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Leahy Says New Bipartisan Budget Deal Saves Funding For Critical Vermont Programs

Manuel Balce Ceneta
Associated Press
Sen. Patrick Leahy, right, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York at a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday to discuss the bipartisan agreement to fund the government.

Sen. Patrick Leahy says a new budget agreement in Congress will preserve funding for many important Vermont programs for the rest of the federal fiscal year.The senator says he's optimistic that the proposal will serve as a blueprint for budget deliberations over next year's budget.

As the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy played a key role in hammering out a compromise plan with his Republican colleagues.

For the most part, the agreement rejects many of the budget recommendations of the Trump administration, which called for deep cuts in many domestic programs.

The deal maintains funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and a variety of agriculture and community development grant programs.

Leahy says he fought to maintain funding for water quality issues, as well as for Planned Parenthood and for an energy assistance program for low-income people.

"I used, obviously, my position to put in the money for Lake Champlain, put in the money for women's health, put in money for LIHEAP [the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program]. These are things that mean a lot to me," said Leahy.

The Trump administration also wanted several billion dollars as a down-payment on the construction of wall along the Mexican border. Leahy says the deal allocates more money for border security, but no funds for the wall.

"I used, obviously, my position to put in the money for Lake Champlain, put in the money for women's health, put in money for LIHEAP. These are things that mean a lot to me." — Sen. Patrick Leahy

“One thing I can tell you, Vermonters don't care about is spending U.S. tax dollars on a wall just to fulfill a campaign promise that Donald Trump made," said Leahy, "especially when the taxpayers are going to have to pay $25 to $40 billion for a wall that won't accomplish anything." 

Leahy says he's hopeful that the bi-partisan negotiations over this agreement will carry over into deliberations on next year's federal budget. He's encouraged that many Republicans support the approach taken with this bill.

"They realize they're going to be held accountable next year and that a lot of taxpayers in both parties don't want money spent on some of the things that Donald Trump had talked about," said Leahy.

Meanwhile, all three members of Vermont's Congressional delegation are opposed to the president's new tax reform package.

The proposal would reduce both individual and corporate tax rates, and it also eliminates both the inheritance tax and the alternative minimum tax.

"This tax plan by Donald Trump actually extremely intensifies income inequality. The benefits go ... very much toward very, very high income folks." — Rep. Peter Welch

Congressman Peter Welch says most of the president's plan is designed to lower tax burdens on wealthy people and big corporations.

"This tax plan by Donald Trump actually extremely intensifies income inequality,” said Welch. “The benefits go largely to international corporations and goes very much toward very, very high income folks.”  

The Trump administration argues that the cost of their multi-billion dollar plan will be offset by strong growth in the national economy. Welch says that approach is unrealistic.

"The evidence that's out there says you can't give something away for nothing, and that's essentially what these tax cuts do," said Welch. "I mean, that's bogus."

Sen. Leahy says many Democrats will refuse to consider the tax plan until President Trump releases his own tax returns.

"We've never ever seen Donald Trump's tax return. How do we know this program they have [proposed] wouldn't be just a benefit to billionaires like him?" said Leahy.  

In a written statement, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, "At a time when we have a rigged economy designed to benefit the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations, President Trump's new tax plan would only make that system worse."

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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