Statement Of Vice Chairman Leahy On Committee Consideration Of Five FY 2020 Appropriations Bills

The Committee has five bills before it today—the Interior bill, the State, Foreign Operations bill, the Commerce, Justice, Science bill, the Homeland Security bill, and the Legislative Branch bill.  In a moment I will read the motion to report all five bills.  I recommend an AYE vote on four of these bills –Interior, State, Foreign Operations, CJS, and Legislative Branch – and for reasons I will talk about in a moment, I urge a NO vote on the Homeland Bill. 

I want to thank Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Udall for delivering a bipartisan Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.  We know this is no simple task.  This 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 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.

I am also pleased that the Subcommittee shares my serious concern for the unacceptable politicization of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process at both Interior and the EPA, and has included language to ensure congressional oversight of this bedrock transparency law.

I want take a moment to thank Senator Murkowski and Senator Udall for one particular item in this bill that is deeply personal to me.  I thank them for continuing their support for historic preservation, and for this year, including $7.5 million for a newly restarted historic revitalization program.  Years ago, long before an earmark ban, and back when Congress was more able to respond to needs of smaller communities though congressionally-directed spending, I worked with a longtime confidant and my first Chief of Staff in the Senate, Paul Bruhn, to establish historic revitalization grants.  The idea behind these grants was to support small projects in small communities.  These historic revitalization grants have transformed community landscapes across the country.  I was pleased that last year, this Committee supported reconstituting these grants, and has increased that support this year.  Marcelle and I were devastated to hear the news that Paul passed away suddenly, last Thursday evening.  Senator Murkowski and Senator Udall, the fact that your bill names these grants the Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grants, is very meaningful to me, and a testimony to Paul’s dedicated public service spanning more than four decades and his longstanding commitment to preserving the historic icons of rural America.

I also want to thank Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Shaheen for their good work on the CJS bill.  They have crafted a strong, bipartisan Commerce, Justice, Science bill that makes critical investments in economic development programs, essential Justice Department grants, 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.

The CJS bill also makes important investments in Justice Department programs, and I am grateful that the Subcommittee has increased support for the life-saving 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.

And I thank Chairman Hyde-Smith and Ranking Member Murphy for their good work on the Legislative Branch bill.  This bill supports not only Congress, but all of the other supporting offices, agencies, and organizations that ensure we have what we need to perform our constitutional role – Library of Congress and Copyright Office, Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office, the Architect of the Capitol, and the Capitol Police.  This is a strong bill, and I urge the members of the Committee to support it.

I will speak about the State, Foreign Operations bill when we turn to it later, but as the Ranking Member I support the bill, and urge others to as well.   

Finally, I thank Chairman Capito and Ranking Member Tester for their work on the Homeland Security bill.  This bill provides resources to agencies and programs that are critical to protecting our nation: the U.S. Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

I wish I was in a position to support this bill, but I cannot.  It includes $5 billion to build the President’s wall on the southern border.  A wall will do nothing to address the current situation at the border, where most people arriving are asylum seekers who turn themselves in, but will forever change its landscape.  It will cut ranches in two, rob Americans of their property, destroy sensitive lands, and threaten wildlife.

This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and bad for our country.  It is not about solving real problems, it is about fulfilling a campaign promise.  And let’s not forget the President promised that Mexico would pay for the wall.

I also oppose the funding for ICE detention beds.  This bill funds an average daily population of 52,161 ICE detention beds, 6,887 more than enacted in fiscal year 2019, and well above a level that has ever received bipartisan support.  Let’s not forget that when we are talking about “beds” we are talking about incarcerated people – human beings, many of whom fled here seeking asylum, and found only a prison.  This increase is not warranted.

For these reasons, I recommend an AYE vote on the Interior, State, Foreign Operations, CJS, and Legislative Branch bills, and a NO on the Homeland Security bill. 

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

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667