Statement of Vice Chairman Leahy on The Second Week Of The Trump Shutdown

We are in the thirteenth day of the Trump Shutdown.  Thirteen days that nine of fifteen federal departments and dozens of agencies have shut their doors.  Thirteen days in which hundreds of thousands of Americans have been furloughed or are working without pay, and thirteen days that Americans have been denied government services on which they rely on and pay their taxes for. 

The President is holding federal government funding hostage in an attempt to force Congress to pay for an ineffective and expensive wall on the southern border, a wall he promised that Mexico would pay for.  Unfortunately, the American people are paying for the price of the Trump Shutdown, and he seems not to care.   

Since the shutdown began, our National Parks have been left largely unsupervised.  The welcome centers are closed, park rangers have been furloughed, and there are few emergency or law enforcement personnel left to police the parks or rescue injured guests, affecting visitor safety, reducing public access and threatening natural and cultural resources at national parks across the country. 

We are already receiving reports of damage to sensitive lands and national treasures, campgrounds littered with trash, and overflowing toilets and locked restrooms.  Even where parks remain open, campgrounds and other sites are beginning to close because of health and safety reasons.  Businesses in gateway communities surrounding our parks are also paying the price in lost sales, rentals, and empty storefronts as families cancel their plans to visit as the shutdown drags on.   

Thanks to the shutdown, the U.S. Forest Service has curtailed forest thinning and fire prevention projects – despite the Nation still reeling from and dealing with a record setting fire season – as well as closed visitor centers and reduced services at campgrounds.

Just of a few days ago, the Farm Service Agency, which supports farmers and rural communities across the country, also shut their doors.  With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers and ranchers need information – right now, as a new growing season looms – on how the law will affect their operations heading into the planting year, but no one is in the office or staffing the phones to answer those questions or sign up producers for new programs. 

Farmers will also not be able to apply for much-needed loans.  Many farmers, like those in my home state of Vermont, face financial hardship due to the dramatic drop in commodity prices brought on by the President’s tariffs, and they need loans to help pay bills and stay afloat through this winter, as well as to prepare for the spring planting.  With banks not willing to lend to them, many rely on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as their lender of last resort.  But for the foreseeable future they will not be able to apply for these loans because the offices are closed. 

And while the President loudly proclaimed he would provide assistance through the Market Facilitation Program to help farmers mitigate the financial losses caused by his tariffs, as of December 28th, there is no one left at USDA to process any new applications for these payments.  The bottom line?  Farmers have been left to fend for themselves while the President holds their safety nets hostage, to secure funding for his border wall.

In addition to government services that have ground to a halt, an estimated 450,000 employees are working without pay.  This includes 41,000 federal law enforcement and correctional officers at the Department of Justice – ATF agents, FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, and DEA agents. 

And more than 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed, with no guarantee they will receive back pay when they return to work.  This includes 96 percent of employees at NASA, 80 percent of the National Park Service, 60 percent at the Department of Commerce, and 33 percent of the Forest Service.  In addition, many federal contractors have discontinued their services leaving thousands of employees temporarily without work and without a paycheck. 

Many of our dedicated federal employees live paycheck-to-paycheck.  They are custodial workers, cafeteria workers, telephone operators, contract specialists, and customer service representatives.  They are employees who have mortgages to pay and families to take care of.  That this financial disruption comes on the heels of the holiday season when so many families’ budgets are tight is even harder to fathom, let alone to justify.     

Most of these federal agencies or employees have nothing to do with border security.  Yet they are the casualties of President Trump’s single-minded obsession with walling off our southern border.

The President has repeatedly said this is about border security.  Really?  His actions have caused the very Department charged with securing our border to be cut off from all funding.  Eighty-eight percent of Department of Homeland Security employees are working without pay, including the 54,000 Customs and Border Patrol Agents who protect our northern and southern border, many of whom are veterans.  As of January 1, roughly 42,000 hard-working and dedicated members of our Nation’s Coast Guard will be protecting our country without pay.  TSA officers have screened over 2 million passengers and their baggage per day through the holidays, again, while not being paid. 

Last week House Democrats put forward a commonsense path to end the Trump Shutdown.  They introduced a minibus comprised of six bipartisan appropriations bills and a continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security to keep it up and running through February 8.  The House will vote on both of these bills this evening, and I expect them to pass. 

I urge Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans to take up both of these bills expeditiously.   The six bill minibus is not controversial.  Each of these bills has received wide bipartisan support in this chamber.  Four of the six bills passed the Senate 92 to 6, and the other two were reported out of the Appropriations Committee on nearly unanimous votes.  They are the product of bipartisan compromise and provide billions of dollars in new resources to address critical needs of the American people and to protect U.S. national security. 

It is irresponsible for the President to hold these six bills hostage in order to compel taxpayers to pay for his wall, and by passing this minibus and sending it to the President for his signature, we could get the vast majority of the federal government back open for the American people. 

It also makes sense to pass a continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security through February 8th, just as the Senate did by voice vote on December 19th.  We should not shut down the very agency responsible for securing our borders over a fight about how best to secure our borders.  Everyone agrees that we need to keep our border safe and secure; but it must be smart border security, border security that works – new technologies proven to work on the border and at our ports of entry, new air and marine assets, and additional personnel where needed.   We do not need to build a 30-foot medieval wall. 

Let’s recall that before the holidays, the President said he would sign a continuing resolution through February 8th.  We had a path forward.  But after 24 hours of Fox News and the right wing pundits criticizing him, the President’s ego was so bruised that he reversed course.  And here we are – thirteen days into a Trump Shutdown.  It has to end. 

We have a clear, sensible and responsible path forward, and I strongly encourage Senate Republicans to support and pass this bipartisan compromise.

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667