Providing for Consideration of H.R. Investing in A New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act

Floor Speech

Date: June 30, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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I serve on the Transportation Committee as well as the Rules Committee, Mr. Speaker, so I always get excited when there is a transportation bill that is coming to the floor. I am less excited today.

My friend from New York is a wonderful leader for his constituents and a wonderful bipartisan leader in this institution. I look forward to his time when we get to question witnesses in the Rules Committee because invariably he asks a question that I might have asked or should have asked, and invariably I learn something from the gentleman and his line of questions that I believe is going to benefit this institution and benefit the Nation.

And, candidly, as you know, Mr. Speaker, that is not always the way it is. Some folks are asking questions to get their next 30-second film clip so they can send it out on social media for purposes that perhaps are less valuable to the institution and to the Nation. And so I look forward to an opportunity to be down here and talk about a partnership issue, like transportation, with the gentleman from New York.

He mentioned that this bill is designed to be a partnership between the Federal Government and the States and localities. Sadly, I must tell you that is where any suspicion of partnership ends.

I went back and pulled the video from 2015 when we did our last transportation bill. As the gentleman from New York knows, we are assigned, so often, our Rules Committee legislation based on our other authorizing committee assignments, so I got to carry that bill back in 2015. I was reminded how long it has been since I got to tell the Speaker that I will, by order of the Committee on Rules, call up a resolution. I miss that opportunity. I hope to get that back in January.

But I had this big smile on my face, Mr. Speaker, because the speech that I got to deliver that day in 2015 was that the House was bringing the most open Transportation Committee bill in decades to the House floor. The bill I got to bring that day, Mr. Speaker, talked about how the bill passed out of committee on a voice vote, a voice vote, because Republicans and Democrats, as is so often true on the Transportation Committee, were arm-in-arm moving forward on an issue that is important to all of our constituencies.

I had not even finished my Rules debate time, these 30 minutes, before I had to offer an amendment to the rule to make even more amendments in order than the amendments we had already made in order. And then we came back the next day and made even more amendments in order. At that time, Mr. Speaker, having had a bill that was worked through the process in a bipartisan way, that passed out of committee on a voice vote, we then brought rules to the floor that made in order about equal number of Republican amendments, Democratic amendments, and bipartisan amendments. To be precise, it was 45 Democratic amendments, 47 Republican amendments, and 34 bipartisan amendments after the process had been worked in a bipartisan way already, after the bill had passed out of committee on a voice vote already.

Today, that is not the kind of rule we are bringing. And I recognize that COVID has made our voting requirements different today. But this bill didn't pass out of committee, the committee on which I sit, the Transportation Committee, on a voice vote with everybody in agreement. This bill passed out of committee on a strictly party line vote, because this bill, unlike the bill that had been worked through in a bipartisan way when last we reauthorized service transportation, this bill had been worked in a purely partisan way.

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned that at that time we made in order, roughly, a number of Republican amendments and Democratic amendments and bipartisan amendments. The rule before us today makes in order a roughly equal number of bipartisan amendments and Republican amendments, 17 bipartisan amendments and 19 Republican amendments. Less than half the number that we had made in order when last we worked this bill when we did in it in a partnership way.

But while the bill makes in order an equal number of Republican amendments and bipartisan amendments, again, 19 Republican amendments, 17 bipartisan amendments, it makes in order 134 Democratic amendments. Now, mind you, Mr. Speaker, I tell you that this process has been a partisan process from the beginning in the Transportation Committee, meaning, it was worked entirely through on the Democratic side of the aisle. So as Republicans come to the floor, those Republicans who don't serve on the Transportation Committee for their only opportunity to influence this process, and I said it, and the gentleman from New York knows it to be true.

Back in 2015, I said what is wonderful about opening up the process is that every single one of us has something to contribute. The more than 700,000 people that sent each one of us here have something to contribute. The wonder and uniqueness of this institution comes from the variety of Members who come here to serve and the varied experiences that they bring.

Seventeen bipartisan amendments, 19 Republican amendments, and 134 Democratic amendments made in order by this rule. Even the Democrats were shut out of the partnership process, because any serious legislator on Capitol Hill knows the right time to get your language included isn't in an amendment on the House floor, it is by going to your chairman or your ranking member.

If I want to get something done on the Transportation Committee, I go to my ranking member, Sam Graves, and I talk to him about it, and he talks to the chairman about it, and then we get it done together because that is the partnership in which the committee works, or at least the way that it used to work.

It is unbelievable to me that in a time of great national distress that one of the sole remaining vestiges of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, the Transportation Committee, and one of the primary vehicles for moving those partnership ideas, the highway transportation bill, has devolved into the partisan exercise that we find ourselves in today. It is not too late to fix that.

