Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Statement On Budget Negotiations

Just last week we began the Second Session of the 115th Congress.  It is 2018 and we should be talking about what we can accomplish for the American people in the New Year.  Instead, we face a long list of unfinished business from 2017, and a very short window in which to get it done. 

We are four months into Fiscal Year 2018, and we still do not have a budget deal.  Our agencies are operating under last year’s funding levels with little flexibility to adjust for the problems of today.  We still have not reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), putting the health care of 9 million children at risk.  And nearly 800,000 DREAMers live under a cloud of uncertainty and fear of deportation. 

This is unacceptable.  Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House.  They are in charge.  They have the responsibility to show leadership on these issues.  Yet, instead of addressing these issues last year, the Republican leadership spent time rolling back sensible regulations designed to protect the American consumer and our environment, and passing a massive tax cut for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. 

We have been calling for bipartisan budget talks since June – seven months ago.  We have passed three continuing resolutions since September of last year to give us more time to strike a deal on the budget, DREAM, CHIP, and disaster funding (just to name a few).  Yet, on the 102nd day of the Fiscal Year and with only 9 days to the next fiscal cliff, we do not have a budget deal. 

President Trump said months ago that the country could use a “good government shutdown” and I am beginning to think that is exactly what the Republican Party is angling for — a manufactured crisis to distract from the fact that they are failing to do their job.  The Washington Post seemed to confirm this last December when it reported that the President privately told people that a government shutdown would be good for him politically.  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.  Nobody wants a government shutdown.  Yet that seems to be what they are vying for. 

For months, I have been calling for a bipartisan budget deal based on parity — equal increases for defense and non-defense programs — to provide relief from sequestration.  I agree with my friends on the other side of the aisle that military readiness has suffered under sequestration, but so has our nation’s economy, our education system, our infrastructure, and care for our veterans.  To combat the problems caused by sequestration we must raise the caps on both sides of the ledger.  Fixing one side of the equation will not address the needs of our nation, and even worse, it shortchanges our military.    

If we do not invest in our economy and educate our youth, the military will not have the expert, qualified soldiers on whom it relies.  If we do not invest in diplomacy, our nation and world become less safe.  If we do not improve our cybersecurity defenses and our physical infrastructure, we become soft targets to those who would do us harm. If we do not care for our veterans, we will not have young men and women who are willing to serve. 

This week, the Majority Leader came to the floor making the case for increased defense spending.  He asked us to listen to our non-partisan military leaders about what they think is needed to keep this country safe.  I could not agree more.  To that end, I have two letters, signed by a combined 560 retired Admirals, Generals, and other former military members that I would like to submit for the record.  They make the case that we must increase our investments in domestic priorities, including education and childcare, as well as diplomacy, if we are to keep our country safe and support our military.  Secretary Mattis, even more bluntly, has said that if we do not fully fund the State Department, we should be prepared to buy more ammunition for our military.  

The wisdom of our military leaders notwithstanding, the Republicans appear to be dug in.  They claim equal increases for both defense and non-defense programs would add too much to our deficit and burden our children.  It’s one over the other. In the wake of the President signing a tax bill that will add $1.5 trillion to our nation’s debt and benefit primarily large corporations and the wealthiest Americans, this argument is simply not credible. 

The budget negotiations are not the only place where Republicans have yet to engage in a productive way.  President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program has put nearly 800,000 DREAMers in this country in an untenable situation.  The decision was as cruel as it was senseless.  The President could have worked with Congress to find a permanent legislative solution while keeping DACA protections in place; he instead terminated the program under false pretenses, yielding to xenophobic voices in his administration.  And last night a federal judge issued an order that confirmed as much:  Terminating DACA was not required under law.  Far from it.  But a court order that only temporarily halts the administration’s dismantling of DACA provides little comfort to DREAMers, who live each and every day uncertain of the future and in fear of deportation. 

DREAMers are American in every way except on paper, having been brought here as children through no fault of their own.  They are law-abiding members of our community, attending school, serving as doctors and teachers, and defending our homeland as brave men and women in uniform.  This is a crisis of the President’s own making.  Now Congress needs to pick up the pieces. 

We have spent months trying to find a path forward, but this Administration keeps moving the goal post.  We need to address the fate of DREAMers now, and given the broad bipartisan support on display yesterday at the White House for fixing the mess that the President created, a solution should be within our grasp.  The White House has made unreasonable demands such as $18 billion to build a wall on the southern border in exchange for DREAM.  The President is using the DREAMers as negotiable commodities.  They are not commodities.  Let’s pass a bill protecting DREAMers now. 

Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House.  This is their government.  We have a week and a half before the next continuing resolution expires, and we have a lot to do.  Let’s get serious.  Let’s get to work.  And let’s get this done on behalf of the American people.  

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