Statement Of Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

Today, we begin consideration of a bill containing the fiscal year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill, the Agriculture Appropriations bill, the Interior Appropriations bill, and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill. 

All four of these bills are the product of hard work and bipartisan cooperation by each of the subcommittees, and were reported from the Appropriations Committee unanimously.  They make critical investments in affordable housing, infrastructure, rural development, our farming communities, small businesses, science, and our environment.  They are good bills and I am glad to have them before the Senate.   

I want to thank each of the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Subcommittees and their staff for their good work:  Senators Hoeven and Merkley, Senators Murkowski and Udall, Senators Collins and Reed, and Senators Moran and Shaheen.  They show that despite the difficult atmosphere we often operate in, the Appropriations Committee can still put partisan disputes aside and make strong investments in the priorities of the American people. 

The Agriculture bill continues the significant progress made by this Committee and in the 2018 Farm Bill to deliver real wins for farmers, families, and rural communities throughout Vermont and across the country.  The bill rejects the disastrous cuts the Trump administration proposed for on-farm conservation, rural development, and rural energy programs, and instead makes important investments in farming communities.  It is disappointing that this bill supports the administration’s ill-advised relocation of USDA research agencies.  I have spoken out about this relocation effort, and remain concerned about the loss of expertise and focus such a move precipitates at USDA.

And I am pleased this bill further invests in the viability of cornerstone Vermont industries, including dairy, maple, and organics.  It significantly increases funding for innovation in the dairy sector, funding that will directly benefit dairy producers in Vermont and across the country as they meet the challenges of a changing marketplace.  The bill also takes important steps to preserve the integrity of the organic dairy market, increasing funding for key organic programs and directing USDA to finally implement rules that will level the playing field for small-scale producers.

The Agriculture bill also once again includes funding to support the farm to school program.  This nationwide program has given children and schools across the country the tools to craft farm-fresh, healthy, and delicious meals that students enjoy while teaching children about healthy eating habits. 

The Interior bill makes significant and necessary investments in clean water, clean air, and stewardship of our public lands.  I am particularly pleased that the bill includes critical funding through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will support work on water quality, habitat and fishery restoration, and invasive species in Lake Champlain.  The bill also increases funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to support land acquisition and state conservation efforts that have a profound, durable impact on landscapes in Vermont and across the country.  For states like mine that have seen communities impacted by PFAS contamination, the bill includes additional funding for remediation.

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill continues critical support for infrastructure programs like BUILD.  Vermont and states across the country rely heavily on these federal programs to help repair, replace and upgrade our aging infrastructure.  The bill also invests in our nation’s rail system, and critical pieces of this bill will support our efforts to maintain and extend rail service within Vermont. 

I am also pleased that this bill continues support for a development partnership between the University of Vermont and the University of Mississippi to research unmanned aircraft systems.  The bill also protects important investments in affordable housing and community development.  It – again – rejects the administration’s foolish request to eliminate programs that support our communities, including like HOME, Community Development Block Grant Program, NeighborWorks and the Rural Capacity Building Program.  I’ve seen firsthand in Vermont what these programs do to help build and maintain affordable housing and to ensure our communities remain vibrant for our children and grandchildren. 

The Commerce, Justice, Science bill makes critical investments in economic development programs, grants to support state and local law enforcement, and important research and development programs.  Importantly, it invests $7.6 billion for the 2020 Census, the results of which determine how we distribute $900 billion in federal funding every year.  It also ensures appropriate representation in Congress.  This once-a-decade investment is critical.

I am grateful that this bill has increased support for the lifesaving Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, which earlier this year was given a permanent authorization by a unanimous vote in the Senate.  It also supports important programs to provide support to crime victims, help to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, and to reduce recidivism.

In short, this bill contains four good, bipartisan measures that I urge all members to support.  I thank Chairman Shelby for his leadership and support in getting these bills to the Senate floor. 

We only have four short weeks before the continuing resolution we are operating under expires.  We need to do our work, and do it quickly, so we can enact all 12 appropriations bills into law.  These four bills are a good start. 

I ask unanimous consent that my full statement be made part of the record.