Providing for Consideration of H.R. Consumers First Act; Providing for Consideration of H.R. Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of Providing for Proceedings During the Period From May Through May and for Other Purposes

Floor Speech

Date: May 21, 2019
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume, and I want to thank my friend from Colorado for yielding me the customary 30 minutes.

It is a close-knit bunch of folks up there on the Rules Committee, Madam Speaker. If you have not been by recently, you ought to come by. There are only 13 of us there. It is easy to remember everybody's name, but you don't go to the Rules Committee when you have important bipartisan legislation to bring to the House floor. You go to the suspension calendar for that.

You go to the Rules Committee when you have contentious pieces of legislation to bring to the floor. I regret that we are here today on things that are absolutely contentious that could have been absolutely partnership bills.

I want to reference first H.R. 1500. That is the bill my friend from Colorado spoke about as it relates to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He is absolutely right. The way this Congress set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when Democrats were running this institution and President Obama was in the White House was to make it a completely administration-driven agency with no accountability to Congress whatsoever. That was a mistake.

But the folks who set it up liked the team that was running it at the time, and so our efforts in the minority to stop that from happening were rebuffed. Now we are here today, Madam Speaker, and you might think that we have a list of legislative fixes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Not so.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of H.R. 1500 just to see what those fixes might be. It is a 40-page bill. You have to get to page 21 before accusations and assertions against former Director Mick Mulvaney end, and the important work, like changing the way we reference the agency by name, begins.

I don't have any language today. No amendments were offered in the Rules Committee last night, Madam Speaker, to talk about all of the things that former Director Cordray did while he was there. The list of things that he did that I don't like are long. The list of things that he did that I thought violated the actual text of the law is pretty long.

But he is gone, and we have the ability to fix anything we want to fix that he did. So no amendments were offered to impugn the integrity of the former director. Well, not the former director, Mr. Cordray; but the former director, Mick Mulvaney, yes, acting director. There are 21 pages of a 40-page bill dedicated to personal attacks on the former director.

Madam Speaker, if we wanted to do something about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that brought its authority out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and right back here to where it belongs in Article I, we would make this agency subject to congressional appropriations. This is a bipartisan issue.

If you want to find something that we agree on as an institution, let's talk about making Article I the lawmaker in this country, rather than Article II. Let's talk about taking it out of the White House's hands and putting it back into the people's hands on Capitol Hill. You will not find that idea in these pages.

It is a disappointment because we could be doing something in partnership. Standing for consumers is a shared value, not a divisive one.

I go now to the bill coming out of the Ways and Means Committee, H.R. 1994. Madam Speaker, as my friend from Colorado referenced, this bill passed unanimously out of the Ways and Means Committee. Unanimously.

Take a look at the men and women on the Ways and Means Committee. I think there are 42 of them. These are not shrinking violets on the Ways and Means Committee. I see a couple of them out here. I won't call anybody out by name--Mr. Panetta--but they are not shrinking violets on this committee. These are serious public policy advocates who represent very diverse parts of the country and who fight hard for the values that their constituents represent.

Unanimously, they came together as a committee, Madam Speaker, to change the rules for retirement, to make it easier for families to save; to change the rules around college savings plans so that families who ran into challenges in secondary years, families whose kids develop special needs and might not be going on to college, but who have very real needs today, to allow those dollars to be tapped by those families to serve the educational needs of their children.

Unanimously it passed the committee. In fact, I will read from the committee report. This is not something that was done lightly in committee, Madam Speaker. We are talking about hundreds of pages of legislation, hundreds of pages of a committee report. This was a thoughtfully designed and crafted piece of legislation.

The committee said this:

The committee believes that expanding 529 plans will help families save for education expenses that meet each family's unique needs.

We run into that problem often, Madam Speaker. We try to do something that is good for America, and it turns out that 330 million Americans have different needs and priorities. So the Ways and Means avoided a one-size-fits-all solution, recognizing those unique needs. I will read on.

The committee says:

By allowing tax-free distributions for apprenticeship expenses, homeschooling expenses, student loan repayments, elementary and secondary expenses, in addition to tuition, families can customize the use of their education savings to make education more affordable.

We didn't read that on the headline of any major newspaper when the Ways and Means passed that unanimously. I am sure there was something in the headlines of that major newspaper about wars in foreign lands. I am sure there was something in the newspaper that day about partisan politics and how folks were poking each other with sharp rhetorical sticks.

