Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act

Floor Speech

Date: May 18, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. Speaker, I appreciate you coming in early to be with us early this morning. This is a big day. This is the reconciliation bill.

I serve on both the Rules Committee and the Budget Committee, Mr. Speaker. As you know, we've had some tremendous successes in the appropriations process. This week, we've been working through the Commerce-Justice-Science bill. It's a bill that's reduced spending to those levels that we had in 2008, doing those things that the voters sent us here to do.

We're going to vote on that bill today in final passage. But that appropriations process that we have control over here in the House, that process where we reduced spending from 2010 levels down to 2011 levels, down to 2012 levels, and are going to go down again to 2013 levels to be responsible stewards of taxpayers' dollars, those are only one-third of the taxpayer dollars.

Two-thirds of the taxpayer dollars that are spent in this town--and by spent I really mean borrowed and then spent--come on what they call mandatory spending programs. Mr. Speaker, as you know, mandatory spending programs are dollars that go out the door whether Congress acts or not. Appropriation bills require Congress to act affirmatively, but mandatory spending goes right out the door without any oversight from this body until you get to reconciliation.

Reconciliation is that process that Democrats put in place wisely years and years ago to allow the House and the Senate to come together and begin to reduce, restrain, do oversight on those mandatory spending dollars. This is a rule that brings that bill to the floor.

That bill is going to be coming under a closed rule, Mr. Speaker. We're talking about a bill that has been put together by almost every committee of jurisdiction here in this House and then assembled by the Budget Committee and brought here to the floor. It's been the subject of countless hearings already. We looked at whether we'd be able to bring a Democratic substitute to the floor. None was submitted that complied with the rules of the House.

So we have one bill on the floor today, an up-and-down vote, on whether or not we're willing to engage in the first serious reconciliation process on this floor--I would argue--since 1997. Some folks might say 2003. I say 1997. Why, Mr. Speaker?

I'll tell you, it's the right thing to do anyway. It's the right thing to do anyway as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. But in this case, these aren't reductions for the sake of reductions. These are reductions for the sake of complying with what I would argue is a very good deficit-reduction agreement between the President and the Senate and the House last August. And as a part of that agreement, we put in some blanket cuts to national security, some blanket cuts to national defense. And some commentators have described these cuts, Mr. Speaker, as being intentionally so crazy that they would never happen but would be used only as a tool to get the Joint Select Committee to act.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the Joint Select Committee did not succeed last fall. It's a source of great frustration for me and is also a source of great frustration for the Members who served on that committee. They had an opportunity to bring an up-or-down vote to both the House and the Senate floor on anything they came up with, Mr. Speaker. They didn't have to get the whole $1.2 trillion. They didn't have to get $1.5 trillion. They could have gotten $1 trillion. They could have gotten $500 billion. They could have gotten $250 billion, and we would have brought that to the floor for an up-or-down vote. But they got nothing.

So where are we? Well, in the words of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, he says:

We are at a place where, if these cuts were allowed to go, the impact of these cuts would be devastating to the Defense Department.

I happen to share his concerns. Again, these were across-the-board cuts put in place to be so intentionally crazy that Congress would never allow them to occur, and it would spur the Joint Committee to action.

I happen to have supported an amendment offered by Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking member on the Budget Committee. When we were going through the Budget Committee process last year, he offered an amendment that said, dadgummit, everything's got to be on the table, and that includes the Defense Department. I agree with him. The Defense Department does need to be on the table. And in fact, the Defense Department is undergoing $300 billion worth of reductions today.

This bill does nothing to change that. There is $300 billion being reduced from the Defense Department, as well it should. It's not easy, but it should happen, and it is happening. This isn't dealing with that. This is dealing with even additional cuts. Again, in the words of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a former Democratic Member of this House:

The impact of these cuts would be devastating for the Department.

