Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On Day 26 Of The Trump Shutdown

For 26 days, President Trump has held funding for our federal government hostage – using it as leverage to force Congress to provide $5.7 billion to build his ill-conceived, expensive, and ineffective wall on the southern border. 

For months during the campaign, he riled up his base with chants of “Build The Wall! Build The Wall!”   He invented a crisis at the southern border and then told his supporters that only HE could solve it.  And he said over and over again, that Mexico would pay for it. 

That was over two years ago, and now he is feeling the pressure as he shutters himself in the White House.  Having failed to convince Congress that a campaign slogan was actually good policy, having failed to convince Mexico to pay for the wall, he turns to the only negotiation tactic he seems to have mastered – bullying.  

He has shut down the government of the most powerful nation in the world, and says he will keep it shut down until he gets what he wants.  It is the height of irresponsibility.  He is the President of this country – he is supposed to lead the nation, not run it into the ground like so many of his failed businesses.  Yet, he sits in the White House tweeting and watching television all day, ignoring the damaging effect his actions are having on millions of Americans nationwide. 

This shutdown is not only hurting our federal workers, it is hurting our economy.  The President’s own Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates that gross domestic product will slow by 0.1 percent for every two weeks the government is shut down.  And today there are reports that even this estimate is too low and that the impact could be 0.1 percent for every week the government is shuttered.

Take just one example.  Small businesses employ more than 59 million people in this country and are one of the main drivers of economic growth, but every day the government is closed is a day small businesses cannot get Small Business Administration backed loans to invest and grow their companies. 

Last week I heard from a woman who runs a small sign company in Essex Junction, Vermont.  She is trying to grow her business by acquiring another one.  But the SBA backs the space she is trying to purchase and she is unable to finalize the sale during the shutdown.  As a result, the seller is threatening to move on, throwing her expansion plans into jeopardy.

I also heard from one of the head brewers from one of our many excellent craft breweries in Vermont.  He depends on the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (ATTB) to approve license applications, formulas, and labels for his beer.  But the office is closed due to the government shutdown and not processing applications.  He wrote: “I am one of the millions of voters whose livelihood depends on the government operating . . . Every day that passes without the ATTB up and running is another potential day of lost sales.”

And farmers across this country and in Vermont are also feeling the pain of this shutdown.  Just a few weeks ago, the President took credit for signing a bipartisan Farm Bill.  Now he has shut the USDA field offices that help farmers implement the law.  Farmers need information now, as a new planting and growing season looms, on how the law will affect their operations heading into the planting year, but most of the staff who would handle this work have been furloughed.   

And farmers cannot apply for much-needed loans.  The drop in commodity prices brought on by the President’s tariffs hit many farmers hard, and they need loans to help pay their bills.  With many banks not willing to lend to them, many rely on the USDA as their lender of last resort, but the offices who issue these loans are closed due to the shutdown. For those farmers with better credit who can access other lending options, many of their loans are also delayed by the shutdown since lenders are unable to confirm if the farmer has other outstanding loans from the USDA.     

Just this week, at the Farm Bureau Convention, the President loudly proclaimed how he is providing assistance through the Market Facilitation Program to help farmers mitigate the financial losses caused by his tariffs.  But, as of December 28th, there is no one left at the USDA county offices to process any new applications for these much needed payments.

I recently heard from a dairy farmer in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont.  She milks 80 cows and is proud of her operation.  But she has been hit hard by the President’s trade policies that have led to retaliatory tariffs against U.S. dairy exports, and she is now behind on her electric bill.  The electric company is threatening to turn off her power to her home, to her barn, and to her milk parlor.  She received one installment from the Market Facilitation Program to help mitigate the effects of the Trump tariffs, but she hasn’t received the second installment because of the shutdown.  This second installment is needed to help pay her bills.

She says she will be in much better shape when the new Dairy Margin Coverage program from the new Farm Bill is implemented, but unfortunately no work is being done to get the program up and running because of the government shutdown.  She was frustrated, worried about her future, and looking for help.  I don’t blame her.  

Implementation of the Farm Bill, which I spent more than a year working on to deliver for Vermont and our nation’s farmers on a wide range of key priorities, especially our struggling dairy farmers, is now on hold during this shutdown with nearly every USDA agency furloughed.

This is life in the age of the Trump Shutdown. 

The President has said shutting down the government is necessary to address a growing crisis on our southern border, but the only crisis we have in our country right now is the one he caused with his shutdown.  The crisis we face is not at our southern border, but at kitchen tables, family farms, and small businesses across the country as families hurt by the Trump Shutdown try to figure out how to make ends meet.

The President talks of hordes of illegal immigrants rushing across our borders, but border apprehensions have dropped 75 percent since 2000, and the majority of the people apprehended at our borders today are families -- women and children -- fleeing violence in their own country.  They deserve our compassion, not vitriol. 

More people are in this country illegally as a result of visa overstays than from illegal border crossings, and the President’s proposed wall does nothing to address that.  To address our complex immigration issues we need comprehensive legislation, based on facts, not bumper sticker slogans.  

We all support strong border security.  Working on a bipartisan basis, in the last fiscal year Democrats and Republicans supported $21.1 billion for border security and immigration enforcement. This followed on a similar investment we made in Fiscal Year 2017. 

We invested in our ports of entry, including in the purchase of non-intrusive inspection equipment to detect illicit contraband.  We invested in aircraft needed to monitor our sprawling border from above and quickly respond to emergencies.  We invested in video surveillance systems, and radar systems to detect movement in remote locations.  These are solutions that work.  These are smart uses of taxpayer dollars. The President’s 30 foot wall is not. 

This shutdown is not about border security – if it was we could be done with it today.  The Trump Shutdown is about a President trying to distract America from his failures as a leader, and shore up the support of his base.  It is shameful. 

It is clear President Trump will not do the right thing on his own, so it is time for Senate Republicans to step up.  Just yesterday morning Democrats asked Unanimous Consent to take up two bills that would get this government back open—a six bill minibus that has bipartisan support (including four bills that passed the Republican-controlled Senate 92-6), and a Continuing Resolution for the Homeland Security Department through February 8th.  Republicans objected. 

If they continue to object to reopening the government, this shutdown is as much on them as it is on the President.  We have bipartisan bills before us that could reopen the government.  We could vote on them today and they would pass with veto-proof margins. 

Leader McConnell – bring up these bills, and let’s vote to end this national nightmare. 

# # # # #