There was not a word about how the men and women of the people's House on the Ways and Means Committee came together unanimously, not because it wasn't hard to craft solutions. It is hard to craft solutions, but they came together unanimously on consensus language to move out of committee.

It sounds like I am going to tell a story with a happy ending, Madam Speaker, and I should be. This should be a story about how we get things done, but what happened last night that you also won't see on the front page of the paper is, we took this consensus product that was passed unanimously by Republicans and Democrats, and we took it up there to the Rules Committee.

On a straight party-line vote, we ripped out all of the language protecting families who were trying to help their children at home; children who may not be getting everything they need through the public schools and so they get additional education at home; families that may have opted out of the public school system because they couldn't get what their children need, and they are homeschooling their children.

This language that was agreed upon unanimously in a bipartisan way, was ripped out in a party-line vote in the Rules Committee last night. We will never vote on it in this Chamber, Madam Speaker.

The Ways and Means Committee in a long committee report, long committee language, they deliberated over this language and concluded that the right thing to do was to help all American families. But somewhere between that unanimous vote in committee and late last night in the Rules Committee, the decision came down from on high--and by on high I do mean your side of the aisle, Madam Speaker, because when you sit in the Speaker's chair, you have that kind of authority. The Rules Committee is, in fact, the Speaker's committee--that said we are going to rip this language out.

We offered an amendment last night. And I think it is only right that folks come to sit here to watch the people's business. They think that we are going to operate a transparent building here, and we work very hard to do that.

We offered an amendment last night in the Rules Committee to allow a simple vote of the people's House on this provision. If you don't like parents supplementing their students' education at home, so be it. I don't understand it, but so be it. But let's have a vote on it here just like they did in the Ways and Means Committee. On a party-line basis, the amendment to allow the people's House to have a vote on this provision was defeated.

You might not have noticed it when the Reading Clerk was reading, Madam Speaker. I don't want to tell you how long that took to read. We have a lot of things packaged in this bill. You will have to go all the way down to the 12th section of the rule, and the important words are: modified by the amendment printed in part B of the Rules Committee report, modified by part B of the amendment printed in the Rules Committee report.

I will translate that for you, Madam Speaker. That means with no vote of this institution whatsoever and with no consultation or input from the Ways and Means Committee that crafted this legislation, we are going to revoke all benefits that would have gone to families who cannot find the services they need outside the home and, thus, are paying for those services inside the home.

Representative Mitchell came to the Rules Committee to testify on this amendment last night, Madam Speaker. He said that his family is blessed enough to have the financial resources to take care of their special needs family member. But he talked about all the American families who he has met in his district--the Speaker has them in her district; the gentleman from Colorado has them in his district; and I have them in my district--who don't have the financial means and who don't have that sense of security.

The Ways and Means Committee in its wisdom unanimously said let's provide that security to American families. The Rules Committee in an error in judgment repealed it because six Members voted ``yes'' last night. That is all it took. All it took to silence an institution of 435, Madam Speaker, was six Members voting to include this one seemingly innocuous line that disadvantages families and children all across this Nation.

It is another missed opportunity, Madam Speaker. We could have been here today celebrating the things that we do here together. We could have been here celebrating shared values. We could have been here today making a difference that your constituents have asked of you and my constituents have asked of me.

From the start of this process, for the weeks in committee, and for the weeks since the committee has passed it, we were doing exactly that. In about 6 minutes of voting last night, we erased it all. It took weeks to build bipartisan consensus, Madam Speaker. It took moments to erase it all.

We have choices in this institution, Madam Speaker. We made the wrong one in the Rules Committee last night.

Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to defeat this rule and give us a chance to make a right one. But we only get so many bites at this apple. The trust of the American people in us as an institution and in us as individuals is not infinite. If we betray that trust often enough, it will disappear forever.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, you heard the earnestness with which Mr. Panetta just described the committee's work. You can go through every line of the committee's work, and you are going to find a story similar to the one that Mr. Panetta has told about his family that applies to hundreds of thousands of families across the country.

That is what this work product was. That is what the committee spent weeks and weeks putting together. That is, candidly, what my constituents think we do up here every day: find problems, find partners, craft solutions, and bring them to the floor.

My friend from Colorado said that we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and I think he is exactly right. I haven't voted on the perfect bill since I have been here, Madam Speaker. You may have had that opportunity; I have not. I vote on bills that move the ball in the right direction. Even had I been king for a day, I couldn't have done it better.

