Statement Of Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On Senate Consideration Of The Defense & Labor, Health And Human Services, Education, And Related Agencies “Minibus” Appropriations Bill

Today the Senate begins consideration of the Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related agencies “Minibus” appropriations bill.  This will be the third appropriations package brought to the Senate floor this year, and once we complete action, the Senate will have passed nine out of the 12 committee-reported appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2019. 

I want to thank Chairman Shelby for his commitment to a bipartisan process, and his friendship, that have made this progress possible.  I also want to thank Senators Blunt, Murray and Durbin for their work on these two bills. 

This bipartisan progress is also due to the Shelby, Leahy, McConnell, Schumer commitment to move forward on appropriations bills that have bipartisan support, are at spending levels agreed to in the bipartisan budget deal, and reject poison pill riders and controversial authorizing language.  The two bills in this package meet that test. 

The minibus before us represents 65 percent of all discretionary spending, but it also demonstrates the importance of the bipartisan budget agreement reached earlier this year.  In this package we see the priorities outlined in that agreement, made into real policy to improve the lives of Americans. 

It is no secret that the Budget Control Act of 2011 – and the resulting sequestration cuts – damaged our military readiness, resulting in cancelled deployments and deferred maintenance.  It was in July of last year that Secretary Mattis testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee that “for all the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration.”

But damage to our military readiness was not the only consequence of the Budget Control Act.  Sequestration has led to schools that fail to prepare students for a challenging world, a steep decline in Federal investment for job training and employments services, health care crises left unaddressed, and childcare services eroded. 

In 2017, it was reported that seven out of 10 people ages 17-24 in America would not qualify for military service because of reasons related to their physical health or education.  That means 24 million out of the 34 million young adults are ineligible due to obesity and other health problems, criminal backgrounds, or lack of education.  This statistic should make it alarmingly clear that investments in our domestic priorities, like health care and education, are also national security investments.  This is why we fought so hard for a budget deal to reverse the cuts on both defense and non-defense programs.  

As a result of the bipartisan budget deal, the Defense Appropriations bill before us gives the men and women of our armed forces the resources they need to carry out their missions effectively and safely.  This is a goal that Republicans AND Democrats have shared throughout this process.

And the LHHS bill makes important new investments in health care and education.  It increases funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5 billion over FY 2017 to aggressively pursue cures for diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.  It backs our commitment to increase access to higher education by increasing college affordability spending by $2.3 billion over FY 2017.  And by increasing access to child care by $3.2 billion over FY 2017, this bill supports working families in communities around the country.    

In doing so, we reject President Trump’s shortsighted budget proposals, which would have cut important programs in the LHHS bill by $12.5 billion from Fiscal Year 2018 year’s funding level.

This package of bills invests not only in our immediate national security needs, but in the future of our country.  And the deep ties that run between defense and non-defense priorities make it fitting that we take up these two bills together.  By combining these bills in one package, we increase the certainty that they will be enacted into law, on time, avoiding the devastating effect of long-term continuing resolutions.  I urge our House counterparts to commit, as we have, to producing a conference report that contains both bills, so we can move swiftly toward final passage. 

And finally, I want to highlight the new funding in this bill that helps our country address the scourge of opioids.  Every member in this chamber has seen the toll this epidemic has taken on their states.  In 2017, 72,000 people – a 10 percent increase over 2016 – lost their lives to drug overdoses and the opioid epidemic, claiming more American lives in one year than the entirety of the Vietnam War.  

Marcelle and I hear frequently from Vermonters recovering from opioid abuse.  These are men and women with the same hopes and dreams shared by all Americans.  We have been approached by mothers and fathers, with tears streaming from their eyes, who have lost their children to this epidemic. 

This has touched the lives of every American.  Black, white, rich, poor, urban, rural.  This is an American problem.  And this package represents a second installment in investing in serious solutions. 

The LHHS bill would invest $3 billion in NEW resources over FY 2017 to address this crisis.  This is on top of roughly $500 million in additional funding contained in other appropriations bills, and similar funding levels in the FY 2018 Omnibus.  Because of the bipartisan budget deal, these NEW investments will surpass $6 billion over two years.  There is still more we can do to help those Americans who are trying to pull themselves out of addiction and turn their lives around, but this is a good start.  This is a start the American people can be proud of. 

# # # # #