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Public Statements

Default Prevention Act of 2013 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, the distinguished Presiding Officer is, like myself, a New Englander and knows what fall is like in our part of the country. Late last month, I was fortunate to enjoy the most lovely settings I think can be found anywhere at any time, as Vermont's hillsides are painted orange, yellow, and red by peak fall colors set against powder blue skies. Vermonters love these sublime few weeks. We happily welcome visitors around the United States. Actually, we welcome visitors from around the world. It is interesting to walk down the streets in some of our cities and hear several different languages being spoken as visitors come here. They share the experience, and they hike and bike and fish, and they hunt in our extensive preserved natural areas.

But these best of times have become the worst of times, as Vermonters and visitors alike have found closed signs on their favorite natural areas due to the tea party shutdown of the Federal Government. The window is quickly closing in Vermont for the Fish and Wildlife biologists and national forest rangers who have work that must be done before the first snow falls. We know how Washington can close down for an inch or two of snow. In Vermont, we are talking about 10, 15, or 20 inches of snow. These Fish and Wildlife biologists and national forest rangers' schedules are dictated by the changing seasons and the biological clocks of nature. The House Republican leadership has been no more able to undo the law of the land--which is the Affordable Care Act--than they would be able to slow or stop Vermont's changing seasons.

Insisting on tying a repeal or a defunding of the Affordable Care Act to reopening the government is doing real and lasting damage to Vermont's economy and natural resources as fall quickly becomes winter.

The 26,000-acre Nulhegan national wildlife refuge in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom is among the best upland bird hunting areas in New England. There is plenty of room for everyone, but just days after the opening of grouse season, the refuge has been forced to hang up a closed sign and lock its gates. This has dealt a blow to the tourism economy of the small towns around the refuge that depend on these annual visitors and hunters.

The Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge on the shores of Lake Champlain is, without a doubt, the best and most extensive freshwater duck habitat in New England. Huge meadows of wild rice attract thousands of migrating waterfowl and legions of bird watchers and hunters. Even with the fall migrations in full swing, the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge has hung up a closed sign and locked its gates for the start of the fall hunting season.

Hikers looking for the best panoramic views of Vermont's fall colors flock to the Appalachian Trail and Vermont's Long Trail which run together up the spine of the Green Mountains, through the 400,000-acre Green Mountain National Forest. Through-hikers, weekenders, and day trippers spread out to enjoy hundreds of miles of trails. But only a skeleton crew of forest rangers and fire crew remain on the job. Visitors centers and restrooms are closed; even volunteer workers have been pulled from the trail and forced to stop shelter work and trash collection at trailheads because of the tea party shutdown.

These may not seem like huge matters in the national scheme of things, but in a State of 600,000 people they are major. Not only are the livelihoods of Vermonters being devastated, but the things that we cherish the most about our State are being denied to people who want to come and see them.

Woodstock, VT, is the quintessential New England village and host to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. The centerpiece of the park is the oldest sustainably managed forest in the United States. It is a beautiful forest. But visitors are denied access to this forest in all of its fall glory. Long-planned events at the park have been canceled and the gates have been locked.

Certainly there are many more places for visitors to enjoy--this has been a wonderful picture-perfect season. I am told by my friends and neighbors who live near our home in Vermont that it has been absolutely gorgeous. As much as I love all my colleagues and enjoy being with them, I would much rather be up there seeing the same view as Vermonters are. But the closing of our Federal lands, just as hunting seasons begin and the hillsides shine, is depriving Americans from experiencing the country's natural heritage and causing serious economic damage to the small towns, and the innkeepers and guides who depend upon these areas for their living. Foreign tourists, increasingly important to our economy, and their tour operators, are confused and disappointed by these outcomes. They say: this sort of thing has never happened in our country and yet you are the wealthiest and most powerful country on the earth; why are you doing this?

Other conservation work is being curtailed, as well, in ways likely to do lasting damage. Control of parasitic sea lamprey in Lake Champlain has to be accomplished each fall to protect the game fish and threatened species. There is a very short window when the sea lamprey treatments can be applied before these parasites migrate from the rivers to the lake. That window is fast closing. It is going to be missed if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists remain on furlough. If these fall treatments do not take place, thousands of young sea lamprey will be allowed to reach the lake, where they are immune to treatment, live for years, and devastate the fishery. This will undo years of work, and taxpayer dollars invested in this program will be wasted by a small group of radical obstructionists who jump in front of the cameras and say things that make no sense at all.

In Vermont and across the country, there is a lot of work that needs to take place on Federal lands before winter snows sweep in. Snowmobiling is very popular among my constituents. It is a mainstay of our winter economy. But fall is the time the trails are graded and bridges repaired. Our most important trail networks are on Federal lands, and important maintenance is being delayed--deferred in some cases--due to the tea party shutdown. If trails are not opened before the snow flies, the devastating impact on tourism and local communities is going to last all winter long and impact people who want to go to work every day, who are hard-working, honest, good people who can't understand what is happening here in Washington.

Fall in Vermont is the most glorious season. It is my favorite one. We welcome visitors. We get outdoors more ourselves, and are busy preparing for the long winter to come. Our hard-working Federal partners are proud of the work they do on these Federal lands, and they know this manufactured tea party crisis is causing real and lasting damage to our natural resources and the Vermont economy.

National parks and refuges in Vermont are not the only places closed for business. According to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, every day the Federal Government is shuttered costs the National Park Service nearly $ 1/2 million in lost fee collections nationwide. And the impacts are even greater for the surrounding communities that are losing $76 million per day in visitor spending. While some in the tea party actually have the arrogance to go on television and argue that shutting down the Federal Government is saving us money, the truth is just the opposite. It is costing every one of us taxpayers money, and it is costing everybody in the private sector huge amounts of money. And now, as we reach day 15 of the tea party shutdown, the National Park Service has been denied over $6 million in lost revenues, and local communities--not government workers, but local communities--honest, hard-working men and women have lost over $1 billion.

This is why several States have chosen to foot the bill to reopen a handful of national parks to stop further losses to local economies. The cost of shutting down the government, paying the lost revenue--that is what is keeping us in the red.

So I say to the small group of obstructionists, stop wasting time. Put our government back to work. Show the rest of the world that we really are the great country we know we are. I want to get back to work for Vermonters; we owe it to our constituents to resolve this now and start making real decisions about our future.

Speaker Boehner should call up the Senate continuing resolution for a vote. It would receive bipartisan support, and we could put an end to this pointless tea party shutdown. We would reopen our Federal lands. We would be supporting our local economy.

There is more I can say, Mr. President, and I will, but I applaud Majority Leader Reid for working with the Republican leader, Senator McConnell. I applaud them for being what grownups should be, trying to bring us back and trying to bring our government back, showing what a great country we are so we do not have countries such as China saying: Oh, we should not rely on American currency. They are not reliable people.

We are getting this all over the world--Americans are not reliable. What damage these tea party obstructionists are doing to our great country. We ask our military to serve around the world and protect us--and maybe they will get paid, but a lot of the support for them, the VA and whatnot, is being closed down. It is shameful. The same people who shut down the government are saying it is terrible that the government is shut down. I think the American people can see through this.

I don't care what party you belong to or who you are, with the exemption of a small group, people know this country has to be open so it can work--can work for all of us--and can project an image of strength and stability throughout the world, can do the things that made us great in the past and that will keep making us great in the future, not this shabby exercise.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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