Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On The Fiscal Year 2020 Agreement To Fund The Federal Government

This week we reached a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to fund the federal government in fiscal year 2020.  The agreement rejects the devastating and short-sighted cuts proposed by President Trump, and makes historic investments in the American people and working families. 

It fully implements the bipartisan budget agreement and allows us to invest an additional $27 billion in non-defense programs that will benefit our nation’s children, improve our educational institutions, protect our environment, combat the opioid crisis, promote and grow our economy, invest in our infrastructure, and protect our elections. 

The 12 appropriations bills are packaged into 2 “minibus” appropriations bills.  The first we refer to as the Domestic Minibus bill.  It contains eight appropriations bills:  Agriculture; Energy & Water; Interior; Labor, HHS, and Education; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.   

The Domestic Minibus is a strong, bipartisan bill that makes real and historic investments in the American people and our communities.

It rejects the anti-science know-nothingism of President Trump by making record-level investments in science and research programs—including increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Investments in cutting edge science and research are vital to ensure America leads the way in new technologies, new medical treatments, and breakthrough therapies.

It invests in our children and in education by providing increases to programs with proven success—Head Start, the Child Care Development Block grant, child nutrition programs, 21st Century Learning Grants, Pell Grants, and others.  For the third year in a row, it continues the historic level of funding to combat opioids that we began in fiscal year 2018, funding that is critical for state and local governments who are at the front lines of this fight. 

The agreement provides over $5 billion more than the President requested to protect national parks and public lands and fund critical environmental protection and conservation programs—including increases for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program. 

And notwithstanding the President’s denial that climate change exists, the agreement includes significant resources to combat this threat in the new fiscal year.  We must take action, and we must take action now.  This bill gets us on the right path. 

The agreement rejects the President’s proposal to totally eliminate key federal affordable housing and economic development programs, including the Public Housing Capital Fund, HOME, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and Choice Neighborhoods. 

For the first time in decades, Congress will fund $25 million for gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the NIH.  This funding is a significant step to combat the gun violence epidemic and rash of school shootings facing our nation.  It has been a long time coming, and I am proud we were able to include this funding for the first time since 1996.   

This is a good bill that will improve the lives of Vermonters and millions of Americans, provide support for working families, and support and promote our economy.  In a few moments we will vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to concur.  I urge an AYE vote.     

The second package of bills we refer to as the National Security Minibus bill.  It contains four appropriations bills: Defense; Department of Homeland Security; Commerce, Justice, and Science; and Financial Services. 

This bill provides critical funding to support our troops, invest in our military, and protect our nation from threats, both foreign and domestic. 

Importantly, the agreement includes $425 million for Election Security grants, for which the President requested nothing.  Funding election security grants is a matter of national security, preserving our democracy, and maintaining full faith in our elections.  This funding will build upon funding provided in fiscal year 2018 to continue to help states upgrade election technology, improve cybersecurity, and help prevent future cyberattacks. 

We also fully fund the constitutionally-mandated 2020 Decennial Census.  The Census not only determines congressional apportionment, but also is relied on to distribute $900 billion in federal funds.  It is critical that we get a fair and accurate count, and the money provided in this bill will help us achieve that. 

The agreement makes significant investments to fight crime and terrorism, implement criminal justice reforms, combat violence against women, and keep communities safe from gun violence. 

We provide increases for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Marshals Service, and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  We provide critical support to state and local law enforcement agencies to help keep their communities safe, through increase in popular grant programs such as the Byrne-JAG program, and COPS hiring programs.  

This bill also provides dedicated new funding of $75 million, the fully authorized level, for implementation of the First Step Act - criminal justice reform legislation that was signed into law in December 2018.  The agreement contains roughly $502 million, the highest funding level ever, for Violence Against Women Act grant programs.    

The Security Minibus also contains funding for the Department of Homeland Security. 

Unfortunately the DHS bill, which funds programs and agencies critical to protecting our homeland security, has become a lightning rod for both chambers since President Trump took office.  Since that time we have struggled to draft a bill that could receive the required votes to pass. 