So we have an opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to do what, I would argue, you and I came here to do--and not just you and I, but my colleagues on the other side of the aisle--to do those things not just that happened year after year after year, those things that have 12 months of efficacy and then go away, but the things that can be set in permanent law to change the direction of spending and borrowing in this country. And, candidly, Mr. Speaker, it's more about the borrowing than it is about the spending.

There are priorities in this country that we need to focus on, and I would argue that we've done a great job of focusing on those priorities. But when you are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar from your children and your grandchildren, we have to redefine what responsibility is because, I will tell you, that is irresponsible.

And this bill then takes a step in two directions: one, turning back this second round of Defense Department cuts--not the first round but the second round, the round that Leon Panetta describes as devastating to the Defense Department--and then setting us on a path to bend that cost curve going forward by tackling mandatory spending programs for the first time in almost a decade.

And with that, Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to strongly support this rule.

I reserve the balance of my time.


I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I say to my friend, as the Republican Budget chairman said to him yesterday, I appreciate his passion on this issue. What brings us to the very best decisions that we can make in this body, Mr. Speaker, is having folks who work hard day in and day out educating

themselves on the issues. They can bring the very best case for the American people to the floor.

And that's why I would ask my friend whether or not he believes it actually helps that debate to get involved in some of those rhetorical feats of mind, I guess we would call them, because he knows as well as I know that under the law of the land, in 2002, food stamp benefits, SNAP benefits, would have gone up by about 40 percent over the last 10 years, and Republicans and Democrats came together over the last decade and increased those benefits 270 percent, Mr. Speaker.

Now, this proposal suggests that instead of going up 270 percent, we allow those benefits to go up 260 percent. That's the draconian cut.

We see that in the same rhetoric in the student loan program, Mr. Speaker. Everyone in this body knows the law of the land was that student loan rates were at 6.8 percent--a below-market rate of 6.8 percent. They were lowered for a very small fraction of the student population for a very temporary period of time to 3.4 percent, and the law now hasn't gone back to 6.8 percent, to standard levels. But folks want to talk about that as a doubling instead of a returning to common law.

And more importantly, Mr. Speaker, to continue to suggest, as he knows is not the case, that Republicans are unwilling to focus on the Defense Department, let me say it plainly. I believe there is waste and fraud and abuse in the Defense Department, and I stand here willing to work with you to eradicate it all. I supported Ranking Member Van Hollen's amendment to put Defense on the table. The budget that this House passed--the only budget that's passed in all of Washington, D.C.--reduced defense spending by $300 billion in recognition of exactly that.

And, Mr. Speaker, again, the rhetoric just gets a little overheated from time to time, and, candidly, I think it gets in the way of us doing the people's business. When I say to you that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, on August 4, 2011, said:

If these defense cuts happen--and God willing that will not be the case, but if it did happen--it would result in a further round--because we've already cut once; in fact, already cut twice--a further round of very dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that I believe, says Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, would do real damage to our security, our troops, and their families.

I would say to my friend: How does it advantage us to make this a Republican-Democratic issue when the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, Leon Panetta, says allowing these cuts to go forward would be dangerous to our defense, to our national security, to our troops, and to our families? How does it advantage us to make this a Republican-Democratic issue when President Clinton's OMB Director, Leon Panetta, says this would be dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops, and our families? How does it advantage us to make this a partisan issue when President Clinton's Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, former OMB Director, former Democratic Budget Committee chairman, says: I believe allowing these cuts to go forward would do real damage to our security, to our troops, and to our families?

Do we have real choices to make? We do.


Reclaiming my time, I thank the gentleman both for his comments and for his offering of that substitute.

The reason is threefold:

Number one, that substitute doesn't comply with the rules of the House. We made a decision in this body that we were going to not continue to ask for more and more and more out of taxpayers' pockets but that we were going to try to do our own business here in terms of oversight on all the money that's already being borrowed and spent and sent out the door.

