Senate Approps Vice Chair Leahy Statement On The Release Of The FY 2021 Senate Appropriations Bills

Today, Chairman Shelby released draft bills and explanatory statements for each of the twelve FY 2021 appropriations bills.  Chairman Shelby and I agree on the importance of completing our work on the twelve bills before the continuing resolution expires on December 11. 

I am very disappointed that the majority chose to cancel Committee mark ups of the FY 2021 bills and that the bills were not considered by the full Senate, eliminating the ability of members to offer amendments.  This is an important part of the process when developing legislation.  It would have given all members a chance to weigh in and publicly debate these bills.  That is our job as Senators.  That is how a democracy is supposed to function, regardless of which party is in the majority.  We should not be running away from the tough issues. 

However, our goal is to work with the House to conference all twelve appropriations bills and avert a government shutdown.  We only have four weeks to do it.  In order to accomplish our work, we need Senate bills to work from.  The twelve bills being released by the Chairman on Tuesday will help us move forward in this process.  Many of the bills were the result of bipartisan work, and I appreciate those areas where we were able to come to agreement.  However, there are significant issues that we will want to address in negotiations with the House. 

The first is the need to address the coronavirus crisis in this country.  This country is headed for a deadly winter and it is long past time for us to provide the resources the country needs to get this virus under control and our economy back open.  These bills do not provide any such relief.  It is imperative that we do what is necessary to stop this pandemic from spreading.  Whether this takes the form of separate legislation, or additional emergency titles added onto these bills, I remain ready to do what is necessary to help a country in crisis.

Secondly, there are a number of issues where I look forward to improving the draft bills in negotiations with the House, such as:

  • The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill is woefully inadequate to meet today’s challenges, even if we were not in a global pandemic.  It underfunds education for our nation’s students, eliminates or flat-funds critical safety net programs, and provides inadequate funding for child care programs.  It fails to invest in our nation’s outdated public health infrastructure, at a time when this funding is desperately needed to address the current pandemic and prepare for future public health crises.  It also fails to protect women’s health by leaving in place the Administration’s gag order and ban on grant eligibility for Planned Parenthood and other similar health clinics that offer the full range of reproductive health services. 
  • The State and Foreign Operations bill cuts USAID international family planning even below last year’s Senate levels, provides nothing for the United Nation’s Population Fund, and includes the restrictive “Mexico City Policy”, this at a time when women’s health is facing heightened threats due to COVID and access to modern family planning services is lacking in many countries.   
  • The Interior Appropriations bill provides inadequate funding for conservation and environmental protection programs at the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, including critical work to address climate change and implement and enforce bedrock environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.  More funding is also needed to expand Tribal health care services and other programs that benefit American Indians and Alaska Natives whose communities are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus.
  • The Homeland Security Appropriations bill again includes nearly $2 billion in wasteful spending on the President’s wall at the Southern border.  This additional funding is on top of the $15 billion American taxpayers have already paid toward a useless border wall – money that could have been better invested elsewhere to address real homeland security needs, health care, infrastructure, and COVID-19 requirements. And the bills do nothing to rein in the President’s ability to take money meant to support our troops and their families and divert it to the wall.    
  • The Homeland Security bill also funds ICE detention at a level that is simply unwarranted.  Because the bill fails to accurately reflect ICE’s detained population, which has decreased amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency is essentially provided a slush fund for this administration’s extreme enforcement and removal activities. The status quo is simply unacceptable for an agency that has continually failed in its responsibility to appropriately manage resources provided by Congress and failed to establish sensible priorities regarding which immigrants it should detain and remove.

I look forward to working with Senate Republicans and our House counterparts to draft responsible bills that address the needs of our nation. 

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