There is one reason and one reason only for this—President Trump’s insistence that we waste taxpayer money on an ineffective and foolish wall on the southern border, and his insistence that we fund his cruel and ineffective immigration policies by increasing beyond reason the number of ICE detention beds we fund.  Last year the President plunged us into a 35-day government shutdown, holding our government hostage when Congress refused to fund his anti-immigrant agenda. 

As in past years, the negotiation over this bill was the most contentious and the most difficult.  But we had to reach a resolution.  Under this bill the President will receive $1.375 billion for barriers on the Southern border, the same amount he would have received if DHS ended up operating under a continuing resolution for the year, far less than the $8.6 billion he requested, $5 billion of which would have come from the Department of Homeland Security.    

I would have preferred no funding for the wall.  President Trump’s wall will negatively impact communities in which it is built, rob people of their property—in some cases ranches and farmland that have been in families for generations—and destroy critical habitat on the border.  But the Republicans were clear:  They would not support a bill that contained zero for the wall.  They stood with the President on the wall, as they seem to do time after time.   

I am disappointed that we did not further restrict the President’s ability to steal money from our troops to pay for the wall.  If the President decides to once again steal money from our troops and their families for the wall, he will have to answer in court and to the American people.  Our position on this is clear—it is wrong.  No one should interpret silence in this bill or the Domestic Minibus on this issue as condoning the President’s actions, or as an agreement that what he has done is lawful.  It simply reflects a sad political reality that the Republican Party refuses to stand up to this President and protect the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, and clarify the law.

One court has already correctly concluded that the President’s raid on military construction money was unlawful.  That conclusion is based on a long-standing provision of appropriations law, Section 739 of the Financial Services bill, that prevents the Administration from increasing funds for a program or activity requested in the budget above and beyond what was provided in an appropriations act.  This provision is included again in the underlying bill, and we believe it was correctly interpreted.         

We denied the President’s request to increase the number of ICE detention beds to 54,000.  This request was cruel and unjustified.  Instead, we provided funding to support the same level of beds as fiscal year 2019.  There is no need for a higher number. 

President Trump is misusing ICE detention facilities for the mass incarceration of asylum seekers and immigrants who have no criminal history and pose no threat to our communities.  There are more effective, less expensive, and more humane ways to enforce our immigration laws while immigrants go through judicial proceedings.  That is why I fought for and secured a significant increase in alternatives to detention, like the Family Case Management program. 

I also fought to include restrictions on the President’s ability to increase the bed number by transferring money from other accounts.  But again, Republicans stood with the President and refused to negotiate on this issue, and those critical reforms were not included. 

Not every part of the DHS bill is controversial, however.  The bill provides critical funding for the Coast Guard to support their missions to keep our country safe.  It provides an increase for the Transportation Security Administration, which ensures our safety and security at our nation’s busy airports.  And it provides increased funding for FEMA whose mission is critical for communities struggling to recover in the wake of natural disasters. 

While I do not agree with everything included in this bill, on balance the Security Minibus provides funding important to keep our nation safe, to support our troops, to improve election security, and ensure an accurate count for the census.  Later today we will turn to this bill, and I urge an AYE vote.  

I want to thank Chairman Shelby for his hard work in negotiating these bills.  The hours were long, and we did not always agree, but he worked in good faith to reach resolution on difficult matters, and he made compromises necessary to get us to a deal.  I thank him for his leadership on the Appropriations Committee and his friendship.  

I thank the Appropriations Committee staff on both sides of the aisle, for their hard work and sleepless nights.  We could not have accomplished this without them.  I am impressed by their professionalism and dedication to the Senate.

I want to thank my full committee staff - Charles Kieffer, Chanda Betourney, Jessica Berry, Jay Tilton, and Hannah Chauvin, for their work, as well as Shannon Hines, Jonathan Graffeo, and David Adkins on Senator Shelby’s staff.  And I thank all the subcommittee and non-designated staff.  The list is long and impressive, and I ask unanimous consent that it be included in the record.