Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2655, Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013, and Providing for Consideration of H.R. 982, Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 13, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, I think back to a time when I was a teenager and I came into the gallery, and I am convinced that I came in during a rule because the reading clerk was standing there, reading line after line after line of material I didn't understand at all, and I thought, Why in the world is line by line by line the legislation being read? Haven't the Members already looked at that legislation? Haven't they already had time to study it?

What I know now, Mr. Speaker, 3 years with the voting card of the people of the Seventh District of Georgia, is that the rule is the only piece of legislation in this entire body that has to be read word for word here on the floor of the House.

My colleague from Florida and I spend a lot of hours up there in the Rules Committee sorting those things out, but the rules matter. The process matters.

I will be able to confess to you, Mr. Speaker--and I think sometimes we get that process done a little better, sometimes we get that process not done quite so well, but today we have a rule that brings two very important pieces of legislation to the floor. This structured rule provides for H.R. 982, which is the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act, the FACT Act; and it brings a closed rule for H.R. 2655, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013.

I want to say, Mr. Speaker, I was just talking with a group about what the Rules Committee does, and I have talked about the importance of an open process and how closed rules don't give folks as much opportunity to express their views on the floor.

It is going to be a closed rule on the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, H.R. 2655, because for 11 days, Mr. Speaker, the Rules Committee solicited amendments from the entire body. It asked anyone who had any ideas about how to improve this legislation to submit those amendments so that we could consider them in the Rules Committee, and over that period of 11 days, Mr. Speaker, not one Member of this body offered any ideas about how to improve this bill. We would have liked to have made amendments in order for this bill, but none were submitted. So while we say this is a closed rule on H.R. 2655, it is only because no amendments were submitted to improve upon it.

Now on H.R. 982, the FACT Act, Mr. Speaker, we had five amendments submitted, all Democrat amendments. One was withdrawn. So there were only four that were in order for our meeting last night. One was confessed to actually just try to eliminate the effectiveness of the bill altogether. So we excluded that one because if folks don't like the bill, they can just vote ``no.'' They don't have to destroy the bill from within; they can just vote ``no'' on final passage. But all of the other amendments that were submitted we made in order. Now these are not amendments that I intend to support on the floor, Mr. Speaker, but I do think it is important that people's voices be heard.

So, again, three amendments are made in order. That is 75 percent of all the amendments that were submitted, and they are all amendments offered by my friends on the Democratic side of the aisle. The Rules Committee thought it was important to make those amendments in order.

Now we will talk a lot, Mr. Speaker, in the debate that comes after the rule about the content of these bills. One deals with frivolous litigation and whether or not judges will be required to allow folks who had to defend against frivolous lawsuits to recover the costs of those suits.

Today, Mr. Speaker, if someone files a frivolous lawsuit against you, you can have that lawsuit tossed out, but you have to go back to the court a second time to recover all of the costs that it took you to have the frivolous lawsuit tossed out. It is a tremendous burden on small businesses in our Nation. This bill seeks to solve that.

The FACT Act, our asbestos litigation act, aims to provide some transparency to the asbestos trust funds. I don't know if you are familiar, Mr. Speaker, but when it was discovered all of the health damage done by asbestos, the lawsuits began immediately and would have driven every one of those companies that either used asbestos or produced asbestos into bankruptcy, leaving no money at all for victims who had health problems that they then sought compensation for.

So federally we created, within Federal bankruptcy courts, these asbestos trust funds that allowed these companies, these manufacturers of asbestos, these folks who utilized processes that included asbestos, to deposit money into a trust fund and not go out of business but to provide certainty that victims would be able to recover from those funds in the future.

There is some concern, Mr. Speaker, that the process, as it exists today, does not allow for folks to see who is getting those dollars and whether or not the victims who have the most urgent needs are receiving those dollars first. Our great concern, Mr. Speaker, is that when those trust funds are depleted, they are gone forever. As you know, asbestos-related illnesses often don't present themselves for years down the road, so we have a stewardship obligation to these trust funds to keep them protected for future claimants.

This bill requires a degree of transparency, a quarterly report from the trustees of these trust funds to see who is making claims on these funds, who is receiving claims out of these funds, again, just so we

can be good stewards of those trust funds and ensure they are available for future years.

