Statement of Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The Trump Shutdown Threat

On Friday, December 21, just 11 days from today, the Continuing Resolution, or CR, under which much of the government currently operates will expire.  Unless we pass the remaining seven appropriations bills, the government will shutter the doors of nine Federal departments and dozens of agencies, grinding services for the American people to a halt just three days before Christmas. 

There is absolutely no reason for the government to shut down.  The Senate and House Appropriations Committees have been negotiating for weeks on a seven-bill minibus that would fully fund the Federal Government through the remainder of the Fiscal Year.  We are very close to a deal. 

Six of the seven bills are nearly complete, with most funding issues resolved and only a few policy issues remaining.  We are working on a disaster package for the victims of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, the California wildfires, the Hawaii volcano, the earthquake in Alaska, and other disasters from this year that devastated the homes, communities, and lives of so many Americans.  These bills could be finished in short order, put before Congress for a vote, and sent to the President for signature into law. 

There is only one thing standing between fully funding our government and a shutdown:  President Trump.  For months now, he has repeatedly called for a government shutdown unless we provide $5 billion dollars for his boondoggle border wall. 

Last month alone, President Trump publically threatened to shut down the government over his wall at least five times.  Saying things like:  “This would be a very good time to do a shutdown.”

These reckless and damaging threats are not new for President Trump, who set a destructive and uncompromising tone for our negotiations early in the year by saying:  “I would shut it down over this issue,” and “I would love to see a shutdown,” during a February press conference.

Time and again, President Trump has used the government of the American people as a bargaining chip for his fabricated solution to his manufactured crisis.  And now, just days before the CR is set to expire, the President appears ready to make good on his threat.  He wants to score a made-for-reality-TV moment and he doesn’t care how many hardworking Americans will suffer for it.  We have been negotiating the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill for weeks, but as we get closer to the December 21st deadline, the President is digging in.  His position is: fund his wall, or he – HE – will shut down the government. 

We know the President likes to stir up drama, but a government shutdown is not the backdrop for one of his reality TV shows.  This is the real world, with real world consequences.  If the government shuts down on December 22nd, an estimated 380,000 Federal employees will be furloughed without pay just days before Christmas.  Nearly 430,000 federal employees, including FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, the Coast Guard, Border Patrol agents, and TSA employees, will be forced to work without pay through the holidays.  The Secret Service, who will protect the President over the holidays, will be working without pay.  And millions of Americans — farmers, small businesses, homeowners, veterans, the disabled, and the elderly — will go without government services on which they rely.  There is no reason – and it is unconscionable – to put the country through this.   

I oppose the President’s plan for a 30-foot high wall along the southern border, a wall the President gave his solemn promise to the American people that Mexico – not American taxpayers – would pay for.  I have made no secret of my opposition.  The United States is a country founded by immigrants, and walling ourselves off from our neighbors to the south is not only an expensive waste of American taxpayer dollars, it is immoral, ineffective, and an affront to everything this country stands for.  We are better than this.

To do what the President wants to do would require seizing land from ranchers and farmers in Texas and other border states.  It would require building walls through wildlife refuges and nature preserves.  And we would end up cutting ourselves off from the Rio Grande in the process, essentially ceding the iconic river to Mexico.  It’s a terrible idea.

After all of that, and billions of wasted taxpayer dollars, what would it have accomplished?  Would it stop people from fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking sanctuary?  No.  Would it stop drug smugglers and human traffickers from engaging in illegal activity?  Definitely no.  As the expression goes, show me a 30-foot wall, and I will show you a 31-foot ladder – or a tunnel.  To address these complex issues, we need real solutions, not bumper sticker slogans and angry tweets.  We had such a solution in 2013 when the Senate passed bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform, only to watch it die in the House. 

Everyone agrees that we need to keep our border safe and secure; President Trump does not hold a monopoly on that sentiment.  Over the last two years, Congress has invested more than $3 billion for that purpose.  It is the largest infusion of border security funding in recent history.  We have directed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to acquire new technologies proven to work on the border and at our ports of entry, purchase new air and marine assets, and hire additional personnel.  This approach has resulted in the acquisition of integrated fixed towers on the border, remote video surveillance systems, enforcement helicopters and other aircraft, and upgrades to existing unmanned aerial systems.  For the ports of entry, where the large majority of illicit narcotics and other contraband enter, we have significantly increased funding for non-intrusive inspection equipment and hired over 360 new Customs Officers. 

Does the President tweet about this?  No. He is fixated on building his wall, not because it is good policy, but because it fires up his base.  This is not about border security; this is about politics, pure and simple.

Over the last two years, Congress has provided nearly $1.7 billion to build or replace fencing on the southern border, but the Administration has hardly spent any of that money, and the projects it has undertaken have ballooned in cost.  So far, only six percent of those funds have been spent.  Six.  And we have recently learned that one project in the Rio Grande Valley that was supposed to cost $445 million, will now cost the American taxpayers nearly $787 million — that’s a 77 percent cost overrun, at a price tag of $31.5 million per mile.  The President makes no mention of that.  We can’t trust this Administration to be responsible with the money we have already provided, let alone trust it to spend responsibly the additional money President Trump is demanding.

Yet he wants hardworking American taxpayers, not Mexico, to write him a check for $5 billion more, or he will shut the government down?  Come on.  This is nothing more than a cynical political stunt.

The President’s own budget request to Congress for Fiscal Year 2019 was $1.6 billion for his wall, not $5 billion.  I opposed this request when he made it this spring.  I did not and still do not want to appropriate another dime to advance a nebulous and ineffective agenda that I fundamentally oppose.  But our system of divided government requires compromise in order to function, and the Senate Appropriations Committee came up with a bipartisan compromise to meet the President’s $1.6 billion request, with restrictions on where the money could be used, and what type of barriers could be built, such as bollard fencing, but no 30-foot concrete wall.  But instead of taking “yes” and declaring victory, the President has repeatedly moved the goalposts and redefined victory.  So much for the Art of the Deal. 

By manufacturing a crisis over his wall, President Trump appears willing to shutter the doors of the Justice Department, Farm Service agencies, the Food and Drug Administration, the Small Business Administration, the National Park Service, and the Department of Transportation among others – grinding vital services for the American people to a halt – all to protect his ego and satisfy his base.  But his actions have real world consequences for hundreds of thousands of Federal employees, their families, and millions of Americans who depend on our government to function properly. 

Taxpayers do not send their hard-earned money to Washington so the President can shut down their government.  Our job is to be good stewards of taxpayer money, not bend to the whims of the President’s tweets.  Congress controls the power of the purse, not the President.  It is our job to make responsible, thoughtful decisions about what to fund from the federal treasury, and the President’s wall does not remotely pass the test.

There is a bipartisan path forward — we could pass a seven-bill minibus comprised of bipartisan bills that meet the needs of the country, or we could pass a six-bill minibus with a continuing resolution for Homeland Security.  But Republicans control the House, the Senate and the Presidency, and they are in the driver’s seat.  The only reason the government shuts down on December 22, three days before Christmas, is if the President wants it to. 

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton 202-224-2667