WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) delivered the following statement before the Subcommittee on Technology and the House of the Rules Committee regarding the undemocratic manner in which the House Republican Majority is using the Rules Committee to stifle in the House:
“Chairman Linder, Ranking Member McGovern, and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for calling this hearing on an issue that strikes at the very heart of the American legislative process and the long, proud tradition in this House of Representatives – the commitment of Members who serve here to engage in free and fair debates on the most important issues of the day.
From the time of Speaker Henry Clay and the great orator Daniel Webster through the service in more recent years of outstanding Members such as Barbara Jordan, Claude Pepper, Bob Michel and Barber Conable, the history of this House has been marked by open and robust debate, informed by reason, in the pursuit of sound, wise and democratic decision making that serves the best interests of our nation and the American people.
Thomas Jefferson remarked once (and I quote): "Difference of opinion leads to inquiry, and inquiry to truth." And so it remains today.
Mr. Chairman, shortly before the current House Majority obtained that status in January 1995, the incoming Chair of this Rules Committee – the late Gerald Solomon – said (and I quote):
"The guiding principles will be openness and fairness. . . . The Rules Committee will no longer rig the procedure to contrive a predetermined outcome. From now on, the Rules Committee will clear the stage for debate, and let the House work its will."
Sadly, Mr. Chairman, despite repeated commitments by Republicans to run an open and deliberative process, the current House Majority has not lived up to its oft-quoted principles and commitments.
Today, in this, the People's House, discussion is too often perfunctory, dissent is too often stifled, and "debate" has become a euphemism for a rigged process that is designed solely to allow the current Majority to achieve whatever result it desires.
As the Chairman of the full Rules Committee told The Washington Post in an article published one week ago today: "Our number one priority is to move our agenda."
The American people may not know it, but today in this House 130 million citizens – the approximate number of citizens who are represented by Members who are in the Minority – are effectively having their voices silenced.
Since 1995, the Republican Majority increasingly has passed procedural rules that limit debate, as well as the opportunity of the Minority to offer substitutes and amendments.
In the 108th Congress, for example, we dedicate almost as much time to non-controversial bills on the suspension calendar naming Federal office buildings and post offices as we did to the House Republican tax plan – a crucial debate for our nation, a debate in which the Republican Majority denied the Democratic Minority any opportunity to offer our alternative plan.
We provided more time for debate on a Resolution naming Room 236 in the Capitol for former Majority Leader Dick Armey than we did to the momentous act of increasing the statutory debt ceiling by $984 billion – an amount that roughly equals the entire national debt in 1980, and which is the largest increase in the debt limit in American history.
Mr. Chairman, the lack of a free and fair debate on such important matters is an embarrassment to the Members who are privileged to serve here; it demeans this House; it cheats the American people; and it offends our democratic traditions.
Unfortunately, tactics designed to shut down debate are not an aberration. They are becoming the norm.
In addition to the two examples noted above, the Republican leadership in this Session has denied Democrats the opportunity to offer amendments to legislation extending unemployment insurance benefits -- not once, but twice.
The Republican leadership provided Members just a few hours to read thousands of pages of legislation that incorporated 11 of the 13 annual appropriations bills.
That was not only humanly impossible, it was a sorry introduction to the new Members in this body who had no idea what they were being asked to vote on.
Not content with denying the Minority the opportunity to offer amendments and substitutes, the Republican Majority has even refused to permit Democrats the chance to vote on the Majority's own bills.
That is precisely what happened on June 12th when the Republican leadership reported a self-executing rule providing for the adoption of the GOP's $82 billion bill accelerating the increase in the child tax credit for low-income families.
I would be remiss if I failed to note that barely one hour later, the House passed, on a bipartisan vote, a non-binding Motion to Instruct conferees to accept the substantially more responsible Senate version of that bill.
House Democrats, of course, had tried to offer the same Senate bill as a substitute. But the Republican Majority blocked us from doing so.
Mr. Chairman, clearly we can do better. And we owe the American people, this institution, and ourselves more.
In these discussions on legislative process, I have always been forthright: When Democrats controlled the House, we did not always provide for fair debates. We should neither excuse those past practices, nor countenance the current ones.
No one expects every rule to be open. But we do expect that the opportunity to debate legislation be the norm, not the exception.
Allow me to offer a few thoughts on how we may improve the legislative process and ensure fairness to both the Majority and Minority.
First, bills should be developed following full hearings, open subcommittee markups, with appropriate referrals to other committees.
Second, bills should generally come to the Floor under rules providing time for debate, as well as the opportunity to offer amendments, commensurate with the importance and consequences of the bill under consideration.
Third, Members should have at least 24 hours to examine bill text prior to Floor consideration. And rules should be reported before 9 p.m. for a bill to be considered the following day.
Fourth, the suspension calender should be restricted to non-controversial legislation, with minority availability in relation to party ratio in the House.
Mr. Chairman, these are just a few suggestions that would permit this House to run in a more fair and efficient manner, while also respecting the democratic tradition that has been the hallmark in this body for more than 200 years.
Let me close by quoting a friend of mine, the current Chairman of the Rules Committee, Mr. Dreier:
"Frankly, it seems to me that the process of representative government means that a person who represents 600,000 people here should have the right to stand up and put forth an amendment and then have it voted down if it is irresponsible. We are simply asking that we comply with the standard operating rules of this House."
David Dreier made that statement on the House Floor on March 30, 1993, when his party was in the Minority. He was correct then. He is no less correct today.”