I don't sit on the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Speaker, but I heard from the ranking member of the Constitution Subcommittee last night. I heard from the chairman of the full committee last night in the Rules Committee as we held a hearing on both of these bills. I am glad that we are able to bring them to the floor today, Mr. Speaker. Two bills, a structured rule. One rule is closed because no amendments were provided. The other bill is receiving 75 percent of all of the amendments that were submitted. Just one amendment was excluded by that rule.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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

I say to my friend that I absolutely share his passion for privacy protection. In fact, I had to leave a hearing we were having in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee today, Mr. Speaker, where we were looking at the ObamaCare Web site and talking to the chief information officers and the chief technology officers about how this Web site had gone live without having been fully vetted for security protections; talking about how, even as we sit here today, we have not fully run through those security processes.

I share the gentleman's concern. The gentleman is an attorney as well. I remember when I was in law school and they gave you access to the LexisNexis database when you showed up to law school. You could dial up anybody in the country. It is giving you a credit report and showing you Social Security numbers.

We really do have to have a national conversation, Mr. Speaker, about where we are headed. Those last four digits that were once my private knowledge are out there all over the Internet today. My birthday is broadcast everywhere on the Internet. My mother's maiden name is out there. All of those things that folks used to ask me to protect me have now become part of the public domain. And what the gentleman says about a need to focus on that and protect folks is absolutely right, and we absolutely need to do that.

There was only one amendment last night that was offered to deal with privacy. It was going to give a unique identifier to folks, instead of listing names, so that we could have the transparency to see if folks were trying to game the system and take opportunities away from future victims. That amendment was withdrawn. We didn't have an opportunity to talk about that.

But my great hope is that this bill will pass the House today and that we will be able to have a similar bill come out of the Senate. If regular order has a chance to prevail on Capitol Hill, conference committees will give us another chance to take a bite at that apple.

I think the gentleman brings up very real concerns; and, again, we will have an opportunity to talk about those today.

The gentleman says, Mr. Speaker, there are some bills that are just so bad, nobody wants to fix them. I want to say to the gentleman that I am sympathetic to that sentiment. There are a few that I could rattle off right now that are so bad, I wonder if it is even possible to fix them.

But the bill the gentleman was talking about was the bill to eliminate frivolous lawsuits, Mr. Speaker. When we had these penalties in place back for 10 years between 1983 and 1993, more than 70 percent of judges said that they utilized this procedure and that they awarded damages in frivolous lawsuits. Seventy percent of judges, Mr. Speaker, utilize this provision that we are trying to bring back into being to punish filers of frivolous lawsuits.

This is not a bill for Big Business, Mr. Speaker. This is a bill that has been key voted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses. If you know NFIB--and I know most of my colleagues do--this is the trade association that represents the mom-and-pop shops, Mr. Speaker. These aren't the big, working-out-of-a-glass-building-downtown folks that you think are out to get the consumer. These are our friends and neighbors. These are folks who are employing our sons and daughters. These are folks who create most of the jobs in this country.

And they don't key vote a lot of bills, Mr. Speaker. You can go to their Web site--NFIB--and see the number of bills that they key vote. But they have picked this one out.

My colleague from Florida says that some people believe it is so bad that it can't be fixed. They have heard from lawyer association, after lawyer association, after lawyer association which says it doesn't like it, but we are hearing from the mom-and-pop shops which can't defend against it.

Understand, Mr. Speaker, that today, if a frivolous lawsuit is filed against you--and I don't mean ``frivolous'' because I think it is silly. There are lots of those out there. That is going to be a much higher number. I mean ``frivolous'' because the judge in the case says it has absolutely no merit on either the facts or the law. When the judge says it has no merit whatsoever, but you have had to pay to defend yourself against it, this bill says the fellow who filed it ought to make you whole.

Punitive damages are something we often hear about from the trial lawyer bar. This bill doesn't have punitive damages. This bill doesn't say, if you try to bankrupt the mom-and-pop company that is down the street from me, we are going to punish you. I think probably it should, but they didn't want to go that far. They said, if you are trying to destroy, with a frivolous lawsuit, the mom-and-pop company down the street, you have to make it whole. If a judge decides that your case has no merit--not a possibly of merit, but no merit--on either the facts or the law, the poor small business owner who is being harassed by that lawsuit should at least have the chance to be made whole at the end of that process. The National Federation of Independent Business--small mom-and-pop shops--is who cares about this legislation.

Again, folks are going to vote ``yes,'' and folks are going to vote ``no,'' but I think it is important that we say, Mr. Speaker, that this is the purview, those things that are important. The gentleman from Florida says, hey, there are more important things we could be working on. I happen to agree with him. There really are important things that we need to have on the floor of this House, but if you are the small business owner who is about to lose your entire lifetime of work because someone has filed a frivolous lawsuit against you, I promise you there is no more important bill in your life than the one that is before us today.

