Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2028, Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016; Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2029, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016; and Providing for Proceedings During the Period from May 4, 2015, through May 11, 2015

Floor Speech

Date: April 29, 2015
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WOODALL. If Members were listening to the Reading Clerk read this rule, we got into some housekeeping issues at the end. We have got a district workweek coming up next week. We needed to give the Speaker some authorities to continue to conduct the business of the House in a collaborative and a pro forma way. But it was the first part of that rule that is exciting.

I confess, I was talking to the Parliamentarian the other day, and he was telling me about the way the history of the rules had evolved, as folks stand on the House floor during Committee on Rules debate and actually go through line by line explaining to the House what is in the rule. It is not every day that I am excited about doing that, Mr. Speaker.

The Committee on Rules has a tough job. Sometimes the Committee on Rules' job is saying no. Sometimes the Committee on Rules' job is being that gatekeeper to the floor of the House, and we have to deliver some bad news to folks. I don't particularly enjoy reiterating that bad news on the floor of the House.

But today is good news. Today it is all good news for every Member of the House who has any ideas at all about how better to fund the responsibilities of this Nation. They are going to be able to have their voice heard.

Let me read, as the Reading Clerk did. We have two bills in this rule, Mr. Speaker: H.R. 2028 and H.R. 2029. I have them here. H.R. 2029 makes appropriations for military construction, Veterans Affairs, and related agencies. I daresay there is not a single Member on the floor of this House that has not grappled with how to better serve the veterans at home in our districts, that has not grappled with how to provide better accountability to the Veterans Administration that is tasked with providing those services. This rule provides that any Member of this Chamber--Republican or Democrat, senior or junior, freshman or retiring--has an opportunity to have their ideas heard. It is the best of what we do in this Chamber, Mr. Speaker, and we are going to do it on H.R. 2029.

This rule also provides for consideration of H.R. 2028. That is the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, Mr. Speaker. Again, I daresay that there is anyone, particularly east of the Mississippi, that has a district that is not in some way impacted by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps of Engineers is funded in this legislation. Individual projects are funded in this legislation.

What this rule provides is that any Member of this Chamber that has an idea about how to better appropriate these dollars--these dollars that belong not to us as individual Members, but to the American taxpayer--how to better be accountable, be effective, be efficient with these tax dollars, Mr. Speaker, they can come to this floor and have their amendments heard.

Mr. Speaker, you have heard it said often that the Senate only has two rules: the unanimous consent and exhaustion. The Committee on Rules prevents us from having to have that structure here, but it is true that you can effectively filibuster in this Chamber as well: you can come down; you can move to strike the last word; you can have debate go on forever. I don't believe that serves us particularly well.

There is obviously an opportunity and a need to have your voice heard, to have your constituents' voices heard; but what this rule does do, which is why we are going to call it a modified open rule instead of a completely open rule, is it restricts what one might call dilatory amendments, what one might call clarifying conversation. It restricts these pro forma amendments, where you are not actually trying to change any language, you just want to come down here and talk, 10 on each side controlled by the subcommittee chairmen.

Mr. Speaker, what is so neat about these two bills that we are going to make in order under this bill is they both passed out of the Committee on Appropriations on a voice vote. As you know, Mr. Speaker, there are some contentious things that we do in this institution and, arguably, appropriating is one of the hardest things that this institution has to do, but passing these bills out of committee on a voice vote tells us about the collaborative way in which these bills were put together.

Now, I can tell you, there are going to be folks on both sides of the aisle, Mr. Speaker, who disagree with the funding levels in these bills. There are going to be Republicans who wish that they funded less, Democrats who wish they funded more; there are going to be Democrats who wish they funded less, and Republicans who wish they funded more.

The funding levels of the total bill, that is not for debate today. That is set in the funding allocations. We call them 302(a) allocations, Mr. Speaker. That is my responsibility on the Committee on the Budget and others who serve on the Committee on the Budget. As you know, Mr. Speaker, we are this close--oh, golly, we are this close--to having conferenced the first balanced budget for the United States of America in over 10 years--in over 10 years. The House and the Senate are about to agree on funding levels for this Nation. It is embarrassing that we don't do it every year, but it is wonderful that we have an opportunity to do it this year, and we will.

Ordinarily, Mr. Speaker, we would have done that first. And candidly, as a member of the House Committee on the Budget, a Member who proudly supported the budget that passed here on the floor of the House, I thought that conference report was going to be ready on Monday of this week. It is not. It is not. So this rule also deems those levels that the House has already passed, those levels that we absolutely expect to be the levels of funding in that conference report, to be the levels of funding for this Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, for this Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, as is appropriate.

