Statement Of Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The Seven-Bill Appropriations Conference Report

This week, Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate came together, ignoring the distractions and tweetstorms coming from the White House, and reached an agreement to fund our government and make responsible investments in the American people.  This is not the agreement I would have reached on my own.  There are things in this bill that I support, and things that I disagree with, but that is the nature of a negotiation.  Everyone had to give something to reach a bipartisan compromise.  We had to deal in facts based in reality, not rhetoric based in political fantasy.

Democrats have always supported border security, but it has to be smart border security—targeted strategies that address the real problems facing our Southwest border.  That is what we tried to accomplish here.  By standing together, we rejected the toxic and hate-filled immigration policies of President Trump.  This agreement does not fund President Trump’s wasteful wall, which he promised Mexico would pay for.  It does not fund President Trump’s requested deportation force, and it rejects the unjustified and dramatic increase in detention bed levels President Trump would have used to enforce his extreme immigration policies.  

I remain concerned that this Administration continues to expand detention capacity beyond the funding Congress provided.  They are operating with a detention level far above what we approved last year.  This bill should force them back down to the levels approved in Fiscal Year 2018.  I wish we could reduce this level further.  This Administration’s dragnet approach to immigration enforcement is unconscionable.  Instead of focusing its resources on people who actually pose a threat to this country, they are sweeping up mothers and fathers who have never committed a crime and have deep ties to the community.  I will oppose any attempt by this Administration to increase this account above the amount agreed to by the conferees. 

Just as important as what this agreement rejects is what we were able to accomplish. This agreement will increase both Congressional oversight and public transparency of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  We invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new technology to stop the flow of illegal drugs through ports of entry—where the vast majority of drugs enter our country, despite the President’s repeated falsehoods claiming otherwise.  We also provided funds to hire more judges to address the immigration backlog in our country.  We provided more than half a billion dollars to support Central American countries in addressing the root causes of undocumented migration.  And we included $400 million to improve medical care and address humanitarian concerns at the border.

This is what a compromise looks like.  This is how the American people expect our government to function: not by tweets, but by reasonable, reality-based compromise.

But lost in this debate over border security were the more than 800,000 public servants and their families who were held hostage by the Trump Shutdown.  For weeks now, they have once again lived in fear and uncertainty that their next paycheck may not come, yet again, because the President choose to use them as hostages.  This agreement ensures these public servants remain on the job doing the important work of the American people through the end of the fiscal year.  I am disappointed that we were not able to reach agreement to include a bill to provide back pay for the employees of federal contractors who were affected by the shutdown.  Federal contractor employees suffer during a government shutdown just the same as federal employees do, without any guarantee that they will be made whole when the government reopens. I will continue to press for this relief. 

This agreement funds nine federal departments and their related agencies.  It increases funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, supports our national parks, and rejects the anti-science know-nothingism of the Trump administration by supporting research and our dedicated scientists.  It provides the highest funding level ever for the Office on Violence Against Women to support programs that prevent domestic violence, and provides more than half a billion dollars to combat the opioid crisis.  It invests in rural America, secures our interests abroad, rebuilds our highways, and supports public housing. 

These are just a few examples of projects that move our country forward and are funded in the six other appropriations bills in this package.  This is where we the American people invest in ourselves and in our future. 

The Trump Shutdown was a global embarrassment that cost our economy billions of dollars.  I am glad that Republicans and Democrats can still be the adults in the room and reach a bipartisan compromise to fund the government. 

I remain disappointed we were not able to reach agreement to include a disaster package in this bill.  Last year we had one of the deadliest disaster seasons in recent memories.  Hurricanes Michael, Florence, and Maria, the California wildfires, volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, typhoons in the Pacific need to know they are not forgotten.  I urge Leader McConnell to bring up H.R. 268, the House-passed disaster package as soon as possible, so we can do the right thing and provide these communities the assistance they so desperately need. 

This week, Senator Shelby, Representative Lowey, Representative Granger, and I proved that we can set aside the political struggles in Washington to find a path to progress for the American people.  I sincerely thank them for that effort. 

I want to thank Senator Shelby for his friendship and partnership.  Working together, we have passed all twelve appropriations bills on a bipartisan basis.  I hope we can continue on this path in Fiscal Year 2020 and look forward to working with him.  I want to thank the hard work of the Appropriations Committee staff on both sides of the aisle, and I have a list of names I would like to submit for the record.  It takes a lot of long days and long nights to produce a bill of this magnitude and I appreciate their hard work.  

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667