Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Patrick Leahy Statement On The Consolidated Appropriations Bill

Mr. President, this bill is the product of many long weeks, days, nights and weekends of bipartisan negotiations, and I thank Chairman Cochran for his leadership in reaching this agreement to keep the government open for business.

This is how Congress can and should work.  Enough of the rhetoric; enough of the political brinksmanship.  This agreement shows that when we come together and work through our differences, we can do the work of the American people. 

And while I think the package before us is a good deal for the American people and I will vote for it, we should not be celebrating the fact that we are just now finishing our work, seven months into the fiscal year.  These bills could have and should have been finished last year. 

We were 98 percent done with our negotiations when then President-elect Trump said “pencils down”, and put everything on hold.  And our government has been operating on a continuing resolution ever since.  This is no way to govern.  

It is my goal, and I believe Chairman Cochran shares this goal, to return to regular order, where we consider each appropriations bill in committee, debate each one publicly on the floor, and pass them individually.  That is the way we should operate.  That is what the American people deserve.  I look forward to working with the Chairman to make this a reality when we turn, in very short order, to the Fiscal Year 2018 bills.   

One of the reasons I decided to take on the Vice Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee is because I believe in the power of the purse and the ability of this Committee to make a real difference in people’s lives. 

Our national budget is a reflection of our nation’s priorities, and the appropriations bills are where our priorities become realities.  I am pleased to report that we worked hard to reflect Americans’ values in the Fiscal Year 2017 Consolidated Appropriations bill before us today, and I think we reached a good deal.  

I am pleased that, on a bipartisan basis, we rejected President Trump’s ill-considered proposal to slash domestic programs by $15 billion, including deep cuts for NIH and low-income energy assistance. 

Instead, this bill includes a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health.  I was proud to bring then-Vice President Biden to the University of Vermont last October to discuss his Cancer Moonshot initiative and to see and hear how Vermonters are contributing to research to better treat – and hopefully cure – cancer. 

NIH funding is central to this effort, and to the work of labs at the University of Vermont and across the nation.  Last year the NIH accounted for nearly $40 million in research funding for the University of Vermont.  This research is leading to advancements in lung disease treatments, cancers, and to more effectively using genome testing to advance the emerging and promising field of precision medicine.

In this bill we were able to protect funding for LIHEAP.  In Vermont, where the temperature can often plunge below zero, LIHEAP is a vital lifeline that prevents people from being forced to make the wrenching choice of putting food on the table for their families, or keeping them warm. 

This bill also provides $512 million – nearly double the resources available last year – to combat the opioid epidemic, a plague that grips every community in the country.  This is a pervasive problem that does not know the difference between rich or poor, urban or rural, Republican or Democrat.  We all know someone who is in the grips of opioid addiction.  Marcelle and I have sat down at kitchen tables with grieving mothers who lost their children.  We have spoken to first responders who have seen so many people die.  We must confront this problem head on, and the money in this bill will give our communities the tools they need to do just that.

We were able to preserve funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which leads the way on climate and air quality research and remedies.  Protecting funds for EPA is more important than ever as we are at a critical moment in confronting climate change.  This is important to Vermonters of today and tomorrow. 

Last weekend Marcelle and I hosted hundreds of Vermonters who drove through the night to join the hundreds of thousands of people in the Nation’s Capital for the Climate March.

The EPA also provides funding to improve the environmental quality and ecological vibrancy of our small state’s “great” Lake Champlain, “The Jewel of New England,” as well as crucial funding for similar partnerships around the country.

I am also pleased to report what is not in this bill.  Importantly, we got rid of more than 160 poison pill riders.  Riders that would have undermined the health insurance of millions of Americans by attacking the protections they have under the Affordable Care Act, and slapped restrictions on women’s access to health care. 

Riders that would have rolled back consumer financial protections and Dodd-Frank regulations, and weakened environmental protections.  These have no place in a must-pass budget bill. 

I particularly welcome the fact that not a single cent in this bill will go toward building President Trump’s misguided wall on the southern border.  The American people should not, and will not, be forced to pay tens of billions of dollars for a bumper-sticker solution to an incredibly complex problem – a wall that the President promised that Mexico, not American taxpayers, would pay for.  The President has not submitted a plan or a justification for a wall, a wall his own Department estimates would cost the U.S. taxpayers $22 billion dollars.   

As the saying goes, show me a 30-foot wall and I will show you a 31-foot ladder.  I will show you pictures of small prop planes, boats and tunnels.  A wall is nothing more than an illusion—a false promise—of security.  Instead of debating this boondoggle, which Democrats as well as many Republicans and Independents oppose, we should be considering real solutions of comprehensive immigration reform. 

In 2013, the Senate passed bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reforms.  We should resume that debate, not throw money at this expensive illusion, while cutting vital medical research at the National Institutes of Health and pollution remedies by the Environmental Protection Agency – to pay for it.  The Trump Administration’s proposals to Congress for this budget were rife with anti-science impulses, fueled by corrosive and harmful know-nothing-ism, and I am glad to report that we rejected them.   

I support the bill before us.  It is not perfect, but products of compromise rarely are.  However, on balance it is a good deal for the American people.  It reflects values of both Republicans and Democrats.  And the bipartisan work that brought us to this point lays the groundwork for our negotiations on the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bills.   

I want to, again, extend my thanks to Chairman Cochran and to the Subcommittee Chairmen and Ranking Members.   It takes a tremendous amount work to draft each of the underlying bills contained in this consolidated appropriations bill.   I want to thank the staff of the appropriations committee, including the subcommittee clerks on both sides of the aisle, who have been here day in and day out for many weeks. 

Thanks also to my staff for their help in getting this across the finish line, Charles Kieffer, Chanda Betourney, Jessica Berry, Jay Tilton, JP Dowd, and Jean Kwon.  As well as assistance from Senator Schumer and his staff, including Gerry Petrella, Meghan Taira, and Mike Lynch.  Finally, I want to recognize and thank Bruce Evans and Fitz Elder, Chairman Cochran’s Staff Director and Deputy Staff Director for their hard work.  They are a real reflection of their boss, and fostered the bipartisan environment we needed to get this done.   

Mr. President, I urge all Senators to come together to support this bill and the collaborative process that helped produce it. 

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