Senate Approps. Vice Chairman Leahy On The FY 2021 CR

Today the Senate will vote on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through December 11, 2020.  I strongly urge all members to vote aye.  The last thing our country needs is a government shutdown in the middle of a global pandemic and an unprecedented economic crisis.

The bill we are considering passed the House by a wide margin, a rarity these days in Washington.  It provides funding for the government through December 11 at fiscal year 2020 funding levels and under the same terms and conditions contained in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations laws.  It also includes several authorization matters to extend programs that otherwise would expire, including important health, transportation, and veterans programs. 

I am pleased the bill includes the Emergency USCIS Stopgap Stabilization Act to help prevent furloughs of federal employees at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, many of whom work in my home state of Vermont.  These dedicated federal employees perform critical work, helping immigrants apply for citizenship, visas, and asylum.  They have lived under the threat of furlough for months now, in the middle of a global pandemic, all the while continuing their important work.  While I believe more fiscal reforms and stronger oversight are needed at USCIS, this legislation will help stave off the immediate crisis while we work on a longer term solution.    

I am also glad this bill includes nearly $8 billion for child nutrition programs, especially the extension of the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Program that provides millions of children with additional monthly benefits for food purchases while schools are closed. This assistance is desperately needed as families across the nation struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table. 

While I support the continuing resolution and urge my colleagues to do the same, I must note that the very need for it is a symptom of a dysfunctional Congress.  It is a senseless and entirely avoidable made-in-Washington crisis.  The Senate Appropriations Committee should have been allowed to do its work and complete all 12 appropriations bills months ago.  The majority of these bills would have had strong bipartisan support.  Instead, we are left with a continuing resolution that kicks the can down the road.  Not only did we not complete our work on the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills, the Senate has not acted on a much-needed COVID relief bill to address the impacts of the pandemic felt in every town across America.   

Today, schools are struggling to safely educate our nation’s children in both the classroom and remotely without enough funding to do so.  More than 9 million children do not have access to the internet in their homes.  In normal times, this would set these children far behind their more affluent peers who can access online educational resources.  By doing nothing in a time where much of our nation’s children are remote learning, Senate Republicans and President Trump are choosing to leave these children behind.  Inaction is a choice, and that choice is to actively prop up a cycle of poverty for yet another generation.  

Lines at food banks are at historic levels.  Today in America, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, 1 in 4 households are experiencing food insecurity during this pandemic.  Who in this room has looked their child in the eyes with the knowledge that you do not know where their next meal will come from?  Inaction is the choice to let that child go hungry and force her parents to live with that terrible pain that comes when you cannot put enough food on the table for your family. 

Families are struggling to pay rent and eviction moratoriums have expired across the country.  In July, it was reported that more than 43 million Americans – one quarter of the adult population in this country – missed a rent or mortgage payment, or had little to no confidence they could make their next payment.  That was two rent or mortgage payments ago with no relief. 

More than 31 million Americans were unemployed in August, and 163,735 businesses have closed – 97,066 of those closed permanently. 

States do not have the money they need to safely carry out an election that is only 34 days away and in the middle of a pandemic.  Without a legislative change extending critical deadlines, our ability to achieve a fair and accurate count in the 2020 Census remains at risk.  The American people are suffering. 

It is infuriating that the Republican leadership refuse to acknowledge this reality.  Yet, instead of doing their job and considering and passing full-year appropriations bills and a desperately needed COVID relief bill, Senate Republicans have focused this year almost entirely on packing the courts with right-wing, extreme judges.  Faced with an unprecedented health and economic crisis, does this spur Republicans to action?  No.  What does?  A Supreme Court vacancy in an election year that under their own precedent should not be filled until the American people have their say in November.  All of a sudden they are ready to get to work.  It is shameful. 

If Senate Republicans want to keep the Senate in session during October, I say do it.  There is plenty of work left undone that the Senate could act on—the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills, a COVID relief bill, or any one of the hundreds of bills the House has passed that are currently sitting in Senator McConnell’s legislative graveyard.  Yet these pressing needs continue to be ignored while Republicans focus on filling a vacancy to the Supreme Court that should rightfully remain vacant until the people have spoken at the polls. 

Congress is failing the American people because Republicans, led by President Trump, care more about securing a hyper-partisan Supreme Court than the health and safety of the American people.  It’s that simple. 

I remain committed to completing the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills and producing bipartisan bills before the CR expires on December 11, 2020.  I believe Chairman Shelby shares this commitment, and I look forward to working with him to complete our work.  For now, let’s remove the threat of any more chaos in this country and prevent a government shutdown by passing this bill.  I urge all members to vote “aye” on the continuing resolution. 

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