Providing for Further Consideration of H.R. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2020

Floor Speech

Date: June 12, 2019
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from California for yielding me the time.

We finished up in the Rules Committee, I think, before 10 p.m. last night. I was optimistic that we finished up that early.

It is not the Members you need to worry about, Mr. Speaker. It is the staff of the Rules Committee you need to worry about, because they had hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of amendments submitted that they were going through all weekend long, trying to sort out what are those amendments that could be made in order, what are those amendments that would need waivers of the rules, what are those amendments that could be considered on the floor and not be repetitive.

It is an amazing burden on the staff to have to go through all those amendments, Mr. Speaker, and it is an unnecessary burden.

You weren't here at the time, Mr. Speaker, but I am looking right down here below me at the gentleman from Kentucky. He used to be the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and was the chairman of the Appropriations Committee the last time we came to the House floor under regular order, as my friend from California suggests, and we allowed every Member of this institution--everyone who had been elected by their constituents back home, everyone who has a voting card--to come and offer any idea that they had to improve upon the underlying bill.

I don't take issue with much of what my friend from California said about many of the good things in this bill. There are many good things in this bill.

But what I love about the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Speaker, different from the Rules Committee, is they come to the House year after year and say we have done an amazing job working together in a bipartisan way in the Appropriations Committee, but the other Members of the House who don't serve on that committee, if they have some expertise that they think can improve the bill, bring it on. Bring it on. Let's go down to that House floor. Let's have that festival of democracy. Let's test those ideas, and let's send the best product that we can to the President's desk.

My friend from California says that this is a good bill and that it should absolutely be signed by the President. She could be right. I would probably disagree with her, Mr. Speaker, but she could be right.

The fact of the matter is, the law of the land, as it exists today, won't let us implement this bill. This bill spends above those caps, the statutory spending caps passed by the Congress and signed by the President.

This bill cannot become law at these levels. If it were to, we would have an automatic sequester that brings the levels down.

That is a terrible way to govern. We have learned that lesson over the past 10 years together.

Mr. Speaker, I wish I didn't have to point to the gentleman from Kentucky and say remember the days when everybody's voice mattered in this institution. Remember those days. That day should be today. It is not an easy pathway to get back to.

I remember when we were trying to do open rules on the Republican side. My Democratic colleagues would come to the floor and offer amendments that they knew would pass with a minority of Republican votes and a lot of Democratic votes. Then they would vote in favor of that amendment to change the bill, but they would vote against the final bill, knowing it would not be able to pass without their support.

That is a great strategy, and it has been used by both sides, if my colleagues want to be in the business of making a point. It is an awful strategy if my colleagues want to be in the business of making a difference. If Members came to this institution to govern instead of to get the next sound bite, that is a terrible path to be on.

Mr. Speaker, if Members went through those hundreds of amendments the way that the Rules Committee staff went through them over the weekend, they would see good idea after good idea after good idea that has been turned away before it could be considered on the floor of this House. I don't know whether those amendments would have passed or failed. I know some of them would have passed; I know some of them would have failed.

There was a time in this institution when we let the votes decide, when we let the membership decide.

Mr. Speaker, we have changed those rules. It is now 13 men and women who sit on the Rules Committee who decide.

I value my friend from California's suggestion that we get back to regular order, and I know it is not an easy path to follow. This bill is the most open we have had so far this year, and yet, it still denies Member after Member, on both sides of the aisle, an opportunity to have their constituents' voices heard.

Mr. Speaker, we can do better. If we speak with one voice in this body and reject this rule, we will do better. All it takes is the courage of our convictions to do that.

I hope my Members will stand with me in aspiring to do better today than we did yesterday and better still tomorrow.


Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, we spent a great deal of time today talking about the humanitarian crisis on the border, and that is because, despite all of the very positive things that are in this bill that my friend from California has mentioned, what is not in this bill is one single penny to go to the border today. There is not a Member of this institution who does not know that we need that money going to the border today.

