Leahy Statement On Consideration of the FY 2019 Interior and Environment; Commerce, Justice and Science; and Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills

The Committee has three bills before it today—the Interior bill, the Commerce, Justice, Science bill, and the Legislative Branch bill.  All three are the product of hard work and bipartisan cooperation by each of the subcommittees, and I urge members to support them.  

Chairwoman Murkowski and Ranking Member Udall deserve significant praise for this FY 2019 Interior Appropriations bill.  This is no small accomplishment, as we have not had a bipartisan Interior Appropriations bill since Fiscal Year 2010.  Both sides took seriously the request Chairman Shelby and I have made that we avoid new poison pill riders and controversial authorizing legislation in appropriations bills this year.  This took considerable restraint on both sides of the aisle, as we all have issues we care deeply about, but this restraint is what allows us to consider a bipartisan bill today.

The Interior bill makes critical investments in water and air quality programs and conservation programs. It rejects the cuts that the administration proposed that would set back the progress we have made in recent decades to preserve our environment for future generations.  I am particularly grateful for the Subcommittee’s continued commitment to the regional efforts to protect and preserve Lake Champlain.  Through investments in the Lake’s Geographic Program under the EPA to sea lamprey control, this bill again reaffirms what Vermonters, New Yorkers, and visitors to the Northeast know to be true – Lake Champlain is a “great” Lake deserving of preservation for the future. The bill also supports the Forest Legacy program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which I am pleased to say will support such Vermont projects as Hunger Mountain and Rolsten Rest, as well as dozens of conservation projects across the country.

I also want to thank Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Shaheen for their hard work on the CJS bill.  This is Senator Moran’s first year as the Chairman of CJS, and he should be proud of the product before the Committee today. 

The CJS bill makes the most out of a tight allocation to fund law enforcement, invest in science, support economic development, and fund responsibly the upcoming 2020 Census.  It makes key investments to help create and expand economic and job opportunities in rural communities, including finding new ways to address the challenges facing suffering forest-based economies.  It confronts threats to our “great” Lake Champlain, through support for National Sea Grants.  And it reflects our commitment to ensuring we advance STEM research, education, and innovation at academic institutions like the University of Vermont.

It continues to provide much needed help to communities across the country, including Vermont, to combat the opioid epidemic.  We all know someone who is in the grips of opioid addition.  Marcelle and I have spoken with too many grieving mothers and fathers who lost their children to this public health crisis.  We have spoken to first responders who have seen too many people die.  We must confront this problem head on, and this bill provides more of the tools they need to do just that.

The bill supports law enforcement, and continues to support a long-time priority of mine, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program, which has helped more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies to purchase nearly 1.3 million vests, helping to keep police on the beat safe while they protect our neighborhoods and families.  It provides an all-time high for Violence Against Women Act programs, to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault heal and put their lives back together.  It keeps at-risk kids off the street, out of jail, and off drugs by funding youth mentoring programs.  These programs save lives, as do so many other critical state and local grant programs that we support in this bill.

This bill continues to make important investments in rural areas like Vermont, including $3 million for collaboration between the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Northern Border Regional Commission to help alleviate economic decline in Northern New England’s forest industry.  It also continues report language focusing the EDA on how it can assist with the unique needs of communities where nuclear power plants have closed.  This language will help make sure that former nuclear power plant host sites such as Vernon, Vermont have an understanding of the federal resources available to assist in planning for their economic future.

I also extend the same praise to Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Shaheen that I extended to Senators Murkowski and Udall on their efforts to avoid poison pill riders.  Like the Interior bill, this is a bill that invites controversy. 

Yet as we consider a bill to fund the Department of Justice, I cannot remain silent about the sheer inhumanity of the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers. Thousands of innocent children are being systematically and needlessly ripped away from their parents at the border. Infants and toddlers are being herded into caged shelters with little or no communication with their families. Asylum seekers – many with credible claims of persecution and even torture – are routinely denied their legal right to assert these claims – even those who have arrived lawfully at ports of entry.   And now immigrants, facing only civil proceedings, are being shipped off to federal prisons that house convicted felons.

Who here would tolerate such cruel treatment if it were happening to our own children? Who here would defend such abhorrent practices if they were committed against American families? Not a single one of us.

These cruel policies need to end. But we cannot right these wrongs on this spending bill.  Chairman Shelby and members on his side of the aisle have kept their word not to inject controversial legislation into this bill, including on immigration.  If this bill were to become a vehicle for broader immigration policies, we all know it will never get done, and it will derail the bipartisan work that went into it. 

Republicans and Democrats must come together and have a meaningful debate on immigration policy in the Senate, where all members can debate and vote on these issues, and we must pass legislation that reflects who we are as Americans.  I am proud to have joined Senator Feinstein and 30 other Senators in introducing the Keep Families Together Act. This legislation would prohibit the separation of families except in the narrow circumstances when it is in the best interest of the child. This bill would go far in reducing the pain and anguish that President Trump is causing by indiscriminately tearing families apart. I urge the Leadership to allow a vote on this bill in the United States Senate.  In 2013, the Senate came together to deliver a strong, bipartisan message about our priorities for immigration reform and border security.  We approved a strong, humane bill, consistent with our values as Americans and the foundations on which our country was founded.  We can do that again.  If we have the courage.

Finally, a few words about the Legislative Branch bill.  I thank Chairman Daines and Ranking Member Murphy for their good work.  This bill supports not only the functions of this Committee, of our staffs, and of the Senate at large, but also covers the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress and Copyright Office, the Architect of the Capitol, and the Capitol Police.  In addition, it also supports the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Accountability Office, and the Government Accountability Office, which are essential to Congress’s oversight functions. This is a strong bill, and I urge the members of the Committee to support it. I am especially glad it provides the necessary resources to give American citizens the same access to taxpayer-funded Congressional Research Service reports that lobbyists and insiders enjoy.  This will encourage and facilitate public engagement in the democratic process. 

I will now make the motion to report the bills, and urge an “Aye” vote to advance each of these bills to the floor for consideration by the full Senate. 

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667