May 15, 2008
Statement by Ranking Member Lewis in Opposition to the Democrat War Supplemental Spending Package
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Jerry Lewis, Ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, gave the following statement on the floor of the House today in opposition to the Democrat war supplemental appropriations package:
“Many of my colleagues, particularly those who serve with me on the Appropriations Committee, know that I have a great deal of respect for the senior Senator from West Virginia, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Robert Byrd. While he and I may disagree on issues from time to time, it is fair to say that we both share a deeply held love and respect for this institution.
Senator Byrd also reveres the established traditions and precedents of the Committee he leads. He understands that we will only truly know what is in this supplemental if it is exposed to the light of day through the regular order committee process. No one—not even the Senate Majority Leader—is going to tell Senator Byrd to abdicate his devotion to regular order or his responsibility as Chairman of his beloved committee.
Unfortunately, the adherence to regular order has now been completely abandoned on the House side of the Capitol. Both Chairman Obey and Speaker Pelosi—the sole authors of the House Supplemental before us today—have dismissed as “a non-issue” those bipartisan voices calling for full-committee consideration of this critically important legislation.
In conversations with both Republicans and Democrats in the House, it is widely felt that the Democrat leadership has unfairly and wrongly circumvented the House Appropriations Committee process.
Further, the House majority has chosen to proceed under a closed rule, eliminating any and all amendments on the House floor, and is intent on bypassing a conference committee with the Senate. In effect, the Democrat leadership has eliminated every conceivable opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to represent the views of their own constituents.
I find this sadly ironic for it was Nancy Pelosi in 2006 who outlined the new Democrat majority’s governing philosophy: “Bills should come to the floor under a procedure that allows open, full, and fair debate consisting of a full amendment process that grants the Minority the right to offer its alternatives, including a substitute. Bills should be developed following full hearings and open subcommittee markups.”
As the body knows, we have not had an open, full, and fair debate nor have we had any amendment process. Nor have we had any hearings whatsoever. So, I ask the Speaker, what has changed?
In an October 20, 2006 press release, then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to then-Speaker Hastert, “The voice of every American has a right to be heard. No Member of Congress should be silenced on the floor.”
My colleagues know that I have expressed grave concerns about Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey being the sole authors of this legislation without any input from other House Members with considerable expertise in these subject matters. I am not alone in expressing this concern.
Last week, my dear friend and colleague, Marcy Kaptur, voiced her displeasure with Chairman Obey and her own leadership. “Leadership,” she said, “by keeping the supplemental too close to the vest and not going through a committee markup, has failed to engage the broader membership. It does disenfranchise the voice of people who don’t come from leadership locations.”
The House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, has said it is disingenuous for Republicans to speak out over the Iraq War Supplemental bypassing the Appropriations Committee process. He suggested that House Republicans, while in the majority, had engaged in similar practices. That argument would be convenient if it were, in fact, true. However, facts are stubborn things.
According to the April 29th edition of the Politico newspaper, “There have been about three dozen emergency spending bills in the past 20 years, and a handful has passed without input from the Appropriations Committee, including billions in Hurricane Katrina aid and post-September 11 funds. But none of the Iraq war funding bills has bypassed the Appropriations panel.”
Have there been occasions where supplemental spending bills have not been considered by the full committee? Yes, there have. But in those rare instances, such as the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks or the Hurricane Katrina disaster, there was bipartisan consensus on the need to act quickly to help our fellow Americans in need.
In no circumstance to my knowledge, did either the Republican majority, or the Democrat majority that preceded it, ever deny either the opposition party or even members of its own party, a seat at the table in writing such critical legislation.
Yet, here we stand today, debating the merits of a bill that only a handful of Members have even seen. Very, very few Members know what’s in this legislation. Do any of you besides Chairman Obey know what’s in this bill?
Members of the House—Republicans AND Democrats deserve to have their voices heard. By the end of the day, not one Member will have an opportunity to offer an amendment or propose any alternative ideas to this body for a vote. What are Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey afraid of?
This is the fifth time since January, 2007 that this majority has brought a supplemental appropriations bill to the House floor under a closed rule, preventing duly elected Members of the House of Representatives to represent the voices of their constituents.
Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey have effectively said to virtually every Democrat and Republican serving in this great body, “Your voice is irrelevant and your input is not welcome.” Again, what are Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey afraid of?
I believe this practice of circumventing our traditional committee process, and ignoring the voices of rank and file Members and their constituents, is detrimental to the health of the legislative process. It puts in place a process where a handful of powerful legislators become “the Great Deciders” of what should or should not be included in a $250 billion spending bill. This is not the “House of the Few Great Deciders.” It is the “People’s House.” It is the House of Representatives. We fail to recognize this at our great peril.
On May 24, 2002, Mr. Obey said, and I quote, “What a shame, when the legislative process is corrupted to polarize a product that should have been used to forge national unity.”
These words are particularly true today as Chairman Obey and Speaker Pelosi put partisan interests ahead of the interests of the Members of the House and ahead of the people of this country.
We can do better. We must do better. Vote no on this package.”