Number two, that happened to be the rules that we adopted in this Congress,

Mr. Speaker, but under the rules adopted in the last Congress in which you were the Budget chairman, you know your substitute would also not have been in order under the PAYGO rules that you instituted. Again, not a Republican or Democratic issue. Under a Republican House, the substitute is not in order. And under a Democratic House, the substitute is not in order.

But, number 3, and, I would argue, most importantly, I say to my friend, we've got a trust deficit with the American people, and it doesn't surprise me. When we talk about the 5-year impact of the reconciliation plan that we passed out of our Budget Committee and I hope that this House will pass today, we're talking about a net effect on debt reduction, the process for which reconciliation was created, of $65 billion over 5 years. Over the next 5 years, $65 billion is not going to have to be borrowed from our children and our grandchildren. Under the gentleman's substitute, over that same period of time, spending is actually going to go up by almost $37 billion. This is a process that is designed to reduce borrowing and spending, to reduce the burden we are placing on our children, and the gentleman's substitute increases the burden that we place on our children.


Reclaiming my time, I would say to my friend, what we have within our power is the power to stop the borrowing and the spending. I'm reading here from today's Congressional Quarterly, because folks sometimes get confused, Mr. Speaker. We talked about the Reading Clerk and the tough work they had yesterday, reading today from Congressional Quarterly, it says here that Democrats left open the possibility that they would offer an alternative proposal through a motion to recommit, which is allowed under the rule. My friend on the Rules Committee knows that to be true. My friend on the Budget Committee knows that to be true.

I look forward to your using that opportunity to bring your substitute to the floor for a vote. I think that is the right of the minority. I'm glad we preserved the right of the minority, Mr. Speaker.

And with that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 30 seconds to say we just disagree on what balance is. When our proposal for budget reduction is to reduce spending by $65 billion over 5 years and your proposal for budget reduction is to spend an additional $35 billion over those same 5 years, we disagree on what balance is. We are moving in the wrong direction under your proposal, right direction under our proposal. I'm very proud of our proposal, proud to serve on the committee with my friend.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentlelady from Michigan (Mrs. Miller).


When you're borrowing $1.4 trillion a year from your children, when you're mortgaging the future of this country, it's not a choice of either spending cuts or revenue changes; we've got to have both. We've got to have both. And to describe it to the American people as if we can do one or the other and get ourselves out of this mess, we cannot. We absolutely cannot. It takes both.

I would ask my friends--and with this, I'd be happy to yield to my colleague--when this House brought to the floor a tax cut bill that gave every Member of Congress a tax cut at the end of 2011 that said we only have to pay 4 percent of payroll taxes that we owe, instead of 6 percent of payroll taxes that we owe, I voted ``no.'' I said there's not a Member in this body that needs a tax cut. I said we have too big a problem in this Nation to give tax cuts to Members of Congress. I voted ``no.'' Did anybody else vote ``no'' with me? Did anybody else vote ``no'' with me?

I will not be lectured about how it is that tax cuts are distributed in this country when we have opportunities to cut them on this floor, to eliminate them on this floor, and my colleagues continue to vote ``yes.'' We could have added a provision that eliminated those tax cuts for the rich. We did not, and we should have.

With that, I'd be happy to yield to my friend.


I thank the Speaker for his help there. I'm sorry that I needed it, but I appreciate him offering it.

You know, we passed a budget in this House, a comprehensive budget in this House. And to hear my colleagues talk, you'd think this is the only bill we're going to pass for the rest of the year. To hear my colleagues talk, you'd think we're not going to bring the farm bill to the floor and go after ag subsidies. To hear my colleagues talk, you'd think we're not going to bring a tax bill to the floor and try to raise revenues in this country. To hear my colleagues talk, this is it.

This isn't it. This is the bill that responds to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who said in February of this year about the cuts that we're trying to prevent today:

I will tell you that I am prepared to say that sequestration will pose an unacceptable risk.

