Chair Leahy on Need To Finish FY 2022 Appropriations Bills and Impact of a Full-Year CR

We are now four weeks into the fiscal year, the federal government is running on auto-pilot, and we only have four more weeks until the government shuts down unless Congress takes action.  This is not a theoretical exercise.   The actions we take, or don’t take, in this Chamber with respect to the Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations bills affect people’s lives and the direction of this nation.  These bills provide for our national defense, help educate our nation’s children, provide medical care for our veterans, ensure we have clean air and water, invest in science, and provide a social safety net for our nation’s most vulnerable populations. 

We can and we should do our job and finish these bills in the coming weeks.  Two weeks ago, I made public nine Senate appropriations bills.  When combined with the three bills the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up in August, all twelve bills have been released. The House has marked up all of their bills, and all but three have passed the House. 

In order finish our work, however, we need to have an agreed upon topline that has been worked out on a bipartisan and bicameral basis.  We cannot finalize bills unless we know how much we are able to spend.  I have been calling for these negotiations for months.  But we need all parties to come to the table.  It takes both Republicans and Democrats to strike a deal.      

Democrats have already made a fair offer.  My Republican colleagues made clear to us that they believed the President’s proposal for a 1.7 percent increase for defense programs was inadequate.  I personally thought it struck the right balance, as did many of my colleagues.  But this institution is built on compromise.  So in the Senate posted bills, I included a 5 percent increase for defense instead of a 1.7 percent increase.  The 5 percent increase is based on the funding level included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This increase was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee by a vote of 25-1.  Every single Senate Republican on the Committee supported this level of funding.  The House bill contains the same five percent increase, and it passed the chamber overwhelmingly, 316-113. 

In order to increase the defense number and stay within the topline established in the FY 2022 Budget Resolution, I reduced the amount for non-defense programs from President Biden’s proposed 16 percent increase, to a 13 percent increase.  That is how negotiations work.  Each side gives a little. 

Having offered the Republican-endorsed spending level for defense, have they taken yes for an answer?  No.  Have they made a counter offer? No.  Instead they seem intent on driving us toward a full-year continuing resolution.  If I was a cynical person, I would be worried that delay was a political calculation to tie the hands of the Biden Administration and thwart its agenda – governing under a long-term continuing resolution is difficult and they know it. 

But the stakes are too high to play politics with the federal budget, and the consequences for the American people too great.  The impacts of a full-year CR are too onerous for the country to bear.  This is unquestionably true for those who claim to care about defense programs and national security.  This fact alone should bring all parties to the negotiating table. 

A full-year CR would not only reduce defense spending by $37 billion compared to the Senate bill, it would actually cut defense spending below last year’s levels.  Since a CR freezes programs at last year’s levels, certain programs would be over-funded and others would be under-funded.  The Department of Defense would be unable to shift enough money around within their transfer authority to correct the imbalances, resulting in billions of unspent dollars and even more unmet priorities. 

With money tied up in outdated priorities, the U.S. will struggle to meet the challenges and threats of today.  While the U.S. is no longer in Afghanistan, a CR would revive the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to the tune of $69 billion dollars at DOD.  This is the account meant to fund wartime activities.  It would also provide $3.3 billion to train and arm the now-defunct Afghan security forces.

While paying for a war we are not actually fighting, DOD may be forced to reduce the end-strength of our military just so they can pay our troops and civilian personnel the 2.7 percent pay raise they so rightly deserve, that is set to go into effect on January 1, 2022.  In other words, the Pentagon might have to lay off soldiers to find the money for a pay raise under a continuing resolution, while money is tied up on a war we are not fighting.  This makes no sense.

Most members in this Chamber would agree that China is one of our biggest threats.  Reflecting that reality, the President proposed over $66 billion in military investments to counter the growing influence of China.  Yet, none of the new capabilities included in the Defense Appropriations bill would be funded under a continuing resolution.   

Many Senators have come to the floor in recent weeks to ask that we provide an additional $1 billion for Iron Dome.  I wonder if they are aware that under a CR, Iron Dome will receive only $73 million.   

No one can disagree that we need to invest significant funds to clean up PFAS contamination on military bases.  The Senate bill used the additional defense spending to increase PFAS cleanup by $761 million.  None of these funds will be available under a CR. 