I also have to say, Mr. Speaker, to my friend who talks about sequester that I think that is an important thing. I happen to be the Rules Committee designee to the Budget Committee, and I happen to be the chairman of the Republican Study Committee Budget and Spending Task Force. In fact, we are having a meeting with Maya MacGuineas on the Fix the Debt campaign next Monday afternoon to talk about what those options are for dealing with long-term problems. The Budget Committee right now is in conference with the Senate, trying to find a way to restore funding to discretionary spending programs that we all believe have been ham-handedly reduced. Instead, they are trying to find savings on which we can agree on those long-term mandatory spending programs that rarely, Mr. Speaker, have an opportunity to see aggressive oversight, to see the things that can improve them, to see the things that can preserve their long-term fiscal viability.

I would say, finally, Mr. Speaker, to my friend from Florida that, as the designee to the Budget Committee and as the chairman of the Budget and Spending Task Force, I don't believe it is the failure to raise the debt ceiling that threatens America's credit rating. I think it is out-of-control spending that threatens America's credit rating. It only takes a stroke of a pen here for us to raise the credit limit to infinity, but I promise you that that is not in the best interests of the American economy.

We all know we have spending challenges in this country. We all know that we have made promises to veterans, to seniors, to the infirm, to the poor that we don't have the money to keep. I think that is immoral. If you don't want to help somebody, then say you don't want to help somebody, but do not promise someone that you will be there for him in his time of need and pull the rug out from under him when he needs the promise to be fulfilled the most. We can do better. This body has done better.

In 1983, Republicans and Democrats came together and extended the fiscal lifetime of Social Security by not doing things that hurt seniors in that day but by doing things that raised the retirement age for me--I was 13 at the time--from 65 to 67. That is a pretty modest step that made a big impact in the life of the Social Security trust fund.

There are big issues that we need to discuss here on the floor. I hope we will bring those issues to the floor. Our committees in the House moved things in a responsible way, step by step, throughout the summer. We could use a little partnership from the other side of the Hill, but I hope we will focus on what we have before us here today, Mr. Speaker--an opportunity to make a difference for future victims who are applying to the trust fund and an opportunity to make a difference today for small businesses which are being victimized by frivolous litigation.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume to say to my colleague that I very much appreciate her concern about the family members of veterans.

So often, we craft a one-size-fits-all solution in this body, and if you want to care for your loved one at home, there is very little help for you. Now, if you want to institutionalize your loved one--if you want to dump your loved one off on the State--then we have a program for you, but if you want to nurture your loved one but you just need a little help, if you want to keep your loved one by your side but you just can't do it alone, there are very few opportunities that you have within our Federal system today. One exception to that is the PACE program, which was championed by Bob Dole back in the day, that allows you to bridge some of the different Federal programs that are available to you and to utilize those within your home, within your family, rather than having to institutionalize your loved one.

I don't think there is a man or a woman in this body, Mr. Speaker, who does not both have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for our veterans but who also feels a debt of service to our veterans. I will point out that we always talk about the hyperpartisan U.S. House of Representatives. We moved our Veterans Affairs' spending bill in this House back on June 4. On June 4, we passed it in this House with only four Members voting ``no.'' Talk about things that bring you together, Mr. Speaker, as opposed to divide you. That is the kind of commitment that this institution has to our veterans.

I can't tell you why we haven't been able to get that signed into law. I know the Senate has not yet acted on that bill. I think it would be something that would bring them together, too, and I would recommend that to them, but of the 435 Members of this body, only four Members voted ``no'' on our bill to try to fulfill that commitment in order to make sure our veterans--our returning men and women--have the kinds of resources that not just they deserve but that we have committed to them.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume to say to this body there are actually more that my friend from Florida and I agree on than what we disagree on. I might not say that at a townhall meeting back home, but I will say that to you here, because at its core we all share a vision of what this Nation can be, what this Nation should be; but we do get mired in the rhetoric.

It is interesting that we have a bill today that those folks who represent mom-and-pop businesses say is so important to them they are going to make sure that every single Member of this House knows that they are keeping score on this and they want a ``yes'' vote on that legislation. Yet we have other bills here that the trial lawyers are saying are so important to them that they are going to write letter after letter after letter saying this is not in the best interest of the country, we should move in a different direction.

