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Ranking Member Cole Remarks on H.R. 7780, H.R. 3843 and S. 3969

As delivered during today’s hearing:

Today’s hearing covers three items. The first I’ll discuss, S. 3969, would make the Northern Mariana Islands and the American Indian Consortium eligible for payments for voting accessibility systems under the Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access, or PAVA, Program.

The second bill, H.R. 7780, makes several changes to federal law intended to increase access to mental health and behavioral health care. In general, the bill greatly expands grants for mental health services in Head Start programs and public schools. 

Unfortunately, in a handout to trial lawyers and unions, the bill also makes changes to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, better known as ERISA, which would authorize civil actions for a denial of mental health or substance use disorder benefits and would make most existing and future arbitration clauses, class action waivers, representation waivers and discretionary clauses in ERISA plans invalid and unenforceable.

While Republicans agree that additional mental health services in schools are necessary, this bill broadly misses the mark. Instead of giving schools flexibility to use funds as they see fit, it once again seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all program from Washington. It also spends vastly more money than is necessary, taking a program that spends about $125 million per year up to one that spends over $5 billion. 

Not content with having spent trillions of dollars over the past two years, which has caused an inflationary crisis affecting every American and driven the country into a recession, the Majority is now seeking to spend a forty-fold increase on a program that undoubtedly cannot accommodate such spending in a responsible manner. And all this to address a mental health crisis which was clearly exacerbated by states, mostly Democrat-led, who kept schools locked down much longer than necessary, prolonging the pain and exacerbating the damage to our children’s mental health. This is simply astonishing.  

Lastly, the third bill, H.R. 3843, is a collection of three different bills coming out of the Judiciary Committee. Although each of these three bills has a degree of Republican support, I have serious concerns about the manner in which the Majority has put this package together. One of the bills was not even marked up in the committee of jurisdiction, and I am baffled as to why the Majority felt the need to go this route rather than giving each bill separate consideration on the floor. This is hardly regular order, Mr. Chairman, and we can and should do better than that truncated process.

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