Mr. Speaker, I will be urging defeat of this rule. If you listen to the reading clerk read it, you will know that if you have been watching this institution for any period of time, 2 years, 4 years, 8 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, you have never heard a reading clerk read a rule that looks like this. We have just never seen one that looks like this.

So partisan have things become, Mr. Speaker, that the Rules Committee historically has offered en bloc authority to the chairman, because the chairman has been working in partnership with the ranking member. Because the way to dispose of amendments on the floor of the House in an expeditious manner, which we absolutely positively need in a COVID- 19 environment, is through partnership. In this case the partnership never started.

I would like to tell you the partnership eroded, but that is just not true, the partnership never began. There was never an opportunity for erosion, and thus, we have the kind of en bloc authority that you see today, not designated to the chairman to enact, but created by the Rules Committee, and the chairman has an opportunity to oppose it if he would like.

Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed. But for my colleagues who are also disappointed, this doesn't have to be the end of the conversation. My ranking member--I haven't talked to him in the last 2 or 3 days, but when last I heard him speak--said he was still committed to working in a partnership way. That he was absolutely available. From day one, he said, make me a part of this conversation, don't rule anything out. In fact, the chairman said exactly that last night, that the ranking member approached him early on in the process, and said, don't count us out for anything, we want to work in a partnership fashion.

Mr. Speaker, we can defeat this rule. And defeating this rule isn't going to slow down surface transportation. Anybody who believes this bill is going anywhere is kidding themselves. This is a partisan messaging exercise. This is not legislating that we are doing here today, but we can move on to legislating. We can defeat this rule, and we can go back and--you know, just one crazy idea--we can make the Transportation Committee the partnership place it has always been.

We can make infrastructure the partnership issue it has always been. We can make a difference, instead of just making a point.

I think my friend from New York is right that in the time of a healthcare pandemic that having a closed rule could have been a possibility. In fact, I have no doubt that the only reason we have any amendments at all available on the floor of the House today is because my friend from New York, and particularly my chairman from Massachusetts, fought on behalf of having a more open process.

I have no doubt that there are folks all across this institution who would have loved to have shut out all the voices altogether. And had we moved this bill out of committee with my ranking member's consent on a voice vote the way we did it last time, I would have supported the majority in trying to be more expeditious on the floor, because when you move things in a bipartisan way you get bipartisan partnership to get them across the finish line. But that is not the way this bill has moved.

It is a valuable thing to be the chairman of a bipartisan committee, Mr. Speaker, and I would tell you it comes with a stewardship obligation to make sure it remains so.

I yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Graves), who will be the next chairman of the Transportation Committee, the current ranking member.

My friend from New York is absolutely right. There are 17 bipartisan amendments made in order to this bill that moved through committee in a completely partisan fashion.

When we did this bill last time around, the bill that passed on a voice vote because of its bipartisan nature coming out of committee, we made 34 bipartisan amendments in order to improve it further. The now chairman of the Transportation Committee, then the ranking member, said this about the rule as I was presenting it: ``Mr. Speaker, in terms of what the gentleman from Georgia just said, I appreciate the fact that we are debating so many policy amendments. This is the way the process should work, both sides of the aisle contribute, and this is great.'' Stark contrast from what you heard from our ranking member today about the process.

At that time, the ranking member, now chairman, said: ``I was willing to stay here later last night and stay here later tonight so that everybody who wanted an amendment could have a chance.'' That is not the process we have this year as voices are shut out one right after another, primarily Republican voices and bipartisan voices.

I yield such time as she may consume to the gentlewoman from Washington (Mrs. Rodgers), a great conservative leader in our conference who has never been afraid to reach across the aisle to get the work done, and she has done it successfully.

Mr. Speaker, I encouraged my colleagues to defeat the rule so we could have a bipartisan process here, but if we defeat the previous question, I will offer an amendment to the rule to make in order H. Res. 1031.

The resolution expresses a sense of the House of Representatives condemning the cyberattacks perpetrated by China and other rogue states on American institutions in an effort to disrupt our response to COVID- 19 by stealing our economic property that could be used for treatments and vaccines.

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Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, we have talked so much about bipartisanship. This is a chance to actually do something in a bipartisan way.

Mr. Speaker, to be fair, this bill is not about us investing in the future; it is about us borrowing money from our children to invest in the future.

I will read from the current chairman of the Transportation Committee. These were his comments during our last reauthorization. He says: `` . . . the biggest and most glaring omission by the Rules Committee is of not allowing any attempt by this House to fund the bill.''

At that time, you remember, Mr. Speaker, we only provided 3 years of funding for a 6-year bill. We went back and found the remaining 3 years later.