But the flip side of ``don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good'' is that this bill passed out of the Ways and Means Committee unanimously. It was perfect if bipartisanship was your goal. It is now good legislation. But with this change, it is perfectly partisan.

I would advise my colleagues that we spent a lot of time when we were in control--and I had the pleasure of leading the rule, as my friend from Colorado does today--protecting our Members from tough votes. You may not know, Madam Speaker, but the way the Rules Committee works, we could have offered waivers. If you wanted to strike protections for homeschooling families, if you wanted to strike protections from families who need to buy more than what they can find in their public school system for their special needs child, you could have brought an amendment to the floor of this House and said: I don't like those protections for those families. I want to strike them.

But then you would have had to have stood up and said that whatever your ax was that you were grinding that day took priority over those families. No Member in this institution wants to do that, which is why it comes to the Rules Committee as a seemingly innocuous line in a committee report and why it only takes six members to vote ``yes'' on it up there to make it a part of the underlying bill. It pretends that the committee voted on it when, in fact, they did not.

If we want to vote on these issues, then let's vote on these issues. But I will just tell my friends here in their fifth month of leadership that they will begin to rue the day that they told their new Members they could come to Capitol Hill, be a United States Congressperson, and not have to take tough votes.

We began to rue that day when we started down that road, and you only get one chance to start again.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I want to associate myself with everything my friend from Massachusetts just said. Every line of this bill, as crafted by the Ways and Means Committee, was designed to make a difference in a family's life, a difference that every single one of us can be proud of, and no one has a single bit of concern about that language.

The concern is that, instead of being down here celebrating this bipartisan product, in the dark of night it was converted.

My friend from Colorado is absolutely right. Not only was the home- schooling provision stripped out; a provision for Gold Star families was put in.

Now, I will just tell you, if you have any concerns, Madam Speaker, let me speak on behalf of the Republican Conference. If you want to stand up for Gold Star families, I have got Members who want to stand with you. I don't have some; I have them all.

To be fair, that has nothing to do with being a Republican. If I go to the Democratic side of the aisle and look for folks to stand with Gold Star families, I won't find one; I will find them all.

That is yet another thing that unites us, and kudos to Richard Neal, as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, for taking an opportunity to make the bill better in that way.

I happen to have his manager's amendment here, Madam Speaker. This is the language that was taken up by the Rules Committee last night and, again, stuck in because only six people voted ``yes.'' And page after page is dealing with those Gold Star families and trying to right that clerical error in drafting.

It is in the middle of page 3, with looks like seven words: ``In section 302, strike subsections (b) and (d).'' You might not know what section 302 is and what sections (b) and (d) are, Madam Speaker. I will read some of that to you, again, from the Democratic chairman's committee report, from the unanimous legislation that was passed.

The provision allows tax-free treatment to apply to distributions made for certain additional qualifying expenses on behalf of designated beneficiaries attending elementary and secondary schools.

This is the offensive language that my friend referenced that some Members of his caucus had problems with that needed to be taken out. Here it comes. And I don't mean to offend you by reading these words, Madam Speaker, but I am just going to read them directly because I feel the burden to do it.

In addition to tuition, tax-free treatment would apply to a distribution made for expenses for fees, tutoring, special-needs services, books, supplies, and other equipment incurred in connection with the attendance of elementary school.

I am aghast. I am aghast that that is what the Ways and Means Committee decided to do. I am just going to tell you again, Madam Speaker.

The committee, in its wisdom, unanimously decided that we should speak up for families who have problems with expenses for fees, academic tutoring, special-needs services, books, supplies, and other equipment incurred in connection with their child's attendance in elementary school.

That is what this big to-do was about today. If you want to have a vote on the floor of the House that says, ``I don't want children in elementary school to have any help,'' we can have that vote. I think it would lose, and so do my friends on the other side of the aisle.

That is why we are not going to have that vote. We are going to sneak it in, in the rule, and never be able to speak on it.

I appreciate my friend raising the Gold Star issue because that is yet another area of agreement, like the issue my friend from Massachusetts spoke about, like the issue my friend from California spoke about.

Madam Speaker, when you are in the majority in this Chamber, it is easy to get legislation passed. You control the Rules Committee. You control the votes on the board. You get to jam everything through.

I know. I spent 8 years in the majority, and that is the way every day is when you are in the majority.

But you don't have to jam everything through. Occasionally--just occasionally--there are bills, like this bill from the Ways and Means Committee, where every single line is dedicated to solving problems, problems that affect your district and problems that affect my district.

