Cole: "We must pass appropriations that reflect the Bipartisan Budget Act"
Remarks as delivered during floor debate on H.R. 7617, a six-bill appropriations package for fiscal year 2021:
As the Vice Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, I stand today in opposition to H.R. 7617, the second set of appropriations bills to be considered by the House.
This minibus of six bills includes the two largest, Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education – as well as the titles covering Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government and finally Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
While I am always encouraged to see the process of funding the government underway in Congress, Democrats unfortunately chose a deeply flawed approach in exercising this function for fiscal year 2021.
Remember, nearly a year ago, Mr. Speaker, Congress passed – and President Trump signed into law – the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which set budgetary levels for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. This bipartisan and bicameral compromise was the result of a good faith negotiation between the president and congressional leadership. Last year, my friends on the other side of the aisle actually kept that agreement, and we had an orderly appropriations process and successful outcome. And we’ve had no government shutdowns, no long-term continuing resolutions.
This year, however, despite this existing agreement, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee chose to write bills that greatly exceed the spending limits allowed for fiscal year 2021. In fact, they did so through extensive use of a budget gimmick that designates certain funds as “emergency.”
Without question, there are many worthwhile items and priorities in these six bills before us, but I remain concerned about the use of emergency designated funds as a workaround and scheme to break the budget agreement between the two parties and the president.
In fact, in this package alone, there is well over $200 billion of this so-called “emergency” spending, clearly in violation of the budget agreement. One hundred eighty-six billion dollars is included in the infrastructure title without any bipartisan discussion or agreement. Another $24 billion is