Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On FY '18 CJS, THUD and Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills

Today we mark up three appropriations bills, the fiscal year 2018 Commerce and Justice, Science and Related Agencies bill, the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies bill, and the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

I want to thank Chairman Shelby and Ranking Member Shaheen for their hard work on the CJS bill.  This bill represents a truly bipartisan process, making the most out of a tight allocation to fund law enforcement, invest in science, and support economic development.  It makes important investments to help create and expand economic and job opportunities in Vermont’s rural communities.  It explores new ways to commercialize new forest projects to help address the challenges facing forest-based economies that have suffered in Vermont and around the country.  It confronts threats to our “great” Lake Champlain, specifically through support for the National Sea Grant program.  And it reflects our continued commitment to ensuring we advance STEM research, education, and innovation at academic institutions like the University of Vermont.

This bill provides much needed help to communities across the country, including Vermont, to combat the scourge of the opioid epidemic.  We all know someone who is in the grips of opioid addition.  Marcelle and I have spoken with grieving mothers and fathers in Vermont who lost their children to this public health crisis.  We have spoken to first responders who have seen too many people die.  We must confront this problem head on, in the multi-faceted way communities in Vermont are undertaking, and this will provide more of the tools they need to do just that.

This bill continues support for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program, which has helped more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies to purchase nearly 1.3 million vests, helping to keep police on the beat safe while they protect our neighborhoods and families.  It provides an all-time high for Violence Against Women Act programs, to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault heal and put their lives back together.  It keeps at-risk kids off the street, out of jail, and off drugs by funding youth mentoring programs.  These programs save lives, as do so many other critical state and local grant programs that we support in this bill.

But for all of the good work accomplished in this bill, we are not sufficiently investing in our country’s future — science and technology, infrastructure, drug treatment and prevention; there is more that should and could be done if we reached a bipartisan budget deal to lift the budget caps.  Ranking Member Shaheen is going to offer an amendment to address these deficiencies, and I intend to support this amendment.  

Turning to the Transportation Housing and Related Agencies bill, I applaud Chairman Collins and Ranking Member Reed for the bipartisan bill they put together.  It provides much-needed investments in infrastructure and housing that our country, including Vermont, so desperately needs — from restoring funds for TIGER grants, Amtrak, and programs like HOME and CDBG, this bill rejects the shortsighted budget that was put forward by President Trump. 

In Vermont, infrastructure investments keep our downtowns connected.  It is not just roads and bridges that connect us, it is the health of our air, rail, and bus transit networks as well.  This bill continues the operation of our Essential Air Service (EAS) program, a program that helps to guarantee that small communities like Rutland, Vt., are served by certificated air carriers and maintain air service.  It funds TIGER grants, a program that was proposed for elimination by President Trump but has a proven track record of supporting successful and innovative projects.  Vermont has been awarded several TIGER grants for the Vermont Agency of Transportation to restore rail service between Rutland and Burlington.

Further, nonprofits and advocates in Vermont and states across the country are working hard to build and maintain affordable housing to ensure that low- and very low-income families have safe places to live.  Programs like HOME, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), the Housing Trust Fund, and NeighborWorks – all targeted for elimination by the President, yet all supported in this bill – help fill the gaps in funding that communities need to get important construction, renovation and other projects off the ground.  I am pleased that the bill also includes a much-needed increase to the Homelessness Assistance and Emergency Solutions Grants, including $25 million to support rapid rehousing projects to provide housing for victims of domestic violence and to help communities create and implement emergency plans to serve those fleeing domestic violence at home.  No family should ever face the tragic choice between remaining in an abusive home or living on the streets.  

While President Trump promised the American people a sizable investment in our nation’s infrastructure, he has failed to put forward a substantive and workable proposal.  There is a reason our country’s infrastructure has a D rating:  We have failed to invest in it, and as a result, it is crumbling.  While the Chair and Ranking Member did a good job with the resources provided to them, the fact remains that the allocation for this bill is 12 percent below the level it was in fiscal year 2010, and we cannot “Make America Great Again” with these kinds of cuts.  Senator Reed will put forward an amendment today to begin to address the shortfalls in this bill that I intend to support.  

Finally, thank you to Chairman Lankford and Ranking Member Murphy for the good bill you put before us today.  It provides additional funds for the Sergeant at Arms to invest in technology to protect the Senate from cyberattacks, an increase for our Capitol Police who put their lives on the line every day to protect members and staff, and continues our commitment to modernizing the information technology for the Library of Congress, CRS, and the Copyright Office. 

I am particularly pleased that the bill includes the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act.  I introduced this bill last Congress to make non-confidential CRS reports available to the public.  CRS reports are a valuable resource on issues of public policy that affect millions of Americas.  They are funded by taxpayers and should be made available to citizens, schools and libraries across the country.  I applaud the Committee for its commitment to transparency, and I look forward to working with CRS to make this a reality.  

I have a more fulsome statement that I would like to submit for the record.   

Before I conclude my remarks, I want to recognize a member of my staff, Marianne Upton, who will be retiring next week.  While I became Vice Chairman only this year, I have known Marianne for many years through her tremendous work as the Clerk on the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.  She is a true professional, a dedicated public servant, and a consummate Senate staffer.  She has served this institution for more than 20 years, 10 of those years on this Committee.  Marianne, we all thank you for your service to the Senate and the country, and we wish you the best in the next chapter of your life.  

It is my understanding that the Chairman would now like me to make a motion to report the three bills.  

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667