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Ranking Member Cole Remarks on H.R. 1319

As prepared for delivery during today’s hearing:
 
I’d like to start today’s hearing with a quote from you, Mr. Chairman, “A lousy process leads to bad legislating.” That statement is as true today as the day you said it.

Today’s hearing covers a deeply partisan item. A product that was referred to 12 committees, nine of which marked up legislation. Three committees failed to mark up their legislation, for reasons which remain unclear. Republicans offered 245 amendments, on topics ranging from giving additional resources to the NIH, making the child tax credit permanent, providing an additional billion dollars to make sure all teachers have the opportunity to receive a COVID vaccine, and the list goes on and on.

Yet of these 245 ideas offered by Republicans, only two were accepted. That’s not even 1 percent. And on top of this, the one amendment that was adopted on a bipartisan roll call vote, will be removed from the bill by the manager’s amendment. That means only one amendment offered by Republicans will have been included. And the majority wonders why Republicans oppose this package.

So, it should come as no surprise to you, Mr. Chairman, that I say we are meeting on a deeply partisan budget reconciliation package. While Democrats will continue to bill this as “COVID-19 relief” measure, it is filled with items completely unrelated to the pandemic, demonstrating that the majority is using the current crisis and the budget reconciliation procedure to fast track a wish list of their progressive policies into law.

Of course, the reason for using the budget reconciliation procedure in this way is clear: Democrats can use the special procedure to avoid the filibuster in the Senate, which means they only need 51 votes. And that means that they can try to pass this measure with only Democratic votes. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this tool requiring only a simple majority in both chambers has resulted in a very partisan process – in which Republican voices have been completely shut out.

It is unfortunate that the majority has decided to proceed this way, especially after Democrats and Republicans worked together five times last year to deliver bipartisan COVID-19 relief packages for the American people. Moreover, President Biden has said he wants to work with Republicans on bipartisan issues. Why the majority would choose to reject that stated vision only a month after the president’s inauguration in favor of going it alone on a matter as important as pandemic relief is mind-boggling.

The result of that decision has been an overly expensive and deeply misguided spending package. There are many problems with this massive bill, all of which could be resolved by an actual effort at bipartisan legislating.

First and foremost, today’s bill covers $1.9 trillion in new federal spending. Put in context, $1.9 trillion is roughly half of what the federal government spent in 2019, the last year before the pandemic.  

Put in a different context, last year Congress passed and the president signed into law five bipartisan COVID-19 relief packages that appropriated around $4 trillion. Not all of that money has been spent yet. But if the majority has their way, within one year we will have appropriated just shy of $6 trillion for COVID-19 relief packages. This is one and one-third times the amount of money the federal government appropriated for all of 2019. 

To make matters worse, of the previous COVID-19 relief packages, there remains nearly $1 trillion in unspent funds. Before we leap ahead into another gigantic spending package that drives the American people further into debt, shouldn’t we at least spend down the funds already allocated and see if new money is actually required?

Of course, not every spending provision in this package is unwarranted or unnecessary.  Some, like an extension of the highly popular and successful Paycheck Protection Program, would garner bipartisan support on the floor if offered as a standalone bill. The same is certainly true of measures related to vaccine development and distribution. But instead of choosing to negotiate a bipartisan package that both Democrats and Republicans can get behind, the majority has instead chosen to go it alone.

And what do they hope to achieve by going it alone? Tacking on a slew of unrelated progressive policies that could not become law without using reconciliation. These include items like a $15 per hour minimum wage, which would be a disaster for employers and employees alike in a rural district like mine. The hiked minimum wage, incidentally, is ultimately going to come out of this package since the Senate will not consider it.

It also includes completely unrelated measures like a federal takeover of multi-employer pensions, included at the expense of additional unemployment payments for the very people the Democrats claim they want to help. It provides for bloated contributions to state and local governments. It funds mass transit projects and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. None of these have much to do with the pandemic and will not provide any additional direct relief for the American people.

When the majority puts forward a package like this, it is unlikely that it will garner much, if any, support from Republicans. But what is most shocking about this package is how the majority rejected all attempts by Republicans to improve the bill. Nine different committees marked up this package before it went to the Budget Committee, and the majority used their power to reject amendment after amendment. These include commonsense ideas like a requirement that relief funds only be used for pandemic-related expenses, amendments to ensure that local school districts do exactly what Dr. Fauci has suggested they do – open up and offer in-person K-12 education for all our nation’s children. It’s astonishing to me that these ideas and dozens of others were flatly rejected by the majority.

Instead, it’s clear what we need to do. We need to unleash the power of the American economy by opening it up, not by continuing government lockdowns and policies that incentivize people to stay home. 

We need children to return to school as opposed to remaining beholden to teachers’ unions. Just looking at children’s suicide rates over the past year is crushing, Mr. Chairman. Children as young as 10 and 11 are contemplating suicide. In Indianapolis, for example, the hospitalization of children and teens after suicide attempts increased by 250 percent over the previous year. Prior to the pandemic, many of these children had access to at-home and in-school services – all of which have been suspended.

I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, the time to act is now – but not on this bloated $1.9 trillion package. 

There was and still is an opportunity to put together a bipartisan relief package. There are still areas in which the two parties can come together and do real good for the American people. But as long as the majority insists that it is their way or the highway and as long as the majority insists on ramming through controversial, partisan and unrelated provisions, that cannot become a reality. I urge my colleagues to turn back, return to the negotiating table and work with Republicans – like they did five times before – to pass a real bipartisan relief package that ensures federal dollars are spent where they are needed the most.

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