Statement Of Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On the FY 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, and the FY 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill

Today we will mark up the last two of the 12 appropriations bills—the FY 2019 Defense Appropriations Bill, and the FY 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Bill.   Like the 10 bills before them, these bills are the product of bipartisan cooperation and I urge members to support them. 

Chairman Shelby and Vice Chairman Durbin have put before us a Defense bill that provides much needed resources to support our men and women in uniform and makes important investments that will help keep Vermont and the nation at the forefront of innovation. 

The Defense bill funds improvements for Humvee tactical vehicles, which the country will use for decades to come.  Those funds will support new technologies such as sensors that monitor torque on the drive train, improved power management for the vehicle and its systems, and autonomous driving kits, all developed in Vermont and all which will yield benefits to consumer vehicles over time. The bill includes funding to improve the engines of the Super Hornet and Growler, and supports continued work on next generation engines. I am grateful that the report to accompany this bill includes an important assessment requirement from the Army on mountaineering capabilities, a specialty training our Vermont National Guard provides to the entire Army to make it more maneuverable and capable in all types of difficult terrain.

I particularly want to thank Chairman Shelby and Vice Chairman Durbin for supporting our collective efforts to address the scourge of opioid abuse in this country.  This bill directs $10 million to research opioid-alternative or non-addictive methods to treat and manage chronic pain.  Our nation’s veterans are being prescribed opioids to deal with a variety of chronic pain issues.  A 2016 VA study found that of nearly 124,000 veterans, those receiving the highest does of opioid painkillers were more than twice as likely to die by suicide, compared to those receiving the lowest doses.  Opioid overuse and abuse is impacting our nation’s military and our nation’s veterans, just as it is impacting our civilian population.  Any resources we can dedicate to addressing this epidemic is money well invested.

Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray also deserve praise for the bill they have put before us.  The bill continues this Committee’s strong support for medical research by supporting a $2 billion increase in funding to the National Institutes of Health.  This increase also includes a large investment in Alzheimer’s research, which is one of the costliest and most devastating diseases we face today.  I fully endorse the $2 billion increase for NIH.  The Senate allocation, which is $2.2 billion higher than the House, is essential to ensure that this investment in critical research can be maintained without requiring deep cuts in job training, education, and health care. 

The bill continues the strong investment from the FY 2018 omnibus to help states and communities combat the opioid epidemic, including bolstering our mental and behavioral health workforce. 

The bill recognizes the distinct challenges faced by rural communities in combatting opioid addiction, and invests in research to help address and prevent addiction in rural communities.  This bill also offers strong support for children and families through increased investments in early childhood education and Head Start, special education, school safety, and homeless youth.  The bill works to help address college affordability by once again increasing the maximum Pell award, and by continuing, the discretionary relief fund for Public Service Loan Forgiveness included in the omnibus bill.  The increases in this bill are a direct result of the bipartisan budget deal reached earlier this year and are critically needed. 

This bill increases funding to the Refugee and Entrant Assistance programs, roundly rejecting President Trump’s retreat away from our role as a welcoming haven to refugees fleeing persecution and tyranny. While President Trump may continue his systematic assault on our U.S. refugee admissions program, this bill ensures that those refugees admitted to the U.S. are provided the services and support they need to become thriving members of our society. And this bill increases funds for services to victims of unspeakable torture and persecution in their home countries. This bill sends President Trump an unequivocal signal: welcoming refugees is neither a Democratic nor a Republican value. It is an American value.

I am glad that President Trump finally heard Americans’ resounding moral outrage and now agrees that forcibly separating families is heartless and wrong.  Yet now that the administration has stopped separating families, it has become painfully clear it had no plans on how to reunite them.  Approximately 2,000 children remain separated from their families, traumatized and languishing in HHS facilities. We must not allow this administration to claim it has found its conscience and ended family separation until it reunites these families – all of them – immediately. This bill holds the Trump Administration accountable to this end. It imposes systematic reporting requirements on HHS to inform Congress on the status of family reunification and its compliance with standards preserving the humane treatment of these vulnerable children.

Finally, I want to thank Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray for putting together a bill that is free of poison pill riders or controversial authorizing legislation.  This is no small accomplishment when drafting a bill that touches on issues that both sides of the aisle feel passionately about—family planning, abortion, health care, labor unions, and workers’ rights.  It is because of this restraint that we are able to move this bill forward.  My thanks on this matter extend to all members of the Committee.  Many of you have stood down on policy issues that you felt passionately about so that we could advance these bills without getting mired down in partisan fights.  That takes discipline, and it is the reason that after today we will have reported all 12 bills from this Committee on a bipartisan basis, and moved three bills through the Senate.       

Unfortunately, the House has not shown similar discipline.  They are taking up partisan bills filled with poison pills riders that cannot and will not pass the Senate.  Democrats in the Senate have proceeded on this path in good faith, and we will continue to do so.  But if our progress is to continue, the bills that come out of conference must be bills that can pass the Senate, which means they must also be free of poison pills. 


I will now make the motion to report the bills, and urge an “Aye” vote to advance these bills to the floor for consideration by the full Senate. 

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