I will tell you, those are exactly the kinds of bills that we ought to be working on. Now, are there bigger-picture bills out there? Absolutely there are. I would like to see a bill that solves Social Security forever, where we end this business about Social Security is going to go bankrupt, and once and for all we solve that issue so no senior is ever concerned about that again.

We don't have that bill on the floor today. We have an opportunity to stop frivolous lawsuits.

I would like to see a bill on the floor that balances the Federal budget. I am old fashioned that way, Mr. Speaker. I think if you want to spend it, you ought to raise it. If you don't want to raise it, then don't spend it.

But we don't have that bill on the floor today. We have a bill to make sure that trust funds intended to protect victims of a horrible, horrible perpetration by industry have an opportunity to collect what little money there is left from those businesses that perpetrated those harms. I think we should support that bill today.

Mr. Speaker, one step at a time we really can make a difference. I have been reading with great dismay that some of the colleagues that I was elected with 3 years ago have decided they are not going to run for reelection. They have been here 3 years, and they have found that while they came here to make America a better place, while they came here to serve the men and women back home, while they came here to make sure their
children grew up with the same freedoms and opportunities that they grew up with, they have decided that it might not be happening.

We can and we must do better. In fact, we had a committee hearing last night. My colleague from Florida (Mr. Webster) said, I think ``comprehensive'' ought to be a dirty word. Comprehensive ought to be a dirty word, because when I hear ``comprehensive,'' Mr. Speaker, what I hear is we are throwing everything in, and the kitchen sink, and I want you to pass all or nothing on the House floor.

It doesn't have to be that way. I promise you if you put together a 2,000-page bill, Mr. Speaker, there are going to be parts of it that my constituency does not believe are in the best interest of America. But if we pass bills 10 pages at a time, 20 pages at a time, maybe even 30 pages at a time, Mr. Speaker, if we move one idea at a time, we get a ``yes'' or ``no'' vote from both sides of the aisle, we send it to the Senate, we pass it in the Senate, and the President puts a signature on it, we can make a difference.

I believe that that momentum matters. I hope we get a ``yes'' vote on the rule. I hope we get a ``yes'' vote on these underlying bills. I hope we get bills coming out of the farm bill conference. I hope we get bills coming out of the budget conference. I hope we get bills coming out of the Water Resources and Reform Development Act conference. I hope we move these things before we begin to build that momentum.

We are at a stumbling place, Mr. Speaker. There is an impediment in our way. I read some White House sources this week that said they recognize that we have not come through on the promise of ``if you like your insurance, you can keep it.'' They were looking for solutions, but they weren't going to come to Congress to look for solutions. They were going to look for administrative solutions, and they were going to try to fix it on their own.

As we have heard on this floor many times, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land; ObamaCare is the law of the land. An administrative branch shouldn't just be able to unilaterally change the law of the land. The Constitution gives that responsibility to us. We have got to step up and take responsibility for those things that the Constitution invests in us, and article III courts are one of those things. We are taking that responsibility up today.

Mr. Speaker, we have an opportunity not to be Republicans and Democrats, but to be representatives of Americans in the greatest body in this entire land, the closest to the American people--the U.S. House of Representatives. We have a chance to announce our position, the House position, and move that to the Senate and then, lo and bold, we have an opportunity to work with the Senate not to adopt a Republican position or a Democrat position, but a congressional opinion, an article I constitutional opinion that we then march down Pennsylvania Avenue and say to the Executive, be he or she a Republican or a Democrat, this is what the people have to say; we need your signature on that. They can say ``yes'' or ``no.''

We have set up these roadblocks, Mr. Speaker, where it is not House and Senate; it is Republican and Democrat. It does not serve this institution well. It does not serve America well.

I hope we are going to have bipartisan votes on these two bills today, Mr. Speaker. We are exercising a constitutional responsibility to direct the courts. We can vote ``yes,'' we can vote ``no,'' but it is not something that is peripheral to what we are about. It is something that is essential to the responsibilities that the Constitution has placed with us.

I promise my colleagues this institution will be a better institution if we pull out that rule book called the United States Constitution more often and start with those priorities that it has invested in us, not the priorities that some interest group has invested in us, not the priorities that the news media has invested in us, not the priorities that a Republican Party or a Democratic Party have invested in us, but the priorities the United States Constitution invests in us, we will restore the faith of the American people in this institution.

These two bills do that, Mr. Speaker. I encourage a strong ``yes'' vote on the rule that has made in order all of the amendments that were offered, save one. Let this body work its will. Support this rule. Support the underlying bill. Vote your conscience on the amendments to make the bills better if you want to, but let's get our constitutional responsibilities done.

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