We are beginning the appropriations process today, Mr. Speaker, at the earliest point in 40 years. How many of my colleagues are frustrated, disappointed, disillusioned when this Chamber cannot get its work done?

Oh, the list is long, Mr. Speaker, and there are legitimate reasons why we cannot accomplish some of the goals that we have set out to accomplish, but I promise you, Mr. Speaker, the funding clock waits on no Member. Come September 30 of this year, funding will expire for the entire Federal Government. The earlier we start to solve that issue, the better chance we have of getting it done. And working together, collaboratively, voice votes out of subcommittee, big votes out on the budget bill, we are starting earlier than we have since 1973.

Good processes yield good results, Mr. Speaker; flawed processes yield flawed results. This is the kind of rule that I think every Member of this body wishes we could see more of here on the House floor. This is going to allow for the kind of debate that is not going to predetermine the outcome, but is going to allow Members to come down to the floor and make their case to their colleagues, have the kind of debate the American people expect, and let the chips fall where they may. You get 218 votes, you get to change this bill.

Mr. Speaker, I signed up to be on the Committee on Rules because I knew that we would have the opportunity to unleash this institution, the opportunity to allow every Member who comes from such diverse backgrounds, who have so much to contribute. Mr. Speaker, I just got here 4 years ago with my voting card lent to me by the Seventh District of Georgia. Folks in my class that came in 4 years ago, they are already in the top 50 percent of seniority in this institution. The American people have been turning folks out at record speed, which means we have been bringing in new talent like never before.

Sometimes folks think the system around here is geared towards those who have been here the longest. They think that only after you have achieved a subcommittee chairmanship or a committee chairmanship will you be able to have input on the process. The Committee on Rules says no. The Committee on Appropriations says no. On these bills in this process, every single Member has a chance to have their voice heard, a chance to come down here, make their case, and have an impact on the final product.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be carrying this rule today, and I urge strong support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we consider this bill throughout the afternoon and on final passage.


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

Mr. Speaker, we have an important responsibility in budgeting in this institution--again, one that has not been fulfilled, I would argue, in more than a decade, that will be fulfilled this year for the very first time.

We had a choice in the Budget Committee. I serve on the Budget Committee as well, Mr. Speaker. We had a choice in the Budget Committee about whether or not we were just going to pretend that we could fund at certain levels or whether we were going to actually follow the law.

Mr. Speaker, it may not surprise you that we have those conversations in Washington; but, yes, the conversation goes: Am I just going to do whatever I want to do? Or am I going to follow the law?

It is very striking to me that this conversation occurs at all. I would have said that that is kind of the definition of the law: you don't get whatever you want to do; you have to follow the law. I wish that we could drive that message home across so many different parts of our society. The law is the law.

The President absolutely sent some budget requests to us for these bills, as he will for other appropriations bills, Mr. Speaker.

In the case of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, the President requested a 5 percent increase in that funding. Now, had we passed that 5 percent increase without changing the law, we are going to roll around to October 1, at the beginning of the fiscal year, and the law is going to snap that 5 percent increase right back down to legally allowed levels.

The choice we had in the Appropriations Committee--and I so admire my friends on the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Speaker--we had a choice of either pretending we were going to spend a lot of money funding all of our priorities, only to have the law snap those down across the board, or we could be honest about how much money was available and make sure we were prioritizing every single dollar as best we could.

In the case of Energy and Water, the President asked for a 5 percent increase. The Appropriations Committee provided a 3 percent increase, as the law allows. In the case of Military Construction and the VA, the President asked for just over an 8 percent increase. The Appropriations Committee provided a 6 percent increase, as the law allows.

I would challenge my friends on the other side of the aisle. I would challenge my friends on this side of the aisle, Mr. Speaker. Thirty years ago, two-thirds of what the Federal Government funded in this country was funded out of this institution. It was funded through the Appropriations Committee. It was this body making decisions and choices based on our constituents' needs and desires about how to use taxpayer dollars--not so today.

Today, it is exactly the opposite; instead of this institution funding two-thirds of the budget and one-third of it being mandatory spending, now, two-thirds is mandatory, and only one-third is available for this body to make decisions about.

I would challenge my colleagues: let's find that agreement that reforms mandatory spending, as every Member of this Chamber knows needs to happen, and let's reallocate those dollars to what was designed in the Budget Control Act of 2011 to allow us to fund these discretionary priorities at a higher level.

Mr. Speaker, I want to build things. I want to build things. For Pete's sake, in this Energy and Water Development bill, we do. We fund the Corps of Engineers in this bill.

We have the Savannah Harbor expansion project in the great State of Georgia. We are the fastest growing container port in the Nation, Mr. Speaker--the fastest growing in the Nation--trying to prepare for the new Panamax ships coming through the new Panama Canal.

