07.20.17

Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On the FY 2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill And Energy & Water Appropriations Bill

Today we mark up two appropriations bills, the FY 2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill and the FY 2018 Energy & Water bill.  We will also consider the allocation offered by Chairman Cochran.     

Before I comment on the Chairman’s allocations, I want to talk briefly about the two bills under consideration today.  I thank Chairman Hoeven and Ranking Member Merkley for their hard work on the Agriculture Appropriations bill.  While this bill is $352 million below last year’s funding level, it was drafted in a bipartisan manner and rejects the misguided cuts proposed by the Trump administration that would have had devastating effects on rural communities, including my home state of Vermont.  It is also free of poison pill riders.   

It provides funding to promote clean water systems, support rural development, and improve community facilities, and continues support for the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone program.  This bill makes important investments in Vermont’s farm economy and includes critical funding to address global hunger.  It includes important increases for research which will encourage innovations to improve the profitability of farms across the country, protect water and land, and revitalize communities. It also continues our commitment to organic farmers by supporting research to grow our domestic supply, and investing in the National Organic Program.

However, the funding in this bill is still woefully inadequate to address the needs of our nation.  Most programs are funded at last year’s levels or receive cuts.  I will support reporting this bill from the Committee to move the process forward, but we can and should do better.  This is why we need a bipartisan budget deal to raise the budget caps. 

I also thank Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Feinstein for their bipartisan work on the Energy and Water bill.  I am pleased that it rejects the President’s calls to eliminate vital programs and research initiatives.  It also makes needed investments in rural communities through our regional Commissions, including the Northern Border Regional Commission. The bill supports much needed repairs and improvements in our aging dams and other Army Corps infrastructure and through green infrastructure opportunities.  I am also thankful that it includes funding for the Weatherization Program.  In Vermont, the Northeast, and northern states across the country, weatherization helps those struggling with high home heating prices during the cold winter months, while giving a boost to U.S. manufacturers and small businesses. 

However, the Energy & Water bill also contains cuts that are unwise and that I do not support.  This is not a criticism of the Chair and Ranking Member.  They did a good job drafting their bill under the constraints of the allocation they were given.  The fact is that we need a bipartisan budget deal to increase the caps for both defense and non-defense programs if we are going to properly address the needs of our growing nation.  That brings us to the matter of the allocation proposed by Senator Cochran.    

First, I want to thank Chairman Cochran for his leadership on this Committee.  In contrast to the House, which has moved partisan bills that violate parity and contain poison pill riders, Chairman Cochran has rejected the misguided $54 billion cut in the Trump budget proposal, avoided poison pills, and is proposing to markup appropriations bills at FY 17 levels.  His allocation is an acknowledgement that the post-sequester caps need to be revised, and shows a good faith desire to move forward in a bipartisan way.  But the FY 17 funding levels are still insufficient to properly address the needs of our military, or adequately invest in the programs that help us grow our nation’s economy.  That is why I will oppose the allocation offered by the Chairman and propose an alternative. 

The allocation I propose is based on parity.  It will increase defense programs by $54 billion above the post-sequester caps, and increase non-defense programs by an equal amount.  I think everyone here can agree that sequestration has had a negative impact on the readiness of our nation’s military, and the caps need to be raised.  But sequestration has had an equally devastating effect on domestic priorities.  It has been over five years since passage of the Budget Control Act, and discretionary programs have been cut by $2 trillion dollars.  That has meant cuts to programs that support our veterans, secure our nation, build infrastructure, and protect our environment. 

Increasing non-defense programs by $54 billion may sound like a lot of money.  But even if this Committee were to agree to the allocation I propose today, some of these bills will still only be at, or even lower, than the funding levels they had in FY 2010.  Think about that.  My proposed allocation for the Agriculture bill is slightly below FY 2010 levels.  My allocation for the THUD bill returns funding for our transportation and housing programs to where they were eight years ago.  I believe this proposal, while absolutely necessary, is in fact modest. 

We all know we cannot finish our work or bring these bills to the floor without a budget deal in place.  The current caps will not allow us to produce 12 responsible bills, and even the FY 17 levels will trigger a sequester for both defense and non-defense.  The allocation I propose shows what we could do for the country if we secured such a deal.  This allocation will allow us to invest in our nation’s security, our infrastructure, our children’s education, and our environment.  I encourage its adoption and if it fails, I ask for a no vote on the Chairman’s allocation.  Each member has a copy of my alternative allocation, and after debate I will ask for the yeas and nays.      

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