Providing for Consideration of H.R. William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year Providing for Consideration of H.R. Child Care is Essential Act; Providing for Consideration of H.R. Child Care for Economic Recovery Act; and Providing for Consideration of Senate Amendments to H.R. Taxpayer First Act of 2019

Floor Speech

Date: July 20, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

I thank my friend from Colorado for yielding me the time.

One of these days, Mr. Speaker, he is going to come down here and he is going to leave out that he yields the time for the purposes of debate only, and he and I are going to solve most of the ills that confront this institution. I think we could do that together. I appreciate him, because he is my friend. I appreciate his friendship and his yielding me the time today.

Mr. Speaker, as the first Georgian to take the floor today, I want to tell my colleagues, on behalf of the entire Georgia delegation, that we appreciate the prayers and the thoughts that you all have been sending, not just to Mr. Lewis' family and his staff, but to all of us as well.

One of my favorite parts of this job, Mr. Speaker, is talking to young people. I will speak to any student group that wants to come through that will invite me out because I love having an opportunity to influence young minds and answer those completely without shame, questions that folks ask. But the one thing I have always asked my staff to do is not schedule me after John Lewis has talked to those young people, because once John Lewis has entered a room and had a chance with those young minds, anybody else is going to be a distant second at best.

Mr. Lewis has been a leader in Georgia on causes good and right for my entire lifetime. In fact, Mr. Lewis was elected to Congress before I even graduated from college. Most of the time I spent with him was as a staffer on Capitol Hill.

And I remember after getting elected, he was sitting over to my left, as he often was, and I went up and I said: Mr. Lewis, I just want to introduce myself. I am Rob Woodall. I just came in in John Linder's seat, and I just am excited to be with you.

He said: Rob, I know exactly who you are, and please don't call me Mr. Lewis. Call me John.

John would invite the delegation over to his home to visit and talk about things--not the things that divide us, but the things that unite us. We can't afford to lose the uniters in this institution or in this country, and we have lost one in John Lewis.

I will have a chance, as part of the Georgia delegation, to recognize him more later today. I am grateful to the Speaker for making that time available, but please know how much we all appreciate your outreach to John's staff and all of us.

Mr. Speaker, it is fitting, thinking about being a uniter, that we are down here talking about the NDAA today. If you will recall, last year, when we were doing the NDAA, I had very few nice things to say. It had generally been a partnership exercise here, and for myriad reasons that both the chairman and the ranking member on Armed Services regretted, it became a partisan exercise last year. It came out of committee on almost a strictly partisan vote. It came across the floor on almost a strictly partisan vote.

This is a bill that it has not mattered who led the United States House or who led the United States Senate or even who was in the White House. For 60 years now, each and every year, the Congress comes together and we produce a blueprint for our Nation's national security.

I love that about this bill, and I love that about this institution. I love that about what it means for the leadership of the civilian government that we get past partisanship every single year.

And to my Democratic friends' credit, as they lead this institution, by the time the NDAA bill got back to the floor after conference, it passed on a voice vote here in the House. We had brought ourselves back together again.

This year, Mr. Speaker, it has returned to that partnership bill that it has always tried to be. We had the chairman, Mr. Smith, and our ranking member, Mr. Thornberry, up in the Rules Committee last Friday, and they both attested to that fact: this is not the bill that either of them would have drafted, but it is the bill that they have come together and passed unanimously out of their committee.

And, again, to my Democratic colleagues' credit, they have named the bill after our ranking member, Mac Thornberry, to recognize his lifetime of service to our men and women in uniform.

That is the kind of thing that doesn't get a lot of publicity back home. Folks aren't going to sit around and celebrate that, but it is a big deal that Republicans are in the minority on Capitol Hill, but that leadership in service to others, as Mac Thornberry has done for our men and women in uniform, doesn't have a partisan label on it; and our Democratic colleagues have seen fit to honor him in this way, and I am grateful to them for that.

We have a lot of amendments here, as you have heard already, Mr. Speaker, and I wish that we had been able to do this in two separate rules so that we could have come together and supported NDAA and then had our differences on the other measures that are also included in this rule.

Coming out of Coca-Cola country, it would be okay with me if the grocery stores decided that, in this time of pandemic, they only had time to just stock the Coca-Cola on the shelves and they weren't going to make time to stock the Pepsi because it was just too dangerous and not enough time to make that happen. But they haven't. They have decided they are going to put it all on the shelves, and they are going to try to get back to normal. We have got to try to get back to normal, too.

I know my friend, the chairman of the Rules Committee, is on the floor today, and he has got a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. We have gotten into the habit, during this pandemic, of putting a lot more things in a single rule than we used to do. I am hoping that we will start to swing that pendulum back as we all grapple collectively to get to a new normal because, besides the National Defense Authorization Act, we have got a lands bill here today. It came to us from the Senate. I understand my friends don't want to amend it because it has come to us from the Senate. I would like to put the House stamp of approval on it. I would like to put some House improvements on it.