Given these facts, and these are only a few of many examples, I am mystified why there is not more urgency on the other side of the aisle to solve these problems.  Republican members have been quick to criticize Democratic leadership for not bringing the NDAA to the Senate floor for consideration more quickly, yet when it comes to actually funding defense (not just authorizing its programs), they won’t even come to the table.  Yet, on the very same day, I was told that the Republican leadership wants to have a full-year continuing resolution that would cut defense funding.  I ask my Republican colleagues, which is it? 

If we fail to get a deal on full-year appropriations bills, our veterans also lose out.  Due to increased demands for community care, under a continuing resolution the VA will not have sufficient funds to cover medical care for veterans.  The FY 2022 Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill provides an additional $3.3 billion in Medical Community Care funding to solve this problem, without which it will be necessary for VA to deny requests for veterans seeking care in the community, fail to pay private providers for care they have already received.  These are men and women who served out country.  They deserve better than this.

Under a continuing resolution we also lose the opportunity to keep pace with China in scientific discoveries.  Artificial intelligence, quantum computing, microelectronics, and advanced communications - these are the fields that make us globally competitive, and in which China is actively investing.  Under a CR, the agencies that fund these scientific breakthroughs, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), will all be flat-funded. 

Our domestic priorities will also suffer under a continuing resolution.  The FY 2022 Senate bills include historic increases to care for and educate our Nation’s children, combat climate change, build and renovate affordable housing, improve our infrastructure, and continue to combat the pandemic.  None of these increases will occur under a full-year CR.  We will be forced to operate at last year’s levels in a country that has been transformed by a global pandemic.  

For example, we double the funding for Title I-A Grants to Local Educational agencies. This program is the foundation of federal support to schools across this country. We provide a 20 percent increase for special education, a 20 percent increase for the Child Care Development Block grant, and an 11 percent increase for Head Start.  In the wake of COVID-19, it has never been more clear how important quality child care and education are for our nation’s children.  Failure to make these investments will put us further behind. 

We provide unprecedented investments in tribal communities to improve healthcare, education, social services, water resources, and law enforcement for Native Americans.  Our tribal communities were some of the hardest hit during the pandemic.  We have a moral responsibility to help address their needs.  None of these resources would be available under a Continuing Resolution. 

We provide critical funding increases for mental health and substance abuse - doubling the Mental Health Block Grant program, doubling funding for suicide prevention, and increasing State Opioid Response grants by 33 percent.  These funds are desperately needed in every state in this country as rates of anxiety and depression have soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, and drug overdose deaths are expected to reach their highest levels to date, but they would be unavailable under a continuing resolution.    

We have an opportunity to make historic investments to combat domestic violence with a 48 percent increase in Violence Against Women’s Act programs at the Department of Justice.  Incidents of domestic abuse have skyrocketed during the pandemic and the need for the services these programs provide is great.  We cannot meet this demand under last year’s funding levels.  

Under a continuing resolution, funding at the National Institutes of Health will stagnate, leaving us behind in critical advancements in medical research just when we need it most.  And we would be unable to fund the President’s bold and promising proposal to create the first ever Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) to accelerate the pace of breakthroughs in medicine in America.   

The FY 2022 Senate bills include critical investments to combat climate change that would disappear under a CR.  This includes a $1.45 billion dollar contribution to the Green Climate Fund and a $450 million contribution to the Clean Technology Fund.  These are the first contributions by the U.S. to these funds in nearly four years, allowing us to rejoin the international fight against climate change after global retreat under President Trump.   Now is the time for bold action, not complacency. 

The next few days and weeks are critical, and I hope the American people realize what is at stake.  I ask our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join us in negotiating a path forward.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the choice we face with these appropriations bills goes to the heart of why we are here.  We can either come together – the way we used to – the way a democracy is supposed to – and make our government work for the American people, or we can become the branch of government where, instead of governing, the minority party defines its role as preventing the Congress from doing its job so it can then falsely blame the majority party.  That is where I fear we are heading, and it is not just about these bills, but the relevance of Congress itself – today and for the future – whichever party is in the minority.  And if that becomes the norm, it will be next to impossible to turn the clock back. 

We need a topline deal.  Republicans need to come to the table and make a comprehensive offer.  Those of us on this side of the aisle are ready to work on behalf of the American people.  I ask our Republican colleagues to join us. 

I ask that my full statement be made part of the Record.