I am not talking about contentious issues like border security, though that shouldn't be a contentious issue. That should be an issue of agreement, as well. I am talking about an issue on which we are unanimous, which is taking care of those people who are in the custody of the United States of America.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 3056 would provide $4.5 billion. Mr. Speaker, as a fiscal conservative, I don't say that lightly--$4.5 billion. That is not $4.5 billion to get us through another year, Mr. Speaker. That is not $4.5 billion to start in October and run us through the next fiscal year. That is $4.5 billion today to address needs that exist today, to fill shortfalls that are happening today, to solve problems that demand solutions today.

There is not one word in this bill to provide a single solution anywhere in America today. But if we defeat the previous question and amend the rule as I have suggested, we can provide those solutions today, and we can do it in a partnership way that will make America proud.


Mr. WOODALL. I would advise my friend that I do not see any speakers remaining, and when the gentlewoman has exhausted her speakers, I will be prepared to close.

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about two kinds of issues down here today. When I listen to my friend from California talk about all the wonderful things that are in the underlying bill, I can't tell you how much I wanted to stand up and celebrate with her that appropriations season is often that way.

Mr. Speaker, you haven't seen it in your time, but there was a time in this institution where the way we spent America's money reflected America's priorities, and it turned out--you wouldn't know it by reading the newspaper, Mr. Speaker, but it turned out those priorities didn't hinge on whether you had an R or a D behind your name. It didn't hinge on whether you came from the Deep South or the Northwest.

It turned out, when we started voting on issues one dollar at a time, we began to find that we had agreements with one another that had not yet been explored. We began to find, Mr. Speaker, that we could celebrate achievements together in ways that had not yet been explored.

Mr. Speaker, the year I came to Congress, and many of my other colleagues here came that very same year, you may remember the appropriations process hadn't been finished by the Democrats. When Republicans took over, the young freshman class of which I was a part said we need to get down there, and we need to finish that job. It was a Tuesday, Mr. Speaker. We brought up the entire Federal discretionary budget.

Now, that is a lousy way to do business. It is a lousy way to do business. We used to bring up bills one appropriations bill at a time.

There are 12 bills, Mr. Speaker. We have gotten in a bad habit of omnibus bills. As you know, what we switched to last year and what the Democratic majority is continuing this year is bringing up groups of four or five bills together.

But at that time, in the spring of 2011, Mr. Speaker, we brought them all up. We brought them all up together. And do you know what we said, Mr. Speaker, the brand-new Republican majority?

You know how it is when majorities change, Mr. Speaker. Folks have gotten their feelings hurt. They feel like they were a little wronged by the previous majority. My friend from California knows what I am talking about.

You might have expected the Republican majority to say, ``We are going to jam our priorities through, diversity of ideas be damned,'' but we didn't. It was Speaker John Boehner at that time, Mr. Speaker, and he said we are bringing up the entire Federal discretionary budget, and any Member, Mr. Speaker, any Member from either side of the aisle who has an idea about how to make it better, their ideas are welcome here on the floor of the House.

Oh, you want to talk about a festival of democracy, Mr. Speaker? We started on a Tuesday. We thought we were going to be done by a Thursday. We ended up going 24 hours a day, finishing in the early hours of Saturday morning.

And by ``finishing,'' Mr. Speaker, I mean we allowed every single Member's voice in this body be heard on every single issue that their constituents sent them here to address. Every Member of this institution left tired, Mr. Speaker, but every Member of this institution left feeling like they had had a chance to represent their constituents the way the United States Constitution intended.

It doesn't always work that way, Mr. Speaker. I sit on the Rules Committee. We decide what amendments are made in order and what amendments aren't.

In the last Congress, when the Republicans controlled this institution, we didn't make every amendment in order. We did not make every amendment in order, Mr. Speaker.

But what we did do is we made more Democratic amendments in order than Republican amendments. We did. But because, for obvious reasons, when you are in the leadership, it is easier to push your agenda. When you have opportunity not to be in the leadership, it is harder to push your agenda. We made more Democratic amendments in order last Congress, Mr. Speaker, than Republican amendments in an effort to bring a diversity of ideas.

