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Default Prevention Act of 2013 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, I hope the country listens to what the senior Senator from Illinois has said about the ramifications of this shutdown. This is not a political exercise. This is not a bumper sticker thing. This is hitting every single family, every single person in America. It doesn't make a difference whether they are Democrats, Republicans or Independents. It is going to hurt and hurt badly. Whether you are saving money for your child to go to college, to put away for your retirement or are paying bills for an illness, all of us are going to be impacted. So I thank the distinguished senior Senator from Illinois for those comments.

Madam President, on this 12th day of being paralyzed by this unnecessary shutdown, there are real results that will come about because of it. I have given several examples on the floor about how Vermonters are suffering due to this tea party shutdown. And I am sure the distinguished Presiding Officer probably has similar examples from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or others as well.

Earlier this year I worked with Senator Crapo, a Republican from Idaho, to build the support we needed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act--VAWA--and I was proud when both the Senate and House passed the legislation with strong bipartisan votes and the President signed it. We put our differences aside--and we are philosophically very different--to help the people we serve, whether they are in Idaho, Vermont, Massachusetts or anywhere else. We sent a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated. We put the needs of victims first when we promised rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters they would have the resources they need to keep their doors open and to keep their 24-hour hotlines staffed. But now we are here in October, which marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and so many of the lifesaving programs we put in this legislation are caught in the crossfire of the tea party shutdown.

Today, as Federal funds are being held hostage by the tea party shutdown, we are starting to see the real toll of this brinkmanship. In Franklin County, VT, a northwestern county in our State, advocates were hopeful when they learned a new grant would allow one staff person to help victims of LGBT domestic assault in that rural region. Of course, this hope has given way to frustration because the funds promised on October 1 did not come through due to the shutdown.

Barre City, Vermont, is the town where my father was born. It has a population of 9,200. In Barre City, the police force has furloughed two half-time detectives who were providing 24/7 coverage for special responses to domestic violence cases. They were also providing critical training for their colleagues on how to answer these challenging calls.

I was a prosecutor in Vermont, and I saw how terrible these domestic violence cases could be, and they occur in every State. I would bet that every single State can give an example of what this shutdown has meant, the same as Barre, VT.

There is a long list of programs funded with VAWA grants that continue to provide services to victims--and incur the related costs--based on the hope they might be reimbursed once funding is restored. Meanwhile, the tea party says maybe the check will be in the mail. They have no choice because despite what the tea party might think, when you close the spigot of funding, it doesn't mean the victims go away.

I still have nightmares of some of these scenes I saw at 3 o'clock in the morning when I was a prosecutor. They are still occurring. We can at least cut way back on them and help people in America.

But I also want to know what is going to happen to victims and their children when the money for WIC and the TANF programs runs dry. We know many victims of domestic violence have to rely on this support when they leave their abusers. In the past they had to stick with their abusers because they had to feed their children. Now at least they have a lifeline out there. If you combine that with the impending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program the tea party wants, I wonder whether this is going to cause these victims and their children to stay in the homes of the abusers just so the children can be fed. That is shameful.

This is America. This is America. All of these tea party members get paid. They are getting paid today. They get their expenses. They get their staff. They can fly back and forth. They can go on television and all of that. They are not facing this abuse or the question of how they feed their children.

Kris Luken, director of Voices Against Violence in St. Albans, VT, says the uncertainty is the hardest part, both for her agency and for the victims it serves. At the end of last week, the first of the tea party shutdown, she said:

We are fielding a lot of calls from survivors who don't know how they are going to make ends meet. People just don't know what the impact will be.

So you get abused first by whoever the abuser is, and now you are going to get abused by this tea party shutdown. In these difficult economic times, it is more important than ever to ensure that our safety net is in place. We cannot turn our backs on these families--that is not who we are as a country.

When we reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act this year, we included provisions to specifically address the high rate of domestic and sexual violence experienced by Native American women. Sadly, this shutdown disproportionately affects that already vulnerable population. Tribal lands rely heavily on Federal funding and one tribal domestic violence shelter in South Dakota has lost 90 percent of its funding. That shelter is at capacity and the loss of funds means victims are being turned away. They are left with no place to turn. That is simply unconscionable.

The District of Columbia's Sexual Assault Nurse's program relies on Federal funds to provide necessary medical assistance to rape victims, including rape kits. Absent emergency funding which will soon dry up unless we end this foolish shutdown, rape kit examinations will cease, leaving victims without the specialized care they deserve and the DNA evidence they need to prosecute and convict their rapists.

Let's end the uncertainty. Let's end the shutdown and fulfill our promises to the people we are here to represent.

The continuing resolution passed by the Senate--a resolution which, after all, was asked for by the House of Representatives and was a compromise with them--could end this stalemate. The leadership in the House of Representatives should have the courage to bring it to a vote--the courage not necessarily for their own political needs but the courage for the needs of America.

Madam President, I yield the floor.


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