SOUTH BURLINGTON — Sen. Patrick Leahy cited his role Thursday in obtaining a federal budget agreement that secured funding for key Vermont programs, an effort that drew praise from Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
Speaking at Burlington International Airport upon his return to Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee said he was proud to have worked across the aisle to save programs that had been threatened by the Trump administration.
“The weeks leading up to Christmas were pretty hectic,” Leahy said, adding that the committee had worked well into the night for many days in a row to come up with the $1.4 trillion bipartisan funding package that averted a government shutdown.
Among the items in the bipartisan package that Leahy said would benefit Vermonters around the state was a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would lower the cost of generic drugs.
The legislation would prevent brand name pharmaceutical companies from using “predatory tactics” to block generic drug manufacturers from producing medicines at a lower cost. It would also allow for generic drug companies to sue for access to samples of brand name drugs. The result, Leahy said, would be a reduction in the cost of generic drugs by increasing market competition.
“They had blocked that for years,” Leahy said. “We decided to put in the appropriations bill, and it passed.”
Leahy said the bill would save the federal government $4 billion over 10 years, but consumers across the country and Vermont would save “billions and billions more.”
The Vermont Democrat also touted a successful effort to secure funding to address climate change.
“The president’s administration says there’s no such thing as climate change,” he said. “Every Vermonter knows there is.”
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Since becoming vice chair of the appropriations committee, Leahy said he has been fighting for increased funding for climate research to be conducted in Vermont, and funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s geographic program for the Lake Champlain Basin.
President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal called for elimination of the program, but Leahy was able to secure $13 million for it, a $2 million increase over last year.
Another climate-related effort threatened by the Trump administration was the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps more than 25,000 Vermonters heat their homes in the winter. The program was slated to be eliminated, but Leahy helped to secure more than $20 million for LIHEAP.
“Maybe if you are a resident of Mar-a-Lago in Florida you don’t worry about the cold,” Leahy said. “We have to make sure that we have people in these northern areas where it does get so cold they don’t have to make a choice of whether they eat or they heat.”
Leahy also praised a $25 million program of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to research gun violence. In a statement ahead of his press conference, he said this funding would eliminate a decades-old “Republican-enforced ban on funding gun violence research.”
Leahy also mentioned funding victories for research at the University of Vermont, increased funding for the Northern Border Regional Commission, addressing the challenges of the Waterbury Reservoir’s dam and $30 million announced on Monday for a new facility at the Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho.
The Vermont senator also addressed the impeachment battle that is unfolding on Capitol Hill.
On Monday, Leahy had an op ed in the New York Times that called on his Senate colleagues to serve the Constitution, not the president or their party, when considering two articles of impeachment adotped by the House.
Leahy wrote about his concerns with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying he is “not an impartial juror” amid reports that McConnell has been coordinating with the White House on the president;s planned defense.
He also said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Judiciary Committee is “not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here,” and called on all senators to remain true to their oaths of office.
During the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, Leahy said, “Democrats or Republicans did not coordinate with the White House.”
“Bill Clinton was a friend of mine and I was not about to call him up and say ‘What do we do?’” he said.
Leahy also called on Trump to allow the testimony of acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who acknowledged there had been a quid pro quo in the Ukraine deal during a press conference and told reporters to “get over it.”
When asked if he feared that Trump’s behavior would worsen if acquitted by the Senate, Leahy said, “I never thought a president of the United States would tell his people, who have obviously been involved in a crime, ‘You’re not allowed to testify.’ I don’t know how you get worse than that.”
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In response to a question about reports that investigators are considering interviewing Leahy about his role in Vermont’s troubled EB-5 investor program, the senator said, “I’m happy to talk to anyone.”
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