We had an opportunity in the Rules Committee, Mr. Speaker. This lands bill is exactly as my friend from Colorado described. It provides a new funding stream, a mandatory funding stream for land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a fund that I support, funding that I have supported.

But we have a maintenance backlog on our Federal lands, and this year we are not going to have the resources to fund those maintenance backlogs at our normal paltry level, much less at the elevated level that they need to occur, and this bill is going to exacerbate that problem. Rather than funding a maintenance backlog, it is going to purchase more land that we don't have enough money to maintain already.

We had an opportunity to massage that around to make sure that we were funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and we were also providing the stewardship to those lands that the Land and Water Conservation Fund has already acquired. We didn't have a chance to do that in the Rules Committee.

We are going to have a previous question opportunity, when we defeat the previous question, to come back and further improve this lands bill. I hope that my colleagues will give us that opportunity. I appreciate that the Senate has sent us this language, but I do believe we can improve it before we send it to the President's desk.

And then, finally, we have bills that again, with the best of intentions, affect our Nation's childcare system. It is absolutely, positively true that we cannot get our parents back to work if we can't get our children back into the classroom or back into the childcare center. We must make all of these things work in concert together.

These bills are coming to us under an emergency designation. I sit on the Budget Committee, Mr. Speaker, and what that means is the normal rules don't apply.

Childcare has been a challenge in this country, not just during the pandemic, but for decades. It is an issue that is worthy of this Congress' attention. It is also worthy of getting it done right, because we can only spend each dollar once. Once that dollar is gone, if we don't spend it efficiently, we are not going to be able to serve children as well as we would like to. We are not going to be able to serve parents as well as we would like to. These childcare provisions did not go through a process that gave us an opportunity to participate.

Both bills that were testified on before the Rules Committee had Budget Committee referrals. The Budget Committee has been meeting, but we have not had one word of conversation about these priorities. That does not produce the best product.

Again, it may be done with the best of intentions, but it cannot possibly produce the best product to ignore committees of jurisdiction and to ignore disparate voices as we are all grappling with childcare challenges back in our district, COVID-related challenges back in our district.

So, Mr. Speaker, as you take time today and, hopefully, for many days into the future to celebrate the difference-making that John Lewis did--not just for my community, not just for my State, not just for our country, I would argue he made a difference on the global stage--take a moment to celebrate that, for all the partisan headlines that are in the news, there is a lot of good partnership, collaborative give-and- take going on behind the scenes to try to make the world a better place, to try to make American policy better policy.

I hope my colleagues will support the NDAA bill when it gets to the floor of this House after this very aggressive amendment process, and I do hope my colleagues will defeat this rule so that we can separate the NDAA from these items that require much more of the House's attention, and then we can rush those to the floor as soon as we have had an opportunity to perfect those, as well.

Mr. Speaker, I know the heart of which my chairman speaks. I believe it is wrongheaded to craft a military budget and then figure out what kind of mission that budget can support.

I think the question is what are we asking of our men and women in uniform, what is the mission, and then let's commit to funding that mission in a full-throated way.

We had an opportunity in this bill to vote on what the definition of the mission is, whether or not we were going to allow the Authorization for Use of Military Force from 2001 to continue to perpetuate the forever wars that my friend who chairs the Rules Committee mentioned. We are not going to have an opportunity to vote on that today, and I regret that, as I know the chairman does.

Mr. Speaker, I know that we are hoping to have an opportunity to discuss that in the future in a more full-throated way, but I would urge my colleagues--and I sit on the Budget Committee--please don't craft a budget and figure out then what you can ask our men and women in uniform to do. Figure out what it is you are asking our men and women in uniform to do, and then fund that to the best of our abilities.

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned earlier that if we defeated the previous question today that we would have an opportunity to add some additional language to the lands bill.


Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, when we have a natural disaster on our public lands, we have an opportunity, right after that disaster, to go in and salvage some of the timber that has fallen, some of the timber that has been affected. But there is a clock on how long we have to get that done, and so many of the processes that are in place normally, to seek approval for harvesting timber on public lands, remain in place in these natural disasters, in these times of crisis.

Mr. Speaker, if we defeat the previous question, I will add an amendment to the rule to make in order a discussion on creating a categorical exclusion for salvage operations.

Now, I know there are differences between Department of the Interior lands and Department of Agriculture lands. Former Governor of the great State of Georgia Sonny Perdue, now the Secretary of Agriculture, the lands that he is in charge of are not lands designed to be preserved; they are lands designed to be managed. It is an agricultural product that is supposed to produce timber for the American people.

