WASHINGTON, DC – In a letter delivered to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (TX) this afternoon, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) expressed his deep concern with the tactics being utilized by Republican leaders in the House to exclude Democratic members from conference negotiations. Representative Hoyer requested that Democratic conferees, as is tradition, be included in the conferences to which they were appointed. Currently, many Democratic conferees are shut out of “conference” meetings. The text of the letter is as follows:
November 4, 2003
The Honorable Tom DeLay
House Majority Leader
U.S. Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20515
I wanted you to know how much I agree with your acknowledgment during our scheduling colloquy early Friday morning that “a formal conference should have been held before we brought [the FAA Reauthorization conference report] to the Floor,” and that you “will work to make sure that we follow the rules of the House and formal conferences are held before those conference reports come back to the Floor.”
However, I remain deeply troubled that Democratic conferees, duly appointed by Speaker Hastert, are “conferees” in name only and are being inappropriately shut out of important conference meetings on Medicare and energy legislation and thus denied any meaningful opportunity to participate in crafting these conference reports.
Last Thursday, for example, two Democratic conferees to the Medicare conference – Congressmen Rangel and Berry – went to the private office in the Capitol where House-Senate negotiations on the Medicare bill were taking place and demanded that they be included as participants. But Conference Chairman Bill Thomas denied their right to participate, saying that he only invites “willing Members” to meetings and indicating that he has no regard for the Speaker’s appointments. As a result, the conference meetings on Medicare continue without any real input from House Democratic conferees whatsoever.
This policy of exclusion offends our democratic tradition, demeans this institution and silences the elected representatives of 130 million Americans. Moreover, it makes bipartisanship on issues of great magnitude almost impossible to achieve.
Democrats, of course, are not the only ones with serious concerns about the legislative process employed by the Republican leadership. As Rep. John Kline and 40 other Republican Members wrote to you, Speaker Hastert and Majority Whip Blunt last week:
“We write to request that if the conferees on the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003 report to the House a Conference Report, copies of the text of the Conference Report, the text of the explanatory statement, and the text of the Congressional Budget Office cost estimate for the Conference Report be made available to all Members at least three calendar days after filing . . . and prior to consideration of the Conference Report . . .”
As these Republican Members correctly observed: “The general public will evaluate not only what Congress does regarding Medicare and prescription drugs, but the way in which it does it.” (Emphasis added)
I could not agree more with that statement. The legislative process that we follow in this House does matter.
Thus, Mr. Leader, I urge you to ensure that formal conference meetings – where conferees have real input and real decisions are made – are held before legislation is brought to the Floor. Furthermore, I urge you to ensure that all conferees appointed by Speaker Hastert are invited to attend and allowed to participate in conference meetings. Anything less, in my view, is indefensible.
And finally, I ask that the request by Rep. Kline and other Members for a three-day review period for the Medicare conference report – a request that reportedly has been granted by Speaker Hastert – be applied to other legislation as well. This First Session of the 108th Congress got off to an inauspicious start with Members voting in February on a 3,000-page omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal 2003 after having virtually no opportunity to review it and no opportunity to amend it. With another omnibus appropriations bill looming on the horizon, the Members of this body must not be destined to repeat that most regrettable experience.
With kindest personal regards, I am
STENY H. HOYER
cc: Speaker J. Dennis Hastert
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
Majority Whip Roy Blunt