That's what we're here to talk about today: How do we mitigate the unacceptable risk? How do we mitigate against the challenges that former Democratic Budget Committee chairman, former Clinton OMB Director, former Clinton Chief of Staff, current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says threaten our national security?

And, again, we're going to have a choice, Mr. Speaker. We've brought a very powerful program, a very powerful proposal to the floor today, a very powerful proposal. For the first time in over a decade, we're trying to get a handle on that out-of-control portion of spending in this budget. Just a little bit, Mr. Speaker. Just a little bit.

And, again, we just have a different idea of what balance is. We have a different idea of what deficit reduction is. My idea of deficit reduction is over the next 5 years we reduce the deficit.

My colleagues' idea of deficit reduction is over the next 5 years we spend an additional $40 billion above and beyond what we were going to borrow and spend anyway. It's a legitimate difference of opinion. I'm glad we're bringing this rule to the floor, Mr. Speaker, so that we can have a vote on that opinion. I look forward to the debate on the underlying bill.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. Speaker, there are no tough choices here. I talked to the gentleman whose seat I took the other day. I said, John, you know, when you were up here as a Congressman, you made it look fun. Folks were always saying thank you, thank you, thank you for all the spending that was going on here. I said, I don't get to make any fun decisions.

When you've increased the public debt in this country by 50 percent over the last 4 years, you're all out of giveaway decisions. All we have now are tough decisions. That's all we have.

And, again, I know that my friend from Massachusetts speaks with passion and conviction. His advocacy for the neediest among us is an inspiration on the floor and in committee and on and on, and I don't fault him for that a bit.

But I would say to my friend, had we not given that payroll tax cut to Members of Congress, we could have provided that food stamp increase that you discussed earlier to an additional 2 million individuals in this country, an additional 2 million individuals in this country had we foregone that tax increase right here. But we didn't. We chose just to go along with the program and cut away, spend away. We can't do that. We've got to stop that.

And I would say to my friend, because it's hard, I have the same families struggling in my district that you do. In fact, our foreclosure rate in my district is higher than it is in your district. Our number of folks who are going homeless in Georgia as a result of foreclosures, higher than it is in Massachusetts.

But when you talk about the additional 1.8 million folks, 1.8 million folks, Mr. Speaker, according to the CBO, who are going to lose their food stamp benefits under this bill, there's no question about that.

But here's the thing, Mr. Speaker, and this is important. This bill doesn't cut anybody from food stamps. This bill says the only people who can get food stamps are people who apply and qualify for food stamps. Hear that, Mr. Speaker.

The CBO tells us, and my friend from Massachusetts quotes, that 1.8 million people are going to lose food stamp benefits. But the only change this bill makes is that you actually have to apply for the benefits to get the benefits. So that means 1.8 million people in this country are receiving food stamp benefits who would not qualify for food stamp benefits if they had to go and apply.

Mr. Speaker, that is not mean-spirited. If you want to change the food stamp rules, if you want to make it a laxer process, whatever you want to do, let's do that. But let's not demonize each other. Let's not say we're trying to throw poor children out in the streets, when all we're saying is we have a successful food stamp program, and why don't we just limit it to those people who qualify for it.


Reclaiming my time from my friend, I would say reaching out and bringing folks into the program who do not qualify for the program. The rules for the program are clear, Mr. Speaker. If you qualify for food stamps, I am the first one who wants you to have it. If you qualify for the SNAP program, under SNAP program rules, you should get food stamps.


This is important, Mr. Speaker, and I hope folks are paying attention back in their offices. The gentleman is talking about the error rate, the error rate, folks who have mistakenly gotten food stamps because in the application process they got the application process wrong. They shouldn't have qualified but they have given them away anyway.

What the CBO says is something entirely different. What the CBO says is that 1.8 million American families, if they walked into the office today and applied for food stamps today, would not qualify for food stamps. It's not an error. It's not a mistake. It's that the rules of the game have been changed to say we just want everybody, we just want everybody to have a part in the program.