Even though it is a catastrophe that damages that timber, that encroaches upon the productivity of those lands, an opportunity to salvage what little may be available to be salvaged should be one that we avail ourselves of or, at the very least, should be a topic of discussion today.

So, Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to help me to defeat the previous question. Let's add this amendment to the rule.

As I mentioned earlier, we already have everything and the kitchen sink in this rule already. One more section 7 isn't going to disadvantage us or slow us down more than a single hour, and we will be able to have this very important conversation about maximizing the asset that the American people have entrusted us to manage and to protect.

I want to again thank my friend from Colorado, both for his partnership on the Rules Committee and his courtesy here on the floor today.

I understand the urgency about which he just spoke. I offered an amendment in the Rules Committee, Mr. Speaker, that we withdraw what they call martial law. That is the ability for the House to move with great haste.

The House rules require that we pace ourselves so that the body has an opportunity to review the rules that the Rules Committee produces, the legislation that comes out of committees. We have these timelines in place.

Since the COVID crisis began, over 100 days ago, we have been operating under what they call martial law, where the Speaker, in his or her wisdom, can do almost anything with great haste on the floor of the House. Both parties do that in times of crisis so that the House can be responsive in the way that my friend from Colorado has discussed.

There comes a time, however, Mr. Speaker, when we need to recognize that if we have been sacrificing efficacy in the name of efficiency, that might have been the right answer on day one of the crisis and that might have been the right answer on day 30, maybe even day 60, maybe even day 90, but there is going to come a time in the same way that we have asked our food service personnel, our sanitation personnel, our law enforcement personnel, and our first responder personnel--you go right down the list of folks doing critical jobs in America. We are not asking them to shortcut those jobs. We are asking them to perform those jobs to the very best of their abilities.

We can do better here.

Now, my friend from Colorado mentioned that we stuff these things all into a single provision, and it does save us 1 hour of additional debate. It does save us 1 hour.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I might say having a more deliberative process would be worth 60 minutes of this body's time. We didn't have our first day of session in June until the very last week of June, so I think we could find the time. But that is not really my biggest concern.

My biggest concern, as the ranking member of the Rules Committee mentioned, is the bills that have been stuffed into this bill that haven't been the product of regular order. And I don't mean regular order where we have to talk about everything and delay it ad infinitum. I am talking about regular order where thoughtful, serious legislators actually have a chance to make a difference and things aren't written by a select few in leadership behind closed doors.

In a crisis, leaders have to lead. And I don't fault the majority for circling the wagons and doing what they needed to do to respond in the way that they thought was appropriate. I might have disagreed with them, but they have a responsibility and an obligation to lead.

We are entering a time, Mr. Speaker, where we need to recognize that we are the deliberative body. This is where the American people come to have their voices heard, and we must open up the process so that that can happen.

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned earlier that we did a pretty good job on the National Defense Authorization Act. Again, it passed out of committee 56-0. That is not because everybody agreed. That is not what happens in legislating. It is that everybody came to a place where they were comfortable and they did the negotiating they had to do to satisfy that higher priority of defining America's national security needs and goals.

I have the list of amendments that have been made in order by this bill, Mr. Speaker. You can see the list of bipartisan amendments. I feel pretty good about that. There are a lot of numbers you see on this page, bipartisan amendments that are going to be made in order in the National Defense Authorization Act. There are almost as many--in fact, as many as the Democratic amendments that were made in order under this rule. You see that is a lot of Democratic amendments that were made in order, too, and I am glad we had bipartisan, and I am glad the majority was able to continue to improve upon what they have done.

This is the list of Republican amendments that have been made in order. It is not a screen tear, Mr. Speaker. It is just that this is only how many there are. We in the Republican majority, 2017 when I had an opportunity to lead a subcommittee there and 2018, we would make more Democratic amendments in order than Republican amendments because Republicans were leading, so, by definition, fewer Democratic voices could be included in the regular process. We weren't able to do that today, and I regret that.

But I want to recognize, because I think it is important to recognize, Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of constructive counsel for my friends on the other side of the aisle about how they can do better, and any time they want to come to me and partner with me on that leadership, I am available to them to do that. I don't think we are going to get to where I want to go by the end of this Democratic majority, and I think when the Republican majority takes over in January, that is going to be my opportunity to get us back to where I want us to be.

But this bill, this National Defense Authorization Act, this bipartisan work product, this collaborative effort to support our men and women in uniform, as my ranking member mentioned, can be improved on the floor of this House or that partnership can be destroyed on the floor of this House.

The leadership on the Democratic side of the aisle on the Rules Committee has a very difficult job trying to find those amendments that can help to improve the bill without destroying the bill, and I want to recognize the real sweat equity that folks put in to trying to keep the poison pills away and trying to find those ideas that needed to be discussed and not to destroy our partnership.

Let's support this National Defense Authorization Act, Mr. Speaker. Let's defeat this rule but support the underlying bill.


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


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