The Corps of Engineers tells us that in order to maximize the use of taxpayer dollars, in order to make sure that taxpayers get the best bang for their buck on this project of national importance, we need to build it in 6 years, at the rate of $100 million a year. Six years, $100 million a year, is the way we maximize taxpayer dollars.

This bill funds that project at $21 million. That is $21 million. We are going to string that project out year after year after year, costing the taxpayer more.

Now, I don't blame my friends on the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Speaker. As it turns out, the rules of the House don't allow us to prioritize those projects. That is what the President asked for. The Appropriations Committee wasn't able to ask for any more than the President asked for.

This is the President's funding level, but that is not the right way to appropriate, and if we could work together to reallocate those dollars, I would do it tomorrow.

I challenge my friends to find a mandatory spending reform bill that I will not support. It is critical that we do it. It is critical to our seniors. It is critical to the young people. It is critical to the governance of this Nation.

But to the degree that I have complaints about this bill, my friends have complaints about this bill, with the passage of this rule, we are going to allow every single Member to come down here and make those improvements known. We will have up-or-down votes. Some amendments will lose; some amendments will win.

We will perfect this bill together. That is the way this bill was written, and that is the way this bill will be passed, and that should make us all very proud.


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

I enjoy serving on the Budget Committee with my friend from Kentucky. The budget is that first step of any accounting process for the year, and my friend is absolutely right.

If we could have, we would have passed that budget conference report first thing when we got into town this week. Anybody who is reading the newspaper knows it slowed down in the Senate. We have all the numbers worked out. There are some other issues going on. I won't bore folks with those details.

So this rule absolutely does, in the name of getting the people's business done, take those budget levels that have passed in this House, that have passed in the Senate, that are on their way back over here in a conference report, and sets those as the funding levels for this year.

Again, these are the levels that exist in law. That is the fantasy part of some of our funding debates. I could agree with all my colleagues that we need to triple funding on X, Y, or Z project, but the law won't allow it. We will pass that on the floor of the House, but as soon as the beginning of the fiscal year rolls around, the law will sequester those dollars, snap that funding back down.

We have an obligation to prioritize these dollars ourselves. Golly, when we have tough decisions to be made, I don't want to leave those tough decisions to an automatic sequestration process. I don't want to leave those tough decisions to some automatic process of law. I want to take responsibility for those decisions here. I want us to make these decisions together.

If we have to grapple with it, let us grapple together, but let's be honest with folks that there is no free lunch here. If we want it, we have to pay for it.

Now, to my friend from Kentucky's point, we are paying for a lot of it out the overseas contingency operations account. I voted ``no'' on that decision when it came to the House floor, as my friend from Kentucky did as well. We lost.

That is the funny thing about this institution, Mr. Speaker. I told my constituents about all the amazing things I was going to get up here to do, I was going to do them on their behalf. It turns out, if I can't get 217 of my colleagues up to agree with me, I can't do squat.

We tried and we failed on that account. So now we have the numbers that we have; we have the bill that we have; we have the law that we have; and as much as we might want it to be different, it isn't.

That is why this open rule is so important, Mr. Speaker, because we have the bill that we have; we have the law that we have; and now we have a process that allows every Member of this Chamber to come down here and improve it.

We don't know what it is going to look like at the end of the process. It is not a foregone conclusion who has the votes and who doesn't, and I believe in my heart the bill will be better at the end than it was at the beginning because that is what the collective wisdom of this institution brings.


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

I know the Speaker is constrained to just ruling on parliamentary issues. I have no such constraint here. I can opine on the budget process itself.

And I would say to my friend that I share her frustration. I absolutely do. I have been in this Chamber 4 years. We have had to deem appropriations levels every single year. Not once--not once--have we been able to agree on conference budget numbers in the 4 years that I have served in this House.

Now, for the previous 4 years, I confess, I pointed the finger at the Senate, and I pointed the finger at the Senate's leader who, at that time, was Senator Reid from Nevada. Today we have a new Senate leader, and I can't point the finger at the other party. If we can't get this right, it is my leader in the Senate who can't get this right. But I believe we are. Mr. Speaker, I believe we are.

Open up any newspaper, look at any report. It was supposed to be done earlier this week. We have never had a shot at getting it done in the past. We are on the brink of that agreement. So what is happening here today, far from being an unusual circumstance, is the best we have done in 5 years.

Now, candidly, that is what I expect from new leadership in the Senate. I expect us to do better than we did last year; I expect us to do better than we did 2 years ago; and I expect us to be even better next year than we are this year. The first time in more than a decade, the first time in more than a decade we have had a shot at a governing budget document.