He goes on to say: ``The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports an increase in the user fee.'' That is the gas tax. ``The American Trucking Association supports an increase in the user fee. We are virtually being begged by interest groups out there representing consumers and commercial users of the system to do something, vote on something.''

I talked about all of the differences between the way we handled the process last time and the way we handled the process this time, Mr. Speaker. I will note that there are also differences in the way that the chairman wanted to handle the process last time, which is voting to fund this bill. When we funded half of it, he wanted to fund all of it. This time we are funding none of it, Mr. Speaker. That is the heavy lifting that needs to be done, and it can only be done in a bipartisan way.
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Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, I share with my friend from New York that I don't have any speakers remaining, and I am prepared to close.

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Mr. WOODALL.

Mr. Speaker, I am a positive guy. I love coming down here and talking about the great things we are doing as a country, the amazing steps forward that we are making, the way we are exceeding the expectation of our constituents, and that was the speech I got to give when Republicans were in the majority and I got to bring the bipartisan package.

At that time, Janet was sitting to my left and Caitlin would have been sitting right behind Mr. McGovern. A lot of things haven't changed much since that time. But some things have.

One of the things that has changed is COVID-19 is ravaging the Nation, and I want to say to my Rules Committee friends, because we have got a lot of work left to do in this cycle, I recognize that there is an inclination among some in leadership in this House to shut down this process, to keep folks off the floor, to keep votes from happening with great frequency, all in the name of public health.

I would tell you that may protect the health of the Members generally, but it undermines the health of the institution specifically. And I am grateful to my friends on the Rules Committee for fighting those urges and advocating for a more open process on the floor of the House.

Again, I know I can attribute that sentiment to my friend from New York, and I know I can attribute that sentiment to the chairman, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. McGovern).

But the transportation bill, Mr. Speaker, is different from most of what we do. I hope we will have an opportunity to bring a bipartisan bill to the floor, and then we can have that bipartisan conversation about limiting debate so that we can move the bipartisan idea forward so that we can get a signature on the President's desk.

Mr. Speaker, every good thing you heard mentioned that this bill does on the other side of the aisle today, every good thing you have heard mentioned, I want to stipulate that the bill absolutely does that. And I ask my friends to stipulate that the bill has absolutely no chance of ever becoming the law of the land, so none of those things are ever going to happen.

Hear me, Mr. Speaker, it does every single one of those things if it becomes law, but because it is moved in a partisan process when we have bipartisan government, it will never become law and it will never happen. Not one of those things that my colleagues earnestly believe their constituencies need and are demanding is going to be delivered.

Mr. Speaker, I don't want to make the point. I do want to make the difference. I recognize that in divided government sometimes you have to put out the party line. Sometimes you have to stand up and say, ``This is where I am; now let's figure out where you are,'' and then the negotiation happens later.

That happens on a lot of bills in this institution. It doesn't usually happen on transportation, it doesn't usually happen on infrastructure, because the way transportation and infrastructure usually happen is we partner from day one.

In the last Congress, Mr. Speaker, last time we moved this bill, roughly an equal number of Republican ideas, Democratic ideas, and bipartisan ideas were considered to improve the bill. This time around, Mr. Speaker, we will consider 17 bipartisan amendments, 19 Republican amendments, and 134 Democratic amendments. Last time around, roughly one to one; this time around, seven Democratic ideas for every one Republican idea.

Last time around, the bill was crafted in a partnership way so that more ideas and everyone was included in the beginning. This time around, the bill moved in a strict party-line vote.

I understand we can't be the best version of ourselves as an institution every day of the week, Mr. Speaker. I recognize that. And it is not even our goal every day of the week. Sometimes we have a partisan priority, an itch that needs to be scratched. But good habits are hard to keep; bad habits are easy to make.

There is a reason the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is special. There is a reason Mr. DeFazio stood in line so long waiting on his opportunity to lead. It is a special place where you can make a huge difference on behalf of not just your community, but your country.

We are squandering that opportunity today. There were lots of good ideas that we could have moved forward in a partnership way.

I hope that the extraordinary partisanship that represents a dramatic change from anything that we have ever done in this transportation environment before is the aberration, and that as soon as that partisan itch gets scratched, my colleagues will then turn their attention to being able to get something done. Because when my friends talked about road safety and the needs America has, they were right. When my friends talked about crumbling infrastructure and the needs America has, they were right. When my friends talked about investing in us as a nation, my friends were right.

I want to join with them to make those things happen; but today, Mr. Speaker, I encourage my colleagues to vote ``no'' on the previous question and to vote ``no'' on the rule.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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

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

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