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Ranking Member Cole Opening Remarks During Hearing on H.R. 7617

As prepared for delivery during today’s hearing:

We’re here today to consider the second set of fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills. 

This meeting will provide a rule for debating seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills recently reported by the House Appropriations Committee, covering the Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and Homeland Security titles.

I’ll start by echoing what I said last week during our hearing on the first appropriations package: as a member of the Appropriations Committee, it is always encouraging to see the appropriations process moving forward. However, I remain disappointed by the misguided approach taken by Democrats in crafting the bills as written in the package before us.

While I recognize the hard work that went into crafting these bills and the great leadership of both Chairman Lowey and Ranking Member Granger, I continue to have deep reservations about all 12 bills that emerged from the Appropriations Committee this year, and those reservations mean that I cannot support today’s package either.

The 12 bills that were reported out of committee this year were all written to satisfy the concerns and wishes of one party, that of the majority. I acknowledge that is frequently how the first phase of the appropriations process goes: the party in the majority in the House drafts the first bill to reflect their policy positions. But at the end of the day, success in the appropriations process requires members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to reach consensus and have the president’s support as well. And in divided government, that means partisan bills – like those we are considering today – are a nonstarter and cannot become law.

During markup on these measures in the Appropriations Committee, Republicans rightly raised a number of concerns. While I spoke about these during last week’s hearing, I think they are worth reiterating.

First, the bills are marked to 302(b) allocation numbers that violate the fiscal year 2021 total spending limit negotiated in the current budget agreement, which Congress is lawfully bound to uphold. In particular, I am very concerned about the use of emergency designated funds as a workaround scheme to break that good faith budget agreement negotiated between the two parties and with the president. This will make it much more difficult to negotiate final bills that can actually become law.

Moreover, this short-sighted approach creates less certainty for many important priorities over the long-term. For example, over the last six years in the Labor-HHS-Education title, Congress has gradually increased base funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Amid the coronavirus crisis, that incremental investment in our nation’s biomedical infrastructure has clearly made a difference. In fact, it has helped position the NIH to search for life-saving treatments and begin rapid clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. Unfortunately, rather than continuing to grow this regular investment that enables our researchers to find cures and treatments for maladies well beyond coronavirus, Democrats designated almost the entire NIH funding increase in this year’s bill as “emergency.”

But what’s more disappointing than the widespread use of budget gimmicks is the inclusion of numerous partisan policy riders that are simply unacceptable. 

Again, in the bill I am most familiar with, which came out of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee where I am the ranking member, the text includes a variety of harmful riders.

These include language forcing a return to controversial Obama-era policies in the Title Ten family planning program. If enacted, this rider would prevent the Administration from granting waivers that protect deeply held religious beliefs of institutions and organizations, providing vital services funded in the bill, and would force the Administration to reinstate grants awarded to controversial grantees that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood.

In the Labor-HHS title, the harmful waivers aren’t solely limited to family planning and abortion. The bill also prevents the Administration from enforcing regulations that clarify the meaning of the term “joint employer.” If this policy rider were enacted, it would throw thousands of businesses and millions of employees back into uncertainty and cause chaos. And the bill also includes riders micromanaging how HHS administers the unaccompanied alien children program.

The same can be said for the other divisions of this package. Throughout this minibus, the majority has inserted policy riders that tie the hands of the Administration. They have limited the ability of the Administration to reprogram funds, even when necessary. They have inserted rider after rider preventing the president from spending money on barriers at the southern border. And the majority has removed countless bipartisan policy provisions that have been carried in previous year’s bills. Partisan riders like these must come out before a bipartisan agreement can be reached.

On top of this, while I understand we are living through unprecedented times and have had to rightly limit our physical interactions, I remain concerned about initially considering these bills as a seven-division, trillion-dollar spending bill. While I, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, have had an opportunity to consider each of these measures individually and offer amendments, the way in which we are considering these measures together, both shuts out the ability of most rank-and-file members to have their ideas heard and places them in a untenable all-or-nothing position when it comes to voting on final passage. We can do better than this, Mr. Chairman. And I hope that we will.

Mr. Chairman, I’m still hopeful that we can reach a bipartisan appropriations deal for the full year. Certainly, there’s an appetite for such a deal among my fellow Appropriations Committee members on both sides of the aisle. While I cannot support these bills as written, and while I support a full and open amendment process on the floor to give all members an opportunity to be heard, at the end of the day I believe we will get to a final bipartisan deal. As I said last week, I look forward to a future Rules Committee hearing on a bipartisan, bicameral appropriations agreement that will have my full support.

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