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Ranking Member Cole Hearing Remarks on H.R. 1948, S. 3905 and the Senate Amendment to H.R. 1437

As delivered during today’s hearing:

During today’s hearing, Mr. Chairman, we will actually deal with a variety of issues. As I understand it, the law enforcement measure you referred to is actually in the rule itself, so we aren’t taking testimony on it. We’ve dealt with it before. We have two bills that we will be taking testimony on. And then given your remarks, I presume that we’ll be dealing with a CR at some point as well, so I’m going to make some remarks on that. 

The first bill I’ll discuss is H.R. 1948, the VA Employee Fairness Act. The bill would make changes to federal laws concerning bargaining rights for employees of the Veterans Health Administration and would extend collective bargaining rights to include matters covering professional conduct or competence and the establishment or adjustment of employee compensation.

Republicans on the Veterans Affairs Committee have expressed concerns that the legislation could result in unintended consequences that could put veteran safety at risk. In particular, shifting questions of professional conduct or competence to collective bargaining could result in third-party arbitrators reviewing such questions rather than medical professionals, which is not common practice in the private sector and could compromise patient safety. 

Our second bill is S. 3905, the Preventing Organizational Conflicts of Interest in Federal Acquisition Act. That bill would require the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to revise the Federal Acquisition Regulation to update conflict of interest procedures and to update definitions, guidance and illustrative examples related to specific types of organizational conflicts of interest.

My Republican colleagues on the Committee on Oversight and Reform have expressed concerns that the bill is duplicative of existing law. 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on both these bills and look forward to hearing their thoughts on the legislation before us today.

Let me turn now if I may, Mr. Chairman, to the CR which you mentioned in your remarks. I just want to make a couple comments about the addition of an emergency item, which is a continuing resolution funding the government through next Friday. 

It is deeply unfortunate that this is where we are. Once again, the House is leaving until the last minute something which could and should have been considered earlier, preferably through regular order. I understand that negotiations are ongoing – but the problem is they are not going on with House Republicans.

The Senate, and presumably the House Democratic leadership, are going their own way, in an unknown direction. The longer this goes, the more likely we are to fall into a year-long continuing resolution keeping current spending levels in place instead of adjusting them to reflect our nation’s current needs and priorities. That would be a bad outcome for everyone, but most especially for the American people. 

The House Appropriations Committee, I must express with some pride being a member of that committee, passed all 12 bills out of committee before the start of the summer and adhered to regular order in doing so. By contrast, the Senate Appropriations Committee has not passed a single bill out of committee for two years. And once again, we are faced with the possibility of an omnibus appropriations bill, drafted largely behind closed doors to satisfy the needs of the Senate. This is hardly regular order. It is no wonder Republican members of the House are frustrated. 

But it is equally frustrating that we are, once again, waiting until the last minute to do our work. When we passed a continuing resolution at the end of September, it was to keep the government open while negotiations took place. Yet here we are, up against the deadline once again and again taking up a continuing resolution. 

We can do better than this and should do better than this, Mr. Chairman. And frankly, we must do better moving forward.


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