Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On The President's FY 18 Funding Request For The Department Of Health And Human Services

Thank you, Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray, for holding this important hearing today, and for the opportunity to make a few brief remarks. 

Secretary Price, welcome to the Appropriations Committee.  I appreciate you reaching out to my office prior to this hearing, and I am sorry that given the schedule of the week, we were unable to connect.     

The purview of the Department of Health and Human Services is wide in scope and touches the lives of every American.  But, as with other departments, the proposed budget for the Department of Health and Human Services is abysmal.  It would undermine the Department’s very mission to protect the health and wellbeing of Americans.  Instead of investing in programs that help support the middle class and lift up the most vulnerable among us, this budget eviscerates them.  This budget fails to serve our values and interests as a nation.

The budget submission from the Department of Health and Human Services would reduce discretionary spending by nearly $8 billion – that is a 12 percent cut. This includes cuts to virtually every agency under HHS, including a 17 percent cut to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 21 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health, and a 23 percent cut to mental health programs in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  This budget also targets women’s health by discriminating against providers that serve low-income women, and by eliminating funding for teen pregnancy prevention.  And it would leave people in the cold, by eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — a program thousands of Vermont families depend upon year after year.

As if these cuts were not bad enough, this budget also assumes savings from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and deep cuts to the Medicaid program. 

From what I understand, Republicans are working hard, behind closed doors, to make this campaign promise a reality.  What they are not doing, however, is having the type of open, collaborative process that we had when passing the Affordable Care Act — a process they criticized for seven years for not being open enough.  Now, they want to put a bill, that no one has seen, on the floor and to a vote in the next few weeks.  This is absurd and no way to enact legislation that affects one-sixth of our economy and the ability of millions of Americans to afford and access health insurance and the health care they need.     

Since there is no Senate bill that we can discuss, let me take a few moments to talk about the House-passed bill, which was celebrated by this administration when it passed.  A non-partisan analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office says it will cause 23 million Americans who currently have coverage to lose it.  Many of these losses are through the Medicaid program, which would be fundamentally changed in order to pay for the tax cuts included in the package.  The CBO also said that the language in the bill related to preexisting conditions would make it harder for many people to purchase coverage.       

Secretary Price, as a doctor, you surely understand the importance of being able to afford health care.  I hope you have never had to turn away a patient who could not afford treatment.  But I meet with Vermont doctors regularly and they tell me that they remember the days when patients would feel a lump, but would not go to the doctor because they could not afford care.   The medical professionals I work with do not want to go back to those days.  And that is why virtually every health care association in the United States has opposed Trumpcare. 

The best way to create a “foundation for greatness,” as the Trump budget claims it will do, is to continue to support programs that lift people up instead of pulling the rug from under them.  I will oppose efforts to cut millions off health insurance, which will do nothing to improve health care in this country.  And as Vice Chairman of this Committee, I will work to craft a budget that truly puts Americans first.  I look forward to working with the other members of this Committee, on both sides of the aisle, who I believe also want to fulfill that goal. 

# # # # #

CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667