Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy Floor Statement On The Trump Budget

Yesterday, we received President Trump’s first budget submission.  He calls it “A New Foundation for American Greatness.”  This could not be further from the truth.  Instead of building a foundation for the American people, it pulls the rug out from under them. 

The President’s budget displays a fundamental lack of understanding of the role of government of, by and for the people in supporting the middle class, lifting up the most vulnerable among us and serving our values and interests as a nation.  He proposes to cut non-defense discretionary spending by over $1.5 trillion dollars over 10 years, including a $54 billion cut in fiscal year 2018, and a $260 billion cut by 2027—this would be a 40 percent cut to non-defense programs in ten short years.  This is not only short-sighted, it is irresponsible and unrealistic.  We should be supporting opportunity and creating jobs, not eliminating them.  We should be caring for our veterans and promoting our health and the environment -- not recklessly slashing vital lifelines to the American people.

Sequestration has had devastating consequences for both defense and non-defense programs, consequences that will last a generation.  The Trump budget would only extend and deepen those problems.  I challenge members on both sides of the aisle to sit down as soon as we are back in June and negotiate a budget deal based on parity, as we did in 2013 and 2015.  Such a deal would allow the Senate to provide appropriations bills that reflect our true and enduring values as a nation.

The Trump budget proposes over $1.7 trillion in cruel and unsustainable cuts to important mandatory programs that provide a safety net of health and nutrition programs to those who are struggling most in our communities.  Much of these cuts come from the Medicaid program, where the President doubles down on the dangerous programmatic changes and cuts included in the Trumpcare bill.  Not only would enacting this budget make it harder for low-income families to receive health coverage through Medicaid, but this proposal also cuts nearly $6 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which would force near-poverty children off health insurance. 

The President’s budget proposes significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which supports food assistance for individuals and families in need.  How does the President expect to “Make America Great Again” if there are hungry children in our schools?  A hungry child cannot learn.  How can we be the greatest country in the world if we do not offer a helping hand to the most vulnerable among us?    

It has been, and continues to be, my goal that we complete the appropriations process in the Senate the way it is supposed to be done.  Each of the 12 appropriations bills deserves debate and a vote on the Senate Floor in a bipartisan process.  That is in the best interests of the country, and I believe that Chairman Cochran shares this goal.  But the Trump Budget is an obstacle, not a pathway, to meeting this goal.  The President’s budget proposal is not bipartisan.  His budget makes not even the hint of a gesture toward true bipartisanship.  And it is not in the best interests of the country or of the real priorities of the American people.  It is unbalanced, needlessly provocative and appallingly shortsighted. 

Rural America, including rural states like Vermont, is MIA in the President’s budget.  His budget eliminates key investments in rural communities, leaving them without federal partnership support for everything from infrastructure development and affordable housing, to programs that preserve the environment and provide food for the elderly.  It is a compilation of broken promises to working men and women and struggling families, and frays the lifelines that help vulnerable families lift themselves into the middle class.  To this Vermonter, that is not acceptable. 

By eliminating Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the President would literally be leaving thousands of Vermonters out in the cold.  The government should not be in the business of forcing families to make the difficult choice between staying warm and having food on the table.  Last year alone, Vermont received nearly $19 million to help more than 21,000 households in all 14 counties across our state.  This is a vital lifeline, and we cannot recklessly slash investments in rural communities.  

To abandon federal support for cleaning up Lake Champlain by eliminating the Sea Grant and Geographic programs would be foolish, and it would waste the investments we have already made.  With a large and dynamic ecosystem like Lake Champlain, there is no standing still.  We’re either advancing, or slipping behind.

The budget is rife with cuts that advance the administration’s anti-science, know-nothing-ism agenda.  It eliminates thousands of scientists and shuts off funding for research into cures for everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer.  The University of Vermont would lose millions of dollars for valuable research, research that you simply cannot pause and hope to resume. 

This budget not only denies the reality of climate change, it eliminates all of the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate programs, from voluntary incentives to programs that seek to prevent further damage to public health and environmental quality.  Climate change is very real, and we are at a critical moment.  Now is not the time to turn back the progress we have been making. 

The President has promised “jobs, jobs, jobs” but under his budget, an estimated 4 million people, including veterans, would lose access to employment and training services next year.  He would eliminate $3.9 billion from Pell Grants.  We cannot create jobs by denying young people access to affordable higher education or by slashing job training

Cutting the State Department’s budget by more than 30 percent shows a clear lack of understanding of the vital role of “soft power” in our national security. The budget would eliminate lifesaving nutrition programs and impede our ability to promote stability in increasingly volatile regions of the world. America is not made safer by failing to feed the hungry.  As Defense Secretary Mattis has said, soft power is fundamental to our national security.

The Trump budget would have serious and harmful consequences for our economy, for working families, for those who are struggling, for our environment, for health, for the seed corn of cutting-edge scientific and technological research, and for our national security. This is foolish, and it is not acceptable.

The power of the purse rests with Congress, and as Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee I intend to exercise that power.  I look forward to working with Chairman Cochran in laying a bipartisan path forward. 

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667