Statement Of Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On FY 2019 Appropriations Bills – A Path Forward

In the last few months, the Senate has achieved record progress in processing appropriations bills.  As we return from the Labor Day weekend, the Senate has already passed 9 of the 12 Appropriations bills by overwhelming margins and the Appropriations Committee has reported the remaining 3 bills with bipartisan support.    

The end of the fiscal year is only few short weeks away, but, because of the record pace of our work, there is no reason that we cannot conference all of these bills with the House, and send all nine to the President’s desk before October 1. 

That would be quite an accomplishment.  It would show the American people that when it matters, Congress can come together and do the job we were sent here to do.  That includes passing responsible, thoughtful, and well-considered appropriations bills, on time, and on budget.   

It is important that we conference all of the bills we have passed in the Senate so far and send them to the President’s desk.  We cannot just pick and choose which ones to advance based on political expediency.  The hard work has been done, we know the issues we need to resolve, and now is the time to bring these bills across the finish line

Minibus # 1 contains the Energy & Water Development bill, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies bill, and the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.  It provides much-needed resources for the support and care of our Nation’s veterans and their family members, and it makes critical investments in our country’s water infrastructure and energy programs.  Yesterday, we held a public conference on the first minibus, and I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress. 

One of the reasons we were successful in moving bills in the Senate is that we have advanced appropriations bills that are free of poison pill policy riders, from the left or the right.  That is the only path to success in the Senate, where we rightfully need 60 votes to advance legislation, and it is the only path to success for conferencing the 3 minibus bills.  I challenge House Republicans to come to terms with that reality.  No one should mistake Democratic cooperation in the Senate for a sign that we will support a conference report that contains poison pills.  We will not. 

Minibus #2 contains four appropriations bills: the Agriculture, Rural Development and Related Agencies bill, the Interior, Environmental and Related Agencies bill, the Financial Services and General Government bill, and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill.   The House plans to appoint conferees to this minibus later this afternoon, and I encourage the Senate to follow soon thereafter.  

The Agriculture Appropriations bill is a win for farmers, families, and rural communities.  Every state in this Nation has rural communities and farm economies that benefit from these important programs – from clean water programs to investments in rural broadband, from rural housing assistance to agricultural research – this bill touches millions of lives.  In the wake of uncertainty and chaos caused by trade wars and tariffs, our farmers and rural communities deserve better than inaction on appropriations.  Both the House and the Senate have passed their versions of the bill – let’s get to work and send a conference bill to the President. 

The same goes for the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill, which makes critical infrastructure investments across the Nation, which we desperately need.  Improving the Nation’s infrastructure was one of President Trump’s key campaign promises, but instead of proposing realistic solutions, he has criticized the very budget deal that made increases in infrastructure possible, and proposed cutting – not increasing – funding for infrastructure programs in his budget.  Here we have an opportunity to invest in our country and start to address our crumbling bridges and roads.  We cannot and should not kick the can down the road. 

The Interior bill makes critical investments in programs that help ensure we have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe, and funds our national parks and other public lands.  The Financial Services bill funds regulatory agencies that U.S. citizens rely on to protect them from unfair, unsafe, or fraudulent business practices, like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.  

Congress stands poised to deliver to the American people, but we must get moving.  Leaving these important agencies to limp along in a continuing resolution is both unwise and unnecessary.  We have laid the groundwork to finish these bills; we just need to find the will to do it. 

That brings me to the Minibus # 3, which contains the Defense Appropriations bill, and the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill.  It funds our national security and many of our domestic priorities and demonstrates the importance of the bipartisan budget agreement reached earlier this year.  In this combination of bills, we see the priorities outlined in that agreement, made into real policy to improve the lives of Americans. 

As a result of the bipartisan budget deal, the Senate Defense Appropriations bill provides the men and women of our armed forces the resources they need to carry out their missions effectively and safely.  This is a goal that Republicans AND Democrats share, and I know that working with our House counterparts we can produce a good compromise bill for our troops and our nation. 

The Senate Labor, HHS and Education bill makes important new investments in health care and education.  It increases funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5 billion over FY 2017.  It backs our commitment to increase access to higher education by increasing college affordability spending by $2.3 billion over FY 2017.  It increases access to childcare by $3.2 billion over FY 2017, and it invests nearly $3 billion to combat the opioid crisis that has plagued communities across this country. 

Unfortunately, the House did not follow the Senate path.  It produced a partisan Labor, HHS bill that short changes programs for working Americans and is loaded up with poison pill riders, from attacks on the Affordable Care Act, to restrictions on family planning.  We will have to work out those differences in the days and weeks to come.  While those differences are challenging, they are not insurmountable, but the compromise must be able to garner 60 votes in the Senate. 

I have said many times that if we are to have a strong national defense, we need to have a strong economy, an educated and healthy citizenry, and an able workforce.  The programs funded in the Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill are critical to achieving that.  The deep ties that run between defense and non-defense priorities make it fitting that we have packaged these two bills together, but they must remain together if we are to get them across the finish line by October 1.   If they are decoupled, it will destroy the bipartisan process we have worked so hard to establish.

It is possible that the CR will be included in this bill, so it is essential that it be bipartisan and free of any controversial matter. 

The reason we in the Senate have been so successful in moving appropriations bills this year is because we have worked together.  Republicans and Democrats cooperated with each other.  Each side showed restraint in pursuing issues we felt strongly about, because to do so would have imperiled the whole process.  And each side had to trust the other so that we could reach agreement to move these bills forward. 

We must finish what we started, the way we started it – through bipartisanship and cooperation.  That means that the Defense and Labor, HHS bills must remain together in one package – we cannot drop one and finish the other.  That also means the Senate must stand together if the House insists on producing partisan conference reports containing poison pill riders.  And, finally, that means we must remain committed to finishing all three packages of bills and sending them to the President. 

If House Republicans decide to delay Minibus # 2 until after the election and drop the Labor, HHS, Education bill from Minibus #3, it means that the $18 billion increase for Defense assumed in the bipartisan budget agreement is enacted while the $18 billion dollar increase of non-defense programs could be left in the dust – a clear violation of the bipartisan budget agreement that was based on parity between defense and non-defense programs.  

Funding the government is one of our most basic constitutional responsibilities, and Americans expect us to work together and across the aisle to reach agreement on these bills.  The programs funded in these bills make a real difference in people’s lives and they should not held up due to partisan differences.  Let’s do what we were sent here to do, and pass these bills before the start of the new fiscal year.  

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667