Editor’s note: This is the statement made on the Senate floor on Monday, by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the possible shutdown of the United States government.
I am disappointed that a small group of extremists continue to insist on shutting down the federal government, placing their own political agenda ahead of the good of the country. The obsession with defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act, which will continue to be implemented in the event of a government shutdown, is out of touch and it poses serious threats for our economy and for the well-being of thousands of hardworking federal employees and those who rely on important government services.
Defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act will do nothing to solve our fiscal troubles. In fact, some repeals sought by House Republicans will add $30 billion to our national deficit. It is a shame that some members who claim to be concerned about wasteful spending are willing to throw away the billions of dollars that a government shutdown will cost, all simply to prevent access to affordable health care for Americans.
We have seen this before, in 1995 and 1996, when a handful of Republicans turned a looming debt limit crisis into a political standoff with President Clinton that led to a shutdown of the government for three weeks. It is now happening again, as some Republicans seek to gain political advantage over President Obama. Continuing operation of our government’s responsibilities to its citizens is too important to be sacrificed for partisan political advantage.
What was once the regular business of Congress has again been replaced by another artificial crisis that threatens the economy and every single Vermont family. If an unnecessary and avoidable shutdown occurs, nutrition programs no longer will provide Vermonters and vulnerable women and children across the country with food, health care referrals and nutrition education. Our nation’s housing recovery will be put at risk if the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is forced to withhold loan guarantees, preventing homeowners in Vermont from using an FHA mortgage to buy a home. Vermonters looking to apply for a small business loan will have nowhere to turn. Roads and workplaces will go uninspected. Lifesaving medical research at the National Institutes of Health will be put on hold. The list goes on.
The effect of a government shutdown on law enforcement operations is also significant. Agencies like the FBI are already strapped for resources due to sequestration and the general budget environment. According to the Washington Post, FBI Director James Comey learned from his field agents across the country that funding was so limited that agents were left unable to put gas in their cars and training for new recruits has ceased. Agents are unable to build anti-fraud cases at a time when incidents of mortgage and investment fraud are on the rise, and staffing constraints have meant fewer cases opened overall and slower hiring throughout the bureau. The needless shutdown of the federal government will only compound an already challenging situation and make the job of law enforcement more difficult.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s shutdown plan, staffing at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center will go from 1,074 employees to 61. This means that all training for federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement officers will cease immediately. Last year, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center trained nearly 70,000 people. The Department of Homeland Security would be compelled to reduce staffing at the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office from 115 employees to six. This office plays an important role coordinating nuclear detection efforts among federal, state, local, and international governmental entities.
In the event of a shutdown the Department of Justice will have to tap into reserve funds to continue effectively administering grants, training and technical assistance through the Office on Violence Against Women, the Office of Justice Program and the Community Oriented Policing Services Office. Once those funds are exhausted, federal personnel whose funding has lapsed will discontinue training for state and local law enforcement to promote the effective identification and prosecution of crimes, including domestic violence and sexual assault.
The partisan brinksmanship in 2011 that led to the downgrade of our national creditworthiness should be a cautionary tale that convinces all Americans that the risks of a government shutdown and ideological impasses to them, to interest rates, to financial markets, and to our household budgets are too great.
There is too much in the country and around the world of tremendous importance that demands our attention. Instead of helping Americans get back to work and stimulating the economy, House Republicans are intent on playing dangerous political games that do nothing but weaken America and harm Americans. This is wrong and I hope those who have set this course will reconsider before more damage is done.
Our constituents elect us to lead, not to play bumper sticker politics. It erodes Americans’ confidence in their elected officials when we continue to bring the government to the brink in every debate. Congress has a real opportunity to reject the slogans, the politicking, and the influence of pressure groups, and show real leadership. That is what we have done in the past, and what we must do now and in the future