Statement of Vice Chairman Leahy Opposing the Motion to Proceed to the Defense, LHHS Appropriations Bills

Today, the Senate will vote on whether to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to a package of appropriations bills that will include the Senate Defense Appropriations bill and the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) Appropriations bill.  I strongly urge all Senators to vote “no.”

I am disappointed that the Republican leadership by taking this step – bowing to the demands of President Trump – is continuing to delay funding for our troops.  This delay is because they insist on including in this bill authority for President Trump to raid American tax dollars from our military – money that is intended for specific military priorities – to pay for his wall, which he promised that Mexico would pay for.  And that is unacceptable. 

The President has already raided $6.2 billion from the Department of Defense (DOD) this year alone for his border wall – all without congressional approval.  First he diverted $2.6 billion from the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act, and then he took $3.6 billion more from military construction projects for his southern border wall.  Much of that 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 oppose this bill because we are fighting to protect funds that are meant for the women and men of our military and their families.  We oppose this bill because we stand with those patriotic Americans, and we refuse to place the President’s failed campaign promises on their backs. 

That alone should convince every member of this chamber to oppose this package.  But, the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill tied to this Defense bill also short-changes the domestic priorities of the American people by stealing even more money to pay for President Trump’s vanity wall. 

If all things were equal, the Labor-HHS 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 their Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill receives a 7 percent increase to cover the cost of the President’s demand for his wall.  That does not add up to me.  And nor does it add up to most Americans, who broadly oppose President Trump’s wall.

The result of this shortsighted cash grab directed by President Trump is a bill that fails to cover even the annual costs of inflation in public health, Head Start, child care, special education, veterans’ training grants and dozens of other programs relied on by the American people.

I am disappointed by the willful spread of misinformation regarding our opposition to this bill by President Trump and Republican leadership.  They baselessly accuse Democrats of blocking a 3.1 percent pay raise for our troops by opposing this package.  Regardless of the action we take in this chamber, the men and women of our military and their families will see a raise in January.  This well-deserved raise is based on a statutory formula that does not need to be authorized by the legislation before us.  In fact, neither the House nor the Senate Defense Appropriations bills contain any provision relating to a pay raise.  Reaching a bipartisan, bicameral consensus on a $693 billion Defense Appropriations bill is hard enough without the willful and irresponsible spreading of misinformation.

But this campaign of misinformation has not stopped there.  Republican leadership has even accused Senate Democrats of holding up aid to Ukraine, a statement that would be laughable if not for the real world consequences we are seeing play out in Ukraine today.  It is the Republicans who are holding both military funding and Ukraine aid hostage to President Trump’s vanity wall. It is Republicans who refuse to bring a bill to the floor *unless* Congress enables President Trump to continue stealing funds from our troops, and our military families, to pay for his wall.

Senate Democrats have long advocated for aid to Ukraine.  We insisted it be included in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills, and we will continue to do so because it is the right thing to do.  Since 2015, I have personally supported more than $3.3 billion in aid for Ukraine – levels that far exceed the President’s request.

These baseless accusations are merely attempts to distract from why Senate Democrats are actually opposing this package.  We will not stand idly by as President Trump continues to use military families as his personal piggy bank for a failed campaign promise.  And we will not stand idly by as the domestic priorities of the American people are short changed to pay for some unnecessary monument to the President’s ego along our Southern border. 

We have been down this road before.  Just last month, Republican leadership failed to get the votes necessary to move these bills, but I think it is prudent to remind everyone that this entire strategy has been tried before, and it failed before.  The strategy of the wall over everything.  The strategy of the wall at all costs.  The strategy of the wall over the American people.  That same strategy drove the country into the longest government shutdown in American history earlier this year.    

That was when Republicans still controlled both chambers of Congress.  If you honestly believe this failed Republican strategy will work on the second go ‘round, I have a fence for you to paint back at my home in Vermont. 

Everyone here knows there is only one real path forward.  And that is to reach agreement on bipartisan bills.  I believe there is still time to reach that agreement, and I have tremendous respect for my good friend, Chairman Shelby.  But the clock is ticking, and it is past time for us to get serious.

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667