Chairman Leahy Statement on the Further Extending Government Funding Act

It is my hope that soon the Senate will vote on a bipartisan agreement to keep the government open and funded through February 18th.  I am pleased we reached this agreement.  The only thing worse than running the government under a continuing resolution (CR) is a government shutdown.  A shutdown only hurts the American people and wastes billions in taxpayer dollars. 

I am glad that the bill includes critical funding to support Afghan refugees as we help them get resettled here in the United States.  These brave men and women were our allies through 20 years of war, and we have an obligation to support them as they begin their new lives.      

But this is not a victory lap.  We are two months into the fiscal year and appear no closer to getting an agreement on full-year appropriations bills.  With this vote we are buying time to complete those negotiations, and we must.  But in order to complete these negotiations, we have to begin them.  And my Republican colleagues still, to this day, refuse to come to the table.  The American people deserve better than that from their elected officials. 

On October 18, nearly a month and a half ago, Senate Democrats released a comprehensive offer in an effort to jumpstart these negotiations, and to let our Republican colleagues and the American people know our values.  Since then we have been met with nothing but deafening silence. 

Our offer was fair.  It provided a five percent increase for defense programs compared to last fiscal year, and a 13 percent increase for all other programs.  This is significantly higher than the 1.7 percent increase for defense proposed by the Biden Administration, and significantly lower than the 16 percent the Administration proposed for non-defense programs. That’s called compromise.  It’s how we get deals done. 

The five percent increase I offered on defense was not picked out of thin air.  It is the exact amount contained in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that has been before the Senate this week and was reported from Senate Armed Services Committee 23-3.  Work on that bill has stalled due to Republican obstructionism over a dispute about amendments.  To be clear though, none of the amendments Republicans are fighting for on the NDAA would increase total spending in the bill.  That’s because the five percent increase has bipartisan and bicameral support.  Republicans unanimously endorsed the five percent increase when the NDAA was marked up in the Senate Armed Services Committee.  And the five percent increase passed overwhelmingly in the House when it considered the NDAA over two months ago.  In the U.S. Congress, that as close to consensus as we get. 

So why not take yes for an answer?  

If I was a cynical person, I would think this delay was deliberate.  If I was a cynical person, I would think this delay was meant to drive us into a full-year continuing resolution.  Some in the Republican Party have even expressed this desire out loud.  But for a party that claims to care about our Nation’s defense, I suggest they do the math.  A full-year CR would not only reduce defense spending by $37 billion compared with the levels set forth in the NDAA that they claim to support, it would actually cut defense spending below last year’s levels. I have to ask those Republicans who are advocating for a full-year CR, is their support for our Nation’s security merely political theater?

The impact a full-year CR would have on American families in all corners of this country is equally unthinkable.  Housing, education, child care, and critical health care programs – they are all at risk under a full-year continuing resolution.  I cannot possibly believe this is an outcome the other side of the aisle would endorse.  Yet here we are. 

Every week it seems, I receive letters from advocacy groups and industry associations, detailing the problems that would come from a full-year CR and asking that we do our job and enact full-year bills, including the National Defense Industrial Association, the Aerospace Industries Association, and numerous veterans groups.  I ask consent that a sampling of these letters be placed in the record.

Let me be clear - refusing to come to the negotiating table undermines national security, inhibits our ability to invest in American families, and impedes our capability to respond to the coronavirus and its emerging variants.  It’s irresponsible.  And it is the reason we are here today, kicking the can down the road another two months. 

We have a job to do, and the bill we will soon vote on gives us roughly two months to do it. That is plenty of time.  But the Republican leadership needs to step up and engage, and they need to do it in the next few weeks.  Otherwise we will be right back here on February 18th. 

I urge all of my colleagues to vote AYE on the bill, and I urge my Republican colleagues to work with me and with the House to ensure that we do not have to pass another one in February.   

I want to thank Vice Chairman Shelby for his partnership and cooperation in reaching this agreement, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on the path forward over the coming weeks.

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