When the gentleman says it's a paperwork nightmare for States, I happen to agree with the gentleman. There's a tremendous paperwork challenge for States. But this does not solve that. All we're saying is go through the application process. To suggest that we're trying to take benefits away from people who need those benefits is disingenuous.


Mr. Speaker, I would say to my friend that I wish he would show me the code sections here that go into the SNAP program, the codes that say, under the SNAP program, the income criteria that we had yesterday is changing, and so folks aren't going to get those benefits tomorrow. That's not here. All this bill does is to say you need to apply, and you need to earn those benefits on your own merits.

When the gentleman talks about paperwork, he knows good and well the CBO took that into consideration. When the CBO says 1.8 million families are no longer going to qualify, it means some folks are going to get thrown off of categorical eligibility because that is the gaming of the system. They're going to go back in, and they're going to apply for benefits, and they're going to get them, but 1.8 million are going to go back in and apply and get denied because they don't qualify for benefits.

Mr. Speaker, if we need to change the eligibility criteria, if we have folks in need who can't qualify, let's change the eligibility criteria. But in the name of good government, when we're going into programs and saying we have rules of the game--we just want people to have to follow them--to somehow define that as being mean-spirited, it galls me.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Massachusetts for joining me on the floor today.

I will say I think he chose exactly the right words when he was trying to make his points: describe your opposition as hating women and children, and that's your best chance of winning your argument. If only it were true.

And that's what I hope the American people take home from debates like these, Mr. Speaker--that there are serious challenges here and that there are serious people who are here who are trying to solve these challenges. But we get wrapped around the axle in the name-calling I hear, that I would argue does nothing to feed a child and that does nothing to take care of a family.

The gentleman says that we're the richest Nation in the world. I would tell the gentleman there is no poorer nation on the planet. There is not a nation on the planet that has borrowed more money than this Nation has--not one, not one. What do they say about socialism, Mr. Speaker? It's a great plan until you run out of other people's money. Guess what? We've run out of other people's money.

I just want to show you a chart, Mr. Speaker. This is a chart--and I'll show it so that other Members can see it. The green line represents tax revenues in this country. It goes back to 1947. What you'll see is that tax revenues are fairly flat as a percent of the economy. In fact, because this chart goes all the way back to 1947, it reflects the New Deal with FDR. It reflects all of that growth in government. The red line is the government spending. It goes all the way back through 1965. It reflects Lyndon Johnson and all the Great Society spending that goes on.

I just want to make sure all of my colleagues can see it there. The red line represents where spending is going in this Nation, and the green line represents where taxes are historically in this Nation. Mr. Speaker, does this look like we have a tax problem here? Does it look like we have a spending problem in this Nation?

Taxes have remained the same as a percentage of GDP, as has spending, until now. Until now, we have a spending-driven crisis in this Nation. I say to my friend that, again, he chose all the right talking points: they want to protect the rich; they want to protect the oil companies.

There is one bill in this Congress that you know well, Mr. Speaker, that eliminates every single corporate loophole exemption deduction and break. There's one. That same bill, Mr. Speaker, eliminates every loophole the wealthy use to avoid paying their fair share. Mr. Speaker, it is the single most popularly cosponsored tax bill, fundamental reform bill in the House and in the Senate. It has almost 70 Members in the House; it has nine Members in the Senate, and there is one Democrat on it.

Mr. Speaker, giving the right speech down here about what folks ought to do doesn't move us in the right direction. Putting your name behind some legislation and moving something forward gets us in the right direction. This Budget Committee chairman sitting here beside me, I'm so proud of him. Chairman Paul Ryan, that's a man known around this country as a man who is trying.

There are a lot of folks here who are known for blaming. There aren't many folks who are known for trying, who say, I don't care about the slings and the arrows. America is facing crisis. And if not me, then who?