But to be fair, Mr. Speaker, I want to distinguish between the budget and the law. A lot of folks believe that the budget of the United States becomes the law of the land. It does not. The President never signs the budget of the United States. It is an agreement between the House and the Senate. That distinguishes it from the budget caps and the Budget Control Act, which are absolutely the law of the land, passed by the House and Senate, signed by President Obama.

So when we talk about what it is that we want to see in funding levels, we can decide anything we want to in this Chamber. But the law of the land is not what we decide in our budget document; it is what was decided back in August of 2011 when the budget caps from the Budget Control Act came into being.

Mr. Speaker, the opportunity to have this conference budget agreement, the opportunity to be working from the same sheet of budgeting music on both sides of the Hill, is amazing. I can't tell you, as a Budget Committee member, how hard we have worked to achieve it and how much I anticipate it. It wasn't yesterday; so far it is not today; but it is going to be soon.

I don't want that to stand in the way of getting the people's business done. We have two great appropriations bills here, again, passed by voice votes out of committee, composed in collaborative ways within the Appropriations Committee. These two bills deserve to be heard on the floor of the House; they deserve to be heard this week; and with passage of this rule, they will be.


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

One of the things I love about this institution is the passion with which folks come to the floor of this House, and so often that passion is directed at improving the services for those who have served us.

My friend from Florida is absolutely right when he said in his opening statement that in the Rules Committee last night, the frustration with the VA and in trying to provide accountable services to our veterans was universal. This is not a partisan issue. Serving those who have served us is an issue that comes from the heart, and it comes from every Member of this Chamber.

But I will remind all of my friends, if you are wondering whether or not we are fulfilling that commitment, this is the bill that this institution passed last year with only one dissenting vote. And this bill increases funding over last year by 6 percent.

Mr. Speaker, let no man and no woman question the commitment of our friends on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, our friends doing the Military Construction and VA Appropriations bill. I know the commitment to be universal, which is why in a time of budget cuts, which is why in a time of sequestration, which is why in a time when almost every account of the Federal budget is under strain, this account goes not down but up, and up by 6 percent over what this body passed almost unanimously last year.


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

Mr. Speaker, my friend from Florida says, It's not over 'til it's over.

I say to my friend, it is only just beginning. It is only just beginning with this rule today. With the passage of this rule today, Mr. Speaker, we are beginning the 2016 appropriations process. And we are doing it in ways that we have not done before since I received a voting card in this body.

Number one, we are beginning at the earliest date in 40 years. Not since 1973 has this Chamber gotten about the people's business as early as we are this year. The people deserve it. The people have earned it. And we are delivering on it today. I am proud of that fact.

Number two, Mr. Speaker, we are, in fact, on the brink of the first balanced budget conference report this body has seen since 2003. It is too long coming. We have had to deem appropriations levels year after year after year, not on just two bills, as we are today, but on the entire package. That report could be filed as early as this afternoon, and there is no question but that it is going to pass both of these bodies. It is good work from this institution and the Senate across the Hill.

But, Mr. Speaker, as you could hear in the passion in my friend from Florida's voice, not everyone is going to be happy with every line in these two bills.

I don't have to just look to the Democratic side of the aisle. I can look to the Republican side of the aisle. Not everyone is going to be happy with every line of this bill; but do you know what, any Member can come and change any line.

The Rules Committee protected no language in this bill. Any Member can come and change any line. Any Member can come and make these bills better. Any Member can come and have their district's voice heard. All you have to do is find 217 of your friends to agree with you; we will pass it, and we will send it to the United States Senate for consideration.

Mr. Speaker, that is the way it ought to be. These are going to be some long nights we are going to have; these are going to be some lengthy amendment debates we are going to have; these are going to be some vote-a-ramas we are going to have, but America is going to be the better for it because the laws of the land that we pass are going to be better for it.

I have the Statement of Administration Policy here, Mr. Speaker. I have one for each one of the bills that this rule makes in order. The President has said in these Statements of Administration Policy that his senior advisers are going to recommend that he veto these bills. Why? It is because these bills and other legislation implement the current Republican budget framework which blocks the needed investments for our economy to compete in the future.

Mr. Speaker, it is not the Republican budget framework. It is called the law of the land as signed by President Barack Obama. We can pretend the law doesn't exist, or we can confront the law as it exists. That is what these bills do, a 6 percent increase in veterans funding and a 3 percent increase in our energy and water investment. In a time of austere budgets, we are plussing up those accounts that are so important to our constituents back home.

Mr. Speaker, I urge strong support for this rule, I urge strong support for the underlying bills, and I urge strong support for beginning the process where every single Member will be able to have his or her voice heard.

It is the way this institution ought to be, and it is the way this institution will be if we pass this rule today.