Occasionally--just occasionally--we find Members on both sides of the aisle sitting down, rolling up their sleeves, looking for solutions instead of talking points. And, when that happens, you produce good legislation like the bill Chairman Neal brought before us today.

We could have been down here celebrating that legislation, Madam Speaker. Instead, we are talking about the efforts to unwind it. And, for the life of me, I just don't understand why that is the path we have chosen.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I don't have any speakers remaining. I have a powerful previous question vote that I would like to describe, and I am prepared to do that at this time.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

We can't always get exercised about every single line in every single bill. We would never get anything done.

We have an amendment process so that, if you get exercised about a particular line in a particular bill, you can bring your amendment to the floor and we vote on it.

We are going to get into the appropriations process soon. When we spend money, it turns out to be one of those issues that people feel strongly about. We are going to entertain hundreds of amendments-- Republican amendments, Democratic amendments.

Some Republican amendments are going to pass; some are going to fail. Some Democrat amendments are going to pass; some are going to fail.

But we are going to work the will of the body, and we are going to do the best we can to get to a final package that we move across the street to the Senate.

My frustration in this moment, Madam Speaker, isn't that we have the inability of moving things forward and discussing ideas. We do have the ability to do that, and we did that well in the Ways and Means Committee.

My frustration is that, when people don't like the way the committee unanimously, in a bipartisan way, did something because they have bipartisan concerns--and, to be clear, the concerns about this language are not Republican concerns. This language was not stricken because Republicans objected. This language was not stricken to satisfy any bipartisan concern of any kind.

This was purely a partisan exercise. And if you want to have a partisan exercise, I know 435 Members who are here all day, who will come down here to the House floor and vote on it, and we can do that.

So I want to offer that opportunity, Madam Speaker. For folks who think this is about public policy, as it was when the committee considered it in a bipartisan way, I want to offer an amendment to this bill.

If we defeat the previous question, Madam Speaker, I will offer an amendment that strikes this offending section. What that means in layman's terms is the bill would contain the Gold Star family language that is very important to every Member of this Chamber. It would contain the pension language that is very important to every Member of this Chamber.

It would contain every line designed in a bipartisan fashion by the Ways and Means Committee to make a difference in families' lives, but it would strike the majority's effort, with only six votes on the Rules Committee, to eliminate protections for home-schooling families altogether.

Vote against the previous question, defeat the previous question, and we can restore the bipartisan consensus language the Ways and Means Committee crafted, and we will add the Gold Star family language that my friend from Colorado and I agree on.

I don't serve in the Ways and Means Committee, Madam Speaker. They have got big ideas they have to work on over there. I don't serve on the Financial Services Committee. They have got big ideas they have to work on over there.

I serve in the Rules Committee. My job is to get bills to the House floor and to make sure that voices are heard on perfecting that language.

If we defeat the previous question, we can achieve exactly the partisan goal that the majority wants, but we can achieve it by actually having a vote of the House on that goal.

I think the American people are tired of things being done in secret. I think they are tired of things being done without the full story being told.

I talk to my friends on the other side of the aisle regularly, daily, hourly, Madam Speaker. I know the hunger from your side of the aisle to deliver on behalf of the American people. I know that hunger. I know the hunger on your side of the aisle to roll up sleeves and do the hard things. Because the easy things somebody else has already taken care of. All that is left for you and me are the hard things.

Going to the well of partisanship, pulling your sharp stick out of your quiver and poking the other team, those aren't the hard things. Those are the easy things. And, candidly, those aren't the surprising things. They have become all too commonplace.

I don't get to run this institution, but I do get a vote in it. I see opportunities for partnership, not because everybody wants it, but because it has to happen. Republican President, Republican Senate, Democratic House: The only way we succeed, Madam Speaker, is to succeed together. That is the only pathway forward.

If anybody in this Chamber ran for their seat because they wanted to stand up here and talk about it for 2 years, we have got a great pathway for you. But if you ran for this seat because you actually wanted to get it done, these bills today aren't doing it.

The Senate won't consider them. The President is not going to sign them. But there are ideas in these bills, Madam Speaker, as expressed unanimously by the Ways and Means Committee, that America is hungry for and you and I can deliver.

Let's exceed expectations today. Defeat the previous question, and let's restore this bill to the bipartisan compromise that the Ways and Means Committee created.

Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WOODALL. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, on that, I demand the yeas and nays.

The yeas and nays were ordered.