Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Statement On A Continuing Resolution Through December 22, 2017
The current spending caps set in place by law will not responsibly fund the government or alleviate the consequences of sequestration on our domestic priorities or our military readiness. Since March, I have constantly repeated that we must reach a bipartisan budget deal that is based on parity, free of poison pill riders and not waste taxpayer dollars on President Trump’s useless border wall. But with the current continuing resolution expiring tomorrow, we are running out of time to reach an agreement.
The continuing resolution before us today will allow us more time to reach a bipartisan agreement and keep the government’s lights on during negotiations. The key to a successful negotiation is parity. Sequestration has had devastating consequences on our country that will impact a generation, but we must raise the caps on both sides of the ledger—defense and non-defense.
This is not an academic exercise. The decisions we make here today have real impacts on people’s lives. There is no question that sequestration has hurt our military readiness, but it has also hurt our Nation’s economy and led to a decline in critical government services on which millions of Americans depend.
Our veterans have been short-changed. An average of 558,000 veterans fail to get a healthcare appointment within the 30-day standard. The average wait time for the VA to process a benefit appeal is over three years.
Our infrastructure is crumbling. America now gets a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers. This means the roads, bridges, dams, drinking water, public parks and schools we all use and depend on have a near failing grade.
Education programs have suffered. The purchasing power of the maximum Pell Grant now covers only 29 percent of the average price for college.
Our elderly citizens are getting short-changed. More than 1 million Social Security benefits appeals are backlogged an average of 605 days. An estimated 10,000 people die each year before their appeals are completed. I could go on and on.
If we raise the caps for defense programs but do not also raise the caps to properly fund our non-defense priorities, we will still short-change our men and women in uniform. If we do not invest in our Nation’s economy and educate our youth, the military will not have the expertise, qualified soldiers, or advanced research that it needs to be the best in the world. If we do not invest in diplomacy, our world becomes less safe – and we are less safe. And we would fail to provide the level of care for our veterans that they deserve.
I am confident that we can reach an agreement that addresses our country’s needs and responsibly funds our government. It is discouraging that the President has cast doubt on these negotiations and has even invited a “good government shutdown.” Even more discouraging is a recent Washington Post story reporting that the President has told confidants that a government shutdown would be good for him politically. This is irresponsible and no way to govern. In all my years in the Senate, with Republican and Democratic Presidents alike, never have I heard such damaging rhetoric come from the President of the United States.
The last Republican shutdown in 2013 dealt a devastating blow to the Nation’s economic growth, amounting to an estimated $1.5 billion lost for each of the 16 days of the shutdown. Federal workers were furloughed, through no fault of their own, for a combined total of 6.6 million days, stalling important research and grinding our government to a halt.
To be clear, the Republicans are in charge of the House, the Senate, and the White House. If there is a Republican shutdown this fiscal year, it is because they want one. I hope that the two-week continuing resolution that is before us is an indication that they will not go down that path. Republicans should work with Democrats to produce a responsible, bipartisan budget deal that meets the needs of our Nation. We have squandered enough time. I stand ready – as I have been since March – to work with the Republican leadership to secure the funding agreements we need to complete our appropriations work for this fiscal year. This two-week continuing resolution will give us that chance. I urge an aye vote.
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