Statement Vice Chairman Leahy On Consideration Of The Fiscal Year 2020 Agriculture, THUD, And FSGG Appropriations Bills

Today, the Committee will be considering the fiscal year 2020 Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bills.  These three bills are the product of hard work and bipartisan cooperation by each of the subcommittees.  They show that despite the atmosphere we must operate in, the Appropriations Committee can still put partisan disputes aside and make strong investments in the priorities of the American people. 

I want to thank Chairman Collins, Ranking Member Reed and their staffs for their bipartisan work on the Fiscal Year 2020 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.  Every member of this committee has seen what investing in programs like HOME, CBDG, NeighborWorks, and the Rural Capacity Building Program can do to help build and maintain affordable housing in our communities and ensure they remain vibrant for our children and grandchildren.  So I am glad the Committee again rejected the short-sighted, bumper-sticker budgeting approach of the Trump administration to eliminate these vital programs. 

Within the limitations of their allocations, Chairman Collins and Ranking Member Reed were able to continue critical support for programs like BUILD.  Vermont and states across the country rely heavily on these federal programs to help repair, replace and upgrade our aging infrastructure.  The bill also invests in our nation’s rail system, and critical pieces of this bill will support our efforts to maintain and extend rail service within Vermont.  I am also pleased that this bill continues support for a development partnership between the University of Vermont and the University of Mississippi to research unmanned aircraft systems. 

I want to thank Chairman Hoeven, Ranking Member Merkley and their staffs for their bipartisan work on the Fiscal Year 2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill.  This bill builds on the progress made by this Committee in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, and in the 2018 Farm Bill, to deliver real wins for our nation’s farmers and investments in rural communities like those in my own State of Vermont.  It again includes strong funding for the farm to school program.  This program gives children and schools across the country the tools to craft farm-fresh, healthy, and delicious meals while teaching children about healthy eating habits and local farms.   

The Committee continues investments in dairy farms, maple sugar industry, and organic farms, cornerstones of Vermont agriculture.  We take important steps to preserve the integrity of the organic dairy market, increasing funding for key organic programs and directing USDA to finally implement rules that will level the playing field for small-scale producers.  And we significantly increase funding for innovation in the dairy sector, funding that will directly benefit dairy producers in Vermont and across the country as they meet the challenges of a changing marketplace.

The Committee supports the newly authorized Rural Innovation for a Stronger Economy (RISE) grants.  These grants support locally-driven rural jobs accelerator partnerships, which make critical investments in our rural communities, transforming them into hubs for 21st Century jobs.

Most importantly, the Committee once again rejects the disastrous cuts to conservation efforts, rural development and energy, and clean water programs proposed by President Trump.  Nonetheless, it is disappointing that this bill supports the administration’s ill-advised relocation of USDA research agencies.  I have spoken out about this relocation effort, and remain concerned about the loss of expertise and focus such a move precipitates at USDA.

Finally, I want to thank Chairman Kennedy and Ranking Member Coons for their work on the Financial Services bill.  They have done an excellent job of funding competing priorities in a tight bill, which is never an easy task.  

It has been no secret that Senator Coons and I, along with several other members of this Committee, had serious concerns with the lack of funding for election security grants in this bill earlier in the week.  Funding election security grants is a matter of national security, preserving our democracy, and maintaining full faith in our elections.  A vital issue this Committee has not funded since fiscal year 2018, despite a persistent – and confirmed – threat of interference in our elections by foreign adversaries.  I will have more to say about this when we turn to the Financial Services bill, but Senator Shelby and I worked on a bipartisan amendment to provide $250 million in election security grants, and I am hopeful that it will pass.  I believe more is needed, and in fact the House bill includes additional funding for these grants as well, but this is a good compromise and I hope we can work out the final number in conference.  I thank the Chairman for his work with me on this important issue.

I am also glad that the Financial Services and General Government bill maintains important funding for High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and the Drug Free Communities program.  I believe there is investment that is too great in tackling the opioid epidemic that continues to plague the country.  Continuing support for these programs – in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, where they belong – is essential.

These are three good, bipartisan bills that the Committee will consider today.  And I urge the Committee to support these bills.

This morning on the Senate Floor, Senator McConnell complained that the Senate vote yesterday delayed consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill.  We cannot forget that the President took $6.1 billion from the troops and their families to pay for his ineffective, vanity wall.  The vote yesterday in the Senate was intended to send a clear message that Congress should protect funding for the troops, so the President cannot do it again.  

I also want to note that yesterday the House filed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded until November 21st.  It is a good bill, and I am glad we could come to bipartisan resolution on it.  This gives us seven weeks to get our work done, and I look forward to working with my good friend Chairman Shelby on a path forward. 

# # # # #