Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Statement On A Continuing Resolution Through January 19, 2018

Mr. President, this is not how we should govern in the United States Senate. 

We have once again found ourselves on the edge of a manufactured, made-in-Washington crisis.  Once again, we are forced into political games at the 11th hour by the imminent threat of a Republican shutdown.  This time that threat has fallen right before Christmas and the holidays. 

There is no reason we should find ourselves in this situation.  There has always been a proven path forward to avoid this crisis, and that path is to reach a bipartisan budget deal that is based on parity.  Sequestration has had devastating consequences on our country that will impact a generation, and we must raise the budget caps on both sides of the ledger—defense and non-defense. 

This is not an academic exercise.  Our decisions are having real and devastating consequences.  We are letting our infrastructure crumble.  We are letting down our veterans.  We are allowing our education programs to fall behind. And we are harming our military’s readiness. 

Regrettably, our Republican Colleagues took the path of delay.  No compromise.  Government by crisis.  Here we are three months into the fiscal year without a budget.  The continuing resolution that is before us provides a one-month extension to fund the government—but we are no closer to a bipartisan budget deal.  I intend to vote for this Continuing Resolution because a government shutdown helps no one.  But I implore my fellow Senators to use the next month wisely.  We owe it to the American people.  

Those on the other side of the aisle need to come to the table to negotiate an agreement that will provide funding for health care to our veterans, build infrastructure for a growing economy, and make us more secure.

But this is not the only thing we must accomplish in the coming month.  Our list of unfinished business is long.  We also need to pass the DREAM Act.  President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program was as cruel as it was senseless.  DREAMers are American in every way except on paper, having been brought here as children through no fault of their own. By definition, DREAMers are law-abiding strivers, serving our communities as doctors and teachers and defending our homeland as brave men and women in uniform.

Instead of working with Congress to find a permanent legislative solution while keeping DACA protections in place, the president yielded to xenophobic nativists in his administration and terminated protections for our nation’s DREAMers. 

I am greatly disappointed that Republicans would not consider including the DREAM Act on this continuing resolution.  We simply cannot fail to pass the DREAM Act, and we must do so, and we must do so soon.  The future of DREAMers – and I believe the fate of the American dream itself – lies in our hands.  

We also need a permanent reauthorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  It has been three months since Congress let funds expire for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), putting at risk the nine million children nationwide who depend on the program for health insurance coverage. 

Vermont’s CHIP program, known as Dr. Dynasaur, covers over 5,000 children whose families are now worried whether their kids will be covered next year.  Instead of moving forward with a bipartisan reauthorization for five years, as has been proposed in the Senate, this Continuing Resolution extends the program only temporarily. 

What’s worse, the Majority is insisting on offsetting this extension by cutting funding for prevention and public health programs.  This is robbing Peter to pay Paul.  If we can pass a tax cut that benefits the wealthiest Americans and which will add, at a minimum, $1.5 trillion to our deficit, we should be able to reauthorize CHIP – for longer than three months - without undermining public health.  We should not have to make this choice, but here we are being forced to choose between a misguided short-term patch, or a wholesale government shutdown. 

Again, I call on our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to use the next month to negotiate solutions to these real problems.  That includes having a debate about American’s privacy rights.  Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act was intended to be a powerful foreign intelligence surveillance tool.  And it is.  But it also sweeps up massive amounts of Americans’ communications, which can then be accessed without a warrant.  That has long been a concern of mine, and I have stated that we should reauthorize 702, but we should not do so at the expense of our own civil liberties. 

A one-month extension gives Congress an opportunity—and I believe, an obligation—to debate this program on the floor, just like we did in 2012.  All members deserve an opportunity to weigh-in on this critical surveillance tool.  And this short, clean reauthorization of Section 702 allows for just that.

To be clear, the Republicans are in charge of the House, the Senate, and the White House.  It is clear that they bear the burden of bringing us to this crisis point and they need to answer to the American people for the unfinished business before us.  We should never have gotten to this point. 

We can still reach a bipartisan budget deal.  I remain ready to work with Chairman Cochran, the Appropriations Committee and members from both sides of the aisle to secure the funding agreements we need to complete our appropriations, keep the lights on and resolve the other pressing matters before us.

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