This Congress, Mr. Speaker, when Republicans are in the minority and the Democratic majority is writing the rules, 70 percent of all amendments that have been made in order have been Democratic amendments. Eighteen percent of the amendments have come to Republicans. Five times more amendments were given to the majority than to the minority. Again, we gave more to the minority than the majority.

I see my friends from Minnesota down here saying, ``I had an amendment. It was a good idea. My constituents asked me to offer it. It is germane to the underlying bill. I just want my day on the floor to vote.'' That day has been denied, Mr. Speaker, for amendment after amendment after amendment after amendment. Hundreds of amendments. Good ideas, bipartisan ideas.

My friend from Illinois, Mr. Shimkus, had an amendment, Mr. Speaker, that required that we fund nuclear waste disposal licensing. Nuclear waste is spread out all across this country. I don't know if it is in your district, Mr. Speaker, but I have got it right next door to me. It is stored as best we can across the Nation. We are trying to license a national repository. We have spent billions as a nation preparing for that. All he wanted was a vote on an amendment that has wide and deep bipartisan support. I think it would have won, but we will never know because the powers that be denied him even the chance to discuss it.

The question isn't, is there something good in this underlying bill? The question is, do you believe any of the rest of us have anything to add to make it better?

My friends made in order some Republican amendments. I told you that so far this year there have been five times more Democratic amendments made in order than Republican amendments. This bill today is better. It is only twice as many Democratic amendments than Republican amendments. It is still nowhere close to fair, it is still not representative, but this is where we are.

There is not one dollar, Mr. Speaker, for the humanitarian crisis on the border. The New York Times in an editorial on Sunday said, ``The financial reality is that this agency is overwhelmed.'' Talking about the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

``So far this fiscal year, it has taken charge of nearly 41,000 unaccompanied children, a 57 percent increase over last year. The entire program could run out of funding by the end of June.''

There is not one dollar in this bill for that. That is what my colleagues came to ask unanimous consent to do. That is what defeating the previous question would do.

We all agree there is a crisis at the border.

The editorial goes on for the New York Times, Mr. Speaker.

``There should be no ambivalence about the urgency of addressing the humanitarian needs. While lawmakers wring their hands and drag their feet, tens of thousands of migrant children are suffering.

``Congress needs to get serious about dealing with that suffering.''

There is no bill on its way to the floor, Mr. Speaker, except for the one you heard my colleague ask Member after Member after Member for unanimous consent to bring. And you heard my colleagues on the other side of the aisle deny that. I understand. We don't usually get unanimous consent requests to prove during Rules Committee debate.

I don't fault my colleague for objecting. But if we defeat the previous question as I am proposing, Mr. Speaker, and we add an amendment to the rule, we will continue to consider the bill that my friend from California is so proud of. But we will also consider the bill that provides immediate funding to the men and women serving us on the border as they seek to address this humanitarian crisis.

It gives me no pleasure to bring it up during Rules Committee debate, Mr. Speaker, because I don't think we disagree on this. I think we are together on this. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the leadership on the Democratic side of the aisle is saying no and no and no and no to doing something that they know needs to be done. I do not understand it.

But I know this. Here, on Wednesday, we have got one shot to fix it: one. Not two, not three. There aren't a dozen different options. We have got one shot to fix it.

Defeat this previous question, add an amendment to the rule, and bring up this emergency funding supplemental. Do what we all know needs to be done. If it stretches from the editorial page of the New York Times to a conservative Republican from the deep south, Mr. Speaker, you know it has broad bipartisan appeal.

We get so used to saying no in this Chamber. We get so used to running each other out in politics. Let's take yes for an answer. Let's do something we all know needs to be done. Let's take a shot at doing better today than we did yesterday. Maybe we will come back and do better still tomorrow.

Defeat the previous question. Add this amendment to the bill. In the absence of that, I will have to ask that we oppose that rule, Mr. Speaker, and give us a chance to go back to the drawing board one more time.