Appropriations Committee Chairman Leahy Statement On The Continuing Resolution And The National Debt

Today the Senate will hold a vote to allow for the consideration of a temporary stop-gap measure to keep the government funded through December 3rd.   The measure also provides $28 billion to help states ravaged by hurricanes and wildfires, like Hurricane Ida that recently tore through the south and the northeast.  It provides critical assistance to Afghan refugees who have fled the Taliban in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Finally, it will raise the debt ceiling through December of 2022, including $8 billion of debt that was incurred under President Trump.   

This shouldn’t even be a close call.  A government shutdown would needlessly cost the taxpayers billions of dollars and throw hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and a government default would be catastrophic.  Both are completely avoidable. 

Yet, in the wake of the deadliest pandemic our country has seen in over 100 years, in the wake of natural disasters that have left a trail of death and destruction, the Minority Leader and his party have decided to play a dangerous game of political brinksmanship.  They have chosen – yes, chosen – to withhold their votes and prevent this bill from even being debated, threatening to shut down the United States Government and have it default on its debts for the first time in American history.  It’s the height of irresponsibility and callousness.  To say nothing of the hypocrisy.

Who pays the price for this political brinkmanship?  Not the Republican leadership careening us towards disaster, but the American people.  A government shutdown has serious consequences for people just trying to make ends meet, support their families, and live their lives. 

Important food and nutrition programs – SNAP and WIC - would dry up in a matter of days, leaving millions of American’s without the help they need to put food on the table.  These are the most vulnerable families among us.  Many of these families would be forced to tuck their hungry children into bed each night knowing they have not had enough to eat.  Very few of us in this Chamber have ever had to face that kind of heartbreak. 

Assistance to our nation’s schools, struggling to reopen after a pandemic, will be delayed, particularly those receiving Impact Aid payments, which help our hardest hit schools – those serving our nation’s military families, Native American students, and other public schools.  

Our public health response to the mental health and substance abuse crisis will be severely hampered, as 88 percent of the primary workforce providing these services would be furloughed.  We cannot forget that we have an epidemic of drug overdoses in this country happening alongside the COVID pandemic.  I have sat with mothers and fathers in Vermont who have lost their sons and daughters to the opioid crisis.  I cannot go back to those families and say that political games are depriving our country of the resources they need to help their children. 

The Small Business Administration that provides so much assistance to our nations’ small businesses—the backbone of the American economy—would be forced to close its doors.  Leaving no one to answer the phone and provide assistance, no one to finalize entrepreneurial development grant applications, or close on long-anticipated business loans to finance business expansion.   

A shutdown would cripple our country’s ability to monitor and prepare for severe storms in the middle of the hurricane season, leaving millions vulnerable. 

More than half of the CDC would be furloughed.  This would be just weeks after COVID deaths passed the grim toll of the 1918 pandemic in our own country, and right before the start of the annual flu season. 

These are just a handful of examples of the needless pain a government shutdown would cause.  And we cannot forget about the hundreds of thousands of dedicated public servants who would be sent home or forced to work with no pay – including nearly 41,000 law enforcement officers. 

As painful as a government shutdown would be, the consequences of defaulting on our debts for the first time in American history are even worse.

The government of the wealthiest country in the world would not have the funds to operate, meet its obligations, or pay its debts.  The last time we even toyed with such an irresponsible idea the credit rating of the United States Government was downgraded for the first time in history.  

If we were to default on our debts, the women and men of the military would be handed IOUs in exchange for their bravery defending our country.  Disabled veterans – who have sacrificed more than many can understand – would be handed the same. 

Social Security checks that people have earned and rely on to survive would stop.  The economy would take such a hit from which it would be hard to recover, and the stock market would no doubt take a dive, putting millions of American’s lifetime savings at risk.  All of this, as we are still recovering economically from the last 18 months of a global pandemic.

And for what?  So Republicans can make campaign commercials claiming they are the party of fiscal responsibility?  Come on.  While President Trump was in office, U.S. debt increased by $8 trillion dollars – $5.5 trillion alone since we last raised the debt ceiling with bipartisan support under former President Trump in 2019.    

Republican’s irresponsible tax cut for the wealthiest Americans is partly to blame, yet Democrats supported the Trump administration when it needed to raise the debt limit to account for the resulting bills, because to do otherwise would have been irresponsible and dangerous for the United States economy. 

The argument made by my colleagues that Republicans will not support raising the debt limit because they will not support the “tax and spend” policies of the Democrats does not hold water.  The bills they falsely claim to be socialist boogeymen have not even passed Congress let alone been signed into law, and they will be fully paid for.  In 2017, Senator McConnell chose not to take that path when Republicans passed a massive tax cut for the wealthy that was not paid for.  Raising the debt limit is about meeting obligations our country has already made, and many of those obligations were made under President Trump.

We have seen this page from the Republican playbook before: a vote of convenience when their party is in the White House, and a political football when they are not. 

Playing political games with so much on the line is as irresponsible as it is irrational.  The bill before us today provides a path out of this made-in-Washington crisis by funding the government through December 3rd, raising the debt limit through December 2022, providing relief to communities devastated by natural disasters, and assistance for the brave Afghans who supported our mission through two decades of war.

There is a clear off-ramp from this crisis.  I wish my colleagues would take it.  Vote to advance this bill and stave off an unnecessary crisis.  Put the American people first.  It is actually a simple choice.

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