Statement of Vice Chairman Leahy (D-Vt.) Opposing the Motion to Proceed to H.R. 2470

Today, we will vote on whether to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 2470, the House Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Energy and Water, and the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bills.  I strongly urge Senators to vote no. 

The underlying House bills are good bills.  If this were a vote to consider the House bills, it would be easy.  But that is not what we are doing.  Senator McConnell has made clear that H.R. 2470 is simply a vehicle for consideration of the Senate Defense Appropriations bill, a partisan bill that was reported out of Committee on party lines, which he will offer as a substitute once we proceed to the underlying House bills. 

Leader McConnell will also offer as part of the substitute the Energy & Water Appropriations bill, as well as the State, Foreign Operations, and Labor-HHS and Education bills.  These last two bills have never even been considered by the Committee.  They were pulled from the Committee markup last week, because Republicans were afraid to vote on amendments that would have received bipartisan support.  Is that how we are operating now?  Things get complicated and difficult so we just skip parts of the legislative process?  This is no way to proceed. 

Not one Democrat on the Appropriations Committee voted for the Defense bill.  Not one.  Because, as written, it does nothing to prevent the President from stealing billions of dollars more from our troops to pay for the President’s cynical campaign promise to build a gigantic wall across our southern border. 

The President has already raided $6.1 billion from Department of Defense (DOD) accounts in the fiscal year 2019 bills for his border wall – all without congressional approval. 

First he diverted $2.5 billion from the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act for the wall using standard transfer authority we provide the Department of Defense.  We provide this authority to ensure that DOD has the flexibility it requires to meet the needs of the troops in an evolving threat environment.  It is NOT intended to be used by the President as a piggy bank for his own pet projects that Congress has refused to support. 

Then he took $3.6 billion more from military construction projects for his southern border wall.  Much of this money came from projects that would have improved the lives of our troops and their families – military schools, child care centers, and improved training facilities.

We cannot let him do it again.  I offered an amendment during Committee markup of the Defense Appropriations bill that would protect the money we appropriate for our troops, and prohibit the President from using it to build a border wall, but that amendment was defeated on a party line vote. 

Now the Republican leader accuses Democrats of not standing with the troops by voting against this bill, but it’s exactly the opposite.  We are the ones fighting to protect funds that should go to support the troops and their families.  Letting the President take money from the troops for the wall is tantamount to telling military families that we care more about a failed campaign promise – a wall in the middle of the desert that the President promised Mexico would pay for – than we do about providing schools and day care for their children, or for weapons training, or for fire stations.  I will not sign up for that.    

We must stand up for the Constitution.  In order to raid defense dollars for the wall, the President has contorted the law beyond all recognition, and undone congressional funding decisions by fiat.  To allow this to go unanswered would be to surrender Congress’ Constitutional power of the purse. 

Last year we were able to move appropriations bills on the floor because the leaders agreed that only bills that had bipartisan support would move forward.  That was the right way to proceed then and it is the right way to proceed now.  This package of bills does not have such support.  

I was hopeful that once we secured a bipartisan budget agreement, we would be on a bipartisan path to consider Senate Appropriations bills.  Unfortunately, the Republican leadership started out the process on a partisan note by refusing to rein in the ability of the President to raid defense dollars to build his wall, and by short-changing the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill so they could include $5 billion for his wall in the Homeland bill.  How much of our taxpayer dollars are we going to spend on this boondoggle?   

In the bipartisan budget agreement, non-defense funding was given a $27 billion increase, a roughly 3 percent increase.  If all things were equal, the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill – our largest domestic funding bill – should receive a 3 percent increase in fiscal year 2020, but the Republican bill provides less than a 1 percent increase for Labor-HHS, while the Department of Homeland Security receives a 7 percent increase to pay for the wall.   This is not right. 

The result is that the bill put forward by the Republicans today fails to cover even the annual costs of inflation in public health, Head Start, child care, special education, education for the disadvantaged, veterans’ training grants, and dozens of other programs.

Robbing from funds meant for education, child care and health care – programs that have a real, positive impact on the lives of the American people – to pay for President Trump’s wall is just as unacceptable as robbing these funds from our military, and members on our side of the aisle will not support it. 

Last year, the President shut much of the government down for 35 days in a tantrum over his wall.  This strategy of “border wall above all else” has already failed once, and it will fail again.  As the Majority Leader has said, there is no education in the second kick of a mule. 

It is unfortunate that we find ourselves in this position again.  We have already been down this road.  It was the President’s failed strategy that led to the longest government shutdown in the history of our country just nine months ago.  It was the President’s failed strategy to hold the government of the American people hostage to pay for a wall he promised Mexico would pay for. 

There is a bipartisan path forward.  We have bipartisan bills that the Majority Leader can call up while we try to sort these other issues out. 

The Energy and Water Appropriations bill was reported out of Committee last week on a unanimous vote.  Tomorrow the Appropriations Committee will consider the Agriculture Appropriations bill and the Transportation-Housing Urban Development appropriations bill.  I expect both will be reported out on a wide bipartisan margin, and we could bring these bills to the floor.

Instead, we are forced to vote today to invoke cloture on a partisan Defense appropriations bill, and on a partisan State, Foreign Operations bill and a partisan Labor-HHS-Education bill that were not even marked up in Committee. 

The State, Foreign Operations bill continues the President’s discriminatory Mexico City policy, which prohibits funding for private organizations that support family planning and reproductive health, and it caps funding for family planning at an arbitrarily and unacceptably low level.  Inexplicably, it eliminates all funding for the UN Population Fund, which provides life-saving assistance to women and girls in Yemen and dozens of other countries where USAID does not have programs. 

For the past 30 years, I have been either chairman or ranking member of the State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee.  We have a long tradition on that Subcommittee of producing bipartisan bills.  That was true when the Majority Leader, Senator McConnell was chairman, when former Senator Judd Gregg was chairman, while Senator Graham has been chairman, and when I have been chairman.  We were ready to mark up that bill last week, but because one Senator wanted to offer an amendment related to family planning – an amendment that had bipartisan support of a majority of members of the Committee – the markup was cancelled.  Rather than vote, the majority cancelled the markup.  What kind of process is that?  What kind of democracy is that?  We are better than this.    

I urge members to vote no on cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 2470, this vote is nothing more than a political stunt.  We have bipartisan bills that we could take up, and that is how we should proceed, not wasting time on show votes that do nothing to advance the appropriations process.  

I look forward to continuing to work with my good friend, Chairman Shelby, and the Majority Leader to find a way forward.     

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