Senate Floor Statement Of Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Leahy On The Bipartisan Budget Deal

The consequences of the Budget Control Act sequestration cuts since 2011 have been devastating and will last for generations.  Its impact on military readiness led Defense Secretary Mattis to say that no enemy on the field has done more to harm our military than what we have done ourselves through sequestration.  By not investing in our domestic priorities, we allowed our infrastructure to crumble, care to our veterans to be delayed, and investments in education to fall behind.  The bipartisan budget deal announced yesterday by Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer is the first step toward providing much needed relief from sequestration and stability in the appropriations process. 

Defense caps are increased $80 billion in Fiscal Year 2018, and $85 billion in Fiscal Year 2019.  Non-defense caps are increased by $63 billion above the caps in Fiscal Year 2018, and $68 billion above the caps in Fiscal Year 2019.  This additional funding will allow us to increase support our troops, improve care for our veterans, repair our crumbling infrastructure, take care of our seniors, and invest in our economy in real ways.  

This bipartisan deal also advances our priorities by guaranteeing that we make real investments in addressing the opioid crisis, funding medical research, and improving college affordability.  I am particularly pleased that this bill includes an important provision that I worked on with Chairman Cochran that will improve assistance to our nation’s dairy and cotton farmers.  In Vermont and across the country, this will mean immediate relief for struggling dairy farmers who cannot wait for the next farm bill for assistance.  And this deal finally fulfills our promise to communities recovering from recent natural disasters, from wildfires out West, to the shores of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida, by providing $89 billion to help them rebuild. 

The agreement also provides continued funding for several health care programs that Congress has allowed to expire.  The bill includes long overdue funding for community health centers that have been struggling with the uncertainty of continued funding for months. The bipartisan agreement funds the Special Diabetes Program to make advancements in Type I diabetes.  It ensures ambulances can continue to serve rural areas, and closes the Medicare Part D coverage gap by 2019.  It continues the maternal health home visiting program and permanently repeals the Medicare Therapy Cap, allowing Medicare beneficiaries the certainty of therapy services after an accident or a stroke without an arbitrary cap on coverage.  And the bill extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for an additional 4 years, ensuring children and their families can benefit from the program for the next 10 years.   

I am also pleased this deal finally extends tax provisions, many of which lapsed in 2016, that will benefit individuals and small businesses. Inexplicably, the $1.5 trillion Republican tax bill left these important credits orphaned when they passed their corporate tax bill.  With this deal, we finally restore them.

Not everything I want was included in this deal.  It does not provide protection for our nation’s Dreamers – law-abiding strivers who call America home and seek nothing more than to contribute to our society.  Individuals like Dr. Juan Conde of Vermont, who came to the United States as a child and is studying to treat cancer patients at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  We must not forsake their cause, for their cause is our cause.  Their dreams are part of the American dream.  Leader McConnell has given his word that he will allow votes on legislation to protect Dr. Conde and hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers.  I can assure you that the American people expect him to keep his word.

I am also disappointed the agreement does not include the CREATES Act, a bipartisan solution to lowering the cost of prescription drugs by prohibiting the anti-competitive behavior that keeps generic drugs from entering the market.  We can all agree that high drug prices are a problem as President Trump noted in his State of the Union Address, and the CREATES Act offers a commonsense, bipartisan way forward.  I hope the Senate passes this important legislation soon. 

But while this agreement does not contain everything I would like, on balance it is a good bill for the American people.  It provides a path forward to complete the 2018 appropriations process and, through regular order, have a thoughtful debate on the Fiscal Year 2019 bills. 

I thank Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer for their hard work in coming to this agreement.  Compromise is not always easy, and it certainly is not always popular.  I encourage all senators to help us pass this bipartisan deal and allow the Senate Appropriations Committee to resume its work.  I hope the House will do the same before tonight's midnight deadline.  I look forward to continue working with Chairman Cochran in the coming weeks.    

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667