We got that in the House-passed budget, Mr. Speaker, folks who said, If not me, then who? And they made tough choices. Here we have the first reconciliation bill. My colleagues on the other side are going to offer a motion to recommit to this deficit-reduction bill that actually increases spending and call that balance.

Mr. Speaker, the food stamp program spending has increased 270 percent over the last decade. The mean-spirited folks that my colleagues talk about want to increase it by 260 percent instead. These aren't easy decisions, Mr. Speaker, but they're not going to put one family out that qualifies for food stamps.

We're going to move beyond the demagoguery, Mr. Speaker. We're going to move into the real business that governing this Nation takes. I hope we'll get a strong bipartisan vote on this rule. I hope we'll get a strong bipartisan vote on the underlying bill. I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of both the rule and the underlying bill.

The material previously referred to by Mr. McGovern is as follows:

An Amendment to H. Res. 648 Offered by Mr. McGovern of Massachusetts

Strike ``and (2)'' and insert ``(2) a further amendment in the nature of a substitute submitted for printing in the Congressional Record pursuant to clause 8 of rule XVIII, if offered by Representative Van Hollen of Maryland or his designee, which shall be in order without intervention of any point of order, shall be considered as read, and shall be separately debatable for one hour equally divided and controlled by the proponent and an opponent; and (3)''.

The Vote on the Previous Question: What It Really Means

This vote, the vote on whether to order the previous question on a special rule, is not merely a procedural vote. A vote against ordering the previous question is a vote against the Republican majority agenda and a vote to allow the opposition, at least for the moment, to offer an alternative plan. It is a vote about what the House should be debating.

Mr. Clarence Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives (VI, 308 311), describes the vote on the previous question on the rule as ``a motion to direct or control the consideration of the subject before the House being made by the Member in charge.'' To defeat the previous question is to give the opposition a chance to decide the subject before the House. Cannon cites the Speaker's ruling of January 13, 1920, to the effect that ``the refusal of the House to sustain the demand for the previous question passes the control of the resolution to the opposition'' in order to offer an amendment. On March 15, 1909, a member of the majority party offered a rule resolution. The House defeated the previous question and a member of the opposition rose to a parliamentary inquiry, asking who was entitled to recognition. Speaker Joseph G. Cannon (R-Illinois) said: ``The previous question having been refused, the gentleman from New York, Mr. Fitzgerald, who had asked the gentleman to yield to him for an amendment, is entitled to the first recognition.''

Because the vote today may look bad for the Republican majority they will say ``the vote on the previous question is simply a vote on whether to proceed to an immediate vote on adopting the resolution ..... [and] has no substantive legislative or policy implications whatsoever.'' But that is not what they have always said. Listen to the Republican Leadership Manual on the Legislative Process in the United States House of Representatives, (6th edition, page 135). Here's how the Republicans describe the previous question vote in their own manual: ``Although it is generally not possible to amend the rule because the majority Member controlling the time will not yield for the purpose of offering an amendment, the same result may be achieved by voting down the previous question on the rule. ..... When the motion for the previous question is defeated, control of the time passes to the Member who led the opposition to ordering the previous question. That Member, because he then controls the time, may offer an amendment to the rule, or yield for the purpose of amendment.''

In Deschler's Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, the subchapter titled ``Amending Special Rules'' states: ``a refusal to order the previous question on such a rule [a special rule reported from the Committee on Rules] opens the resolution to amendment and further debate.'' (Chapter 21, section 21.2) Section 21.3 continues: ``Upon rejection of the motion for the previous question on a resolution reported from the Committee on Rules, control shifts to the Member leading the opposition to the previous

question, who may offer a proper amendment or motion and who controls the time for debate thereon.''

Clearly, the vote on the previous question on a rule does have substantive policy implications. It is one of the only available tools for those who oppose the Republican majority's agenda and allows those with alternative views the opportunity to offer an alternative plan.