar with the intricate operations of Federal agencies and would prefer not to think about it, the idea of another four-month continuing resolution may not be a big deal.  For those of us who do know, it’s an example of government at its worst. 

Funding the government by continuing resolution means putting priorities and budgeting decisions on autopilot.  It negates the hard work that has gone into reevaluating priorities from one year to the next. 

It negates the careful process of looking at federal agencies, account by account, to make adjustments, as warranted.  It means largely making a carbon copy of an earlier appropriations bill or bills, regardless of changed circumstances or compelling need to modify earlier priorities. 

I want to mention a few examples of what this means for the State and foreign operations bill, which totals only one percent of the Federal budget. 

A continuing resolution will provide $433 million less than Senator Graham’s and my bill for economic development, governance, and security programs, like the Power Africa initiative.  It will mean $59 million less for programs to counter violent extremism. 

These programs have strong bipartisan support because they are the building blocks for stability where we have critical national security interests. 

A continuing resolution will provide $162 million less than our bill for global health, including for maternal and child health programs – like vaccines for children – and to combat malaria and tuberculosis.  These programs literally mean life or death for millions of people, which is why they have had bipartisan support.  Or at least they did before the Republican leadership scrapped the appropriations bills.

A continuing resolution will provide $454 million less than our bill for security for U.S. diplomatic and consular personnel, for security upgrades for U.S. embassies and facilities overseas, and for cyber security programs.  So when the Republican leadership blames others for not doing enough to protect our embassies and diplomats, as they have a habit of doing, they need only look in the mirror. 

Ironically, the continuing resolution will provide $538 million more for U.S. contributions to international financial institutions than the amount in Senator Graham’s and my bill.  That is because the 2016 Omnibus provided $220 million for the Strategic Climate and Clean Technology Funds which is not needed in FY17 because the U.S. will not be contributing to either of those funds in FY17. 

The balance of $318 million is not needed because U.S. contributions to several international financial institutions are lower in FY17 than in FY16.

The continuing resolution will provide $161 million more than Senator Graham’s and my bill for contributions to international organizations.  We don’t need to pay that additional amount because of reductions in assessments and exchange rate costs.

The continuing resolution will provide $90 million more than our bill for assessed contributions to international peacekeeping.  Again, we don’t need to pay that additional amount due to reductions in several peacekeeping missions.

These are just examples for State and foreign operations.  Every appropriations bill has its own laundry list of reasons why a continuing resolution makes no sense, wastes taxpayer dollars, and wreaks havoc for the agencies that run the government.

Continuing resolutions, beyond a few months, are illogical, wasteful, and harmful.  We end up spending less for things both Republicans and Democrats strongly support, and we waste money on things we don’t need.  It is bad government 101. 

It is just what the Republican leadership ten months ago said they wanted to avoid.  But that was then, and this is now.

Senator McCain, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, denounced his colleagues for abandoning the regular appropriations process.  He knows what it will mean for the U.S. military. 

Senator Mikulski, the Vice Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, has called it “absolutely outrageous”.  She aptly called it “procrastinating” instead of “legislating”.

Another four-month continuing resolution is completely unnecessary, not to mention outrageous, wasteful, and irresponsible.

It can still be avoided.  Speaking for State and foreign operations, we can complete our conference agreement in less than one week.  I suspect the other subcommittees could do the same, or close to it.  Certainly we can finish these bills before Christmas. 

So why don’t we?  That’s what the Republican leadership said they wanted.  That’s what regular order is.  That’s how the Congress is supposed to work.  We should do it.  We should do our jobs.

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