It’s been a while since I felt strongly about writing something, but this week on the Hill, and please note it’s only Wednesday, has been a study of contradictions on bipartisanship.
I’ll start with the one of the most hopeful signs I have seen in a long time that bipartisanship is alive and well. This week, after several months of working in a very bipartisan fashion, the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations marked-up it annual funding bill. A “mark-up” is the legislative process where the bill is reviewed and amended before being reported out of subcommittee and passed on to the full committee for consideration. The Chairwoman of the subcommittee, the Honorable Nita Lowey from New York, worked with her own members and the Republican members on her subcommittee to craft a well balanced bill.
Chairwoman Lowey allowed discussion, debate, participation and an honest give and take between subcommittee members throughout the process. Her staff was responsive to requests and at the end of the process; a legislative product was presented that truly illustrated the strength of the process. The result was a bill that included many of the majority’s priorities, major priorities of the minority, and a balanced and effective oversight regiment for Congress.
I witnessed a true give and take – and watched the Chairwoman work with the Ranking Member of the Committee, the Honorable Kay Granger – to the point where each side gave enough to bring forth what I believe is a better piece of legislation. Just as envisioned.
But, every good story in Washington seems to have an equally disappointing one. In contrast to the spirit of working together noted above, the leadership in the House yesterday shut down debate on the Floor after only 22 minutes of consideration of another appropriations bill – the Commerce, Justice, and Science bill for fiscal year 2010.
The budget passed a few months ago spends $1.089 trillion in American taxpayer money for discretionary government programs in the 2010 fiscal year. Last night, debate began on the first of 12 bills which make up this spending proposal. The Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill totals $64.31 billion in taxpayer money, which represents a 12% increase over the funding levels for this bill in the last fiscal year.
Just like in the subcommittee process outlined above, debate on this measure deserves to be held. Unfortunately, as members of the minority attempted to question the majority on funding levels, instead of defending their spending, or allowing it to be curtailed or re-directed, Democrats shut down the U.S. House of Representatives after just 22 minutes of amendment debate on this massive spending bill, preventing any Republican – or Democrat who disagrees with the leadership – from debating its merits or limiting its spending.
It was a stark contrast for me to watch a $64.31 billion bill debated for only 22 minutes before the process was cut off by the majority, after witnessing the comity on the State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee. A few years ago, Congress took three days to debate this bill. Precedent – both when Republicans were in the majority, and when Democrats have been in control – has always allowed for an open debate on these spending bills.
I think that is why I was so surprised to watch the majority shut out 94 proposed amendments. The majority of these amendments would have saved billions in wasteful government spending and better prioritized how Washington spends taxpayer funds.
With total control of Washington, it baffles me that the majority just doesn’t allow this debate to occur and vote down those GOP amendments they don’t like. Had the give and take taken place – like the process that was embraced by Chairwoman Lowey and Ranking Member Granger – important and pressing matters would have been openly debated and I am confident that a better bill would have emerged.