Statement of Chairman Leahy on the Introduction of the Biden Budget and the End of the Budget Control Act

The Budget Control Act of 2011 expires this year, and that is a good thing.

This law led to a decade of underfunding our domestic priorities, from which it will take years to recover.  Right now, in communities across the country, our infrastructure is crumbling, millions of Americans cannot access federal programs for which they qualify, and we are falling behind in investing in science, research, and development on the global economic stage. 

All of this because the Budget Control Act set artificial and unrealistically low caps on discretionary spending, and it inflicted arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts known as “sequestration.” 

President Biden understands the real consequences of this decade-old decision.  That is why tomorrow, President Biden will propose a 16 percent increase for non-defense investments in his budget.  We cannot build back better until we recover the ground we have already lost.

I want to give a few examples of what I mean.

For many low-income families with young children, the beginning of summer means the end of school breakfast and lunch programs, and waking up every morning dreading how you will be able to put food on the table for your children.  Basic nutrition is a basic requirement for child health, development, and education.

The Summer EBT program is meant to help these families bridge to this gap, with an extra $30 or $60 per child every month.  This is a program that has proven itself successful, reducing the number of households with food insecure children from 43 percent, to just under 35 percent.  But because of the Budget Control Act, this program has been flat-funded.  We could not expand upon its success.  And today, only 16 percent of children who need access to USDA food programs have that access. 

This problem of underinvestment in successful, worthwhile programs is true across our appropriations bills. 

Our country, which has led in some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last century, ranks 24th out of 36 developed nations for investments in university research and development as a share of GDP.  We once accounted for 69 percent of global research and development expenditures, but have fallen to just under 30 percent.  China now accounts for 23.9 percent of global research and development spending, and growing. 

How did this happen?

One analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science directly attributes $200 billion in lost federal research and development investments to the Budget Control Act.  The National Science Foundation alone has lost $2 billion a year, which could support more than 5,500 grants and 65,000 scientists, technicians, and students. 

We cannot lead in a rapidly evolving technological landscape unless we are investing in science and our scientists.  Failing to do so only cedes the next great discovery to China at the cost of innovation here in the United States.  As chair of the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to fighting for the investments in American science, research, medical progress and technological development that our great nation needs and deserves.

There has been a lot of talk in this chamber about the need for a major infrastructure package to repair our nation’s crumbling bridges and roads, and I support addressing that need.  But there is a reason why our roads are in disrepair, forcing the American people to spend nearly $130 billion each year on vehicle repairs and operating costs.  There is a reason why our drinking water systems lose the equivalent of 9,000 Olympic-size swimming pools of water every day.  And there is a reason why one-in-five children lack the high-speed internet connections they need to learn and participate in school. 

That reason is a decade of budget caps that artificially constrained our ability to address these issues before they became the national limitation and embarrassment that they are today.

Now there is a $44 billion backlog in airport improvement projects, $35 billion in deferred maintenance for public housing, and $472.6 billion in urgently needed funds to maintain and improve the nation’s drinking water infrastructure. 

Over the last decade, we have lost ground in education, child care, environmental protections, and affordable housing.  The Budget Control Act did not constrain our national debt; it left us as a nation in disrepair. 

Joe Biden understands this, and I commend him for taking the bold action to address this in the budget he will release tomorrow.  As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I look forward to working with the President, his Administration, and my dear friend, Vice Chairman Shelby, on passing responsible appropriations bills that address the damage caused by the Budget Control Act.

The end of the Budget Control Act gives us the opportunity to invest in our communities.  Tomorrow, Congress will receive the President’s budget.  The full Appropriations Committee has already held hearings on the need to invest in our infrastructure and on the threat of domestic violent extremism, and in June, we will hold hearings on global leadership and national security.  In June, our subcommittees will hold numerous hearings to scrutinize the President’s budget. 

When Congress returns in early June, it is essential that Congress, on a bipartisan and bicameral basis, work with the President to negotiate budget toplines so that we can commence the appropriations process for the fiscal year that begins October 1.  As President Biden has said, we can, should, and need to build back better.

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