Leahy says shutdown fight encouraged him to stay in office

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., addresses reporters in his Burlington office on Thursday morning. Photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., addresses reporters in his Burlington office on Thursday morning. Photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — After casting his vote to end the government shutdown Wednesday evening, Sen. Patrick Leahy promptly boarded a plane, arriving in Vermont after midnight. At a news conference in his Burlington office the following morning, Leahy made clear his relief at having left Washington behind.

But the shutdown debacle, prompted when House Republicans attempted to use the budget bill to delay implementation of Obamacare, has, if anything, renewed Leahy’s conviction that he belongs in Congress — and that the institution depends on lawmakers like him.

Throughout the standoff, the nation’s senior-most senator made several speeches comparing Tea Party Republicans to children bickering in a sandbox, and Thursday he again bemoaned the deficit of “grown-ups” in Washington.

Asked if he would seek re-election to a dysfunctional Congress in 2016, Leahy responded, “At the end of yesterday, I was thinking, I probably should, just to try to have some more grown-ups down there.”

Don’t expect an announcement one way or the other until 2015, Leahy said, but, “if I had to make the decision today, of course I’d run again.”

“And,” he added, “I’d win.

“I don’t mean that to be arrogant,” Leahy said. “I think I’d win based on what I’ve accomplished for Vermont. A billion dollars worth of jobs I’ve brought into the state, the environmental work I’ve done in the state, social programs I’ve brought to the state.”

The 11th-hour shutdown deal forced Leahy to miss a state Chamber of Commerce event honoring him as “citizen of the year” for bringing jobs to Vermont, http://vtdigger.wpengine.com/2013/09/05/vermont-chamber-names-leahy-citizen-of-the-year/ and Leahy mentioned several times how disappointed he was not to have attended it. “If there’s one thing I did not want to miss this year it was that dinner with all my friends.”

Leahy, elected to the Senate in 1974, reminisced about a more amicable Congress when senators hashed out differences during the evening hours or over breakfast. He said he’s been calling a number of retired Democratic and Republican leaders, who corroborated his opinion that congressional operations have indeed changed.

“They are just stunned,” Leahy said, but he insists that the shutdown hasn’t shaken his faith in the institution.

“Yeah, it’s harder. Am I less proud of the institution? No.”

Leahy said he’s hopeful Congress will be able to pass a Farm Bill — he sits on the conference committee that will attempt to reconcile significant differences between the House and Senate versions — before the end of the year.

And he still thinks “we can go somewhere with the immigration reform,” which passed the Senate, but has sat dormant in the House.

Even amidst the shutdown, Leahy said he’s been holding “quiet meetings” with House Republicans and Democrats on both topics.

But asked if the country could end up back in the same scenario if Democrats and Republicans fail to meet the new deadlines — punted several months down the road — for passing a budget and raising the debt ceiling, Leahy offered no reassurances.

“We could be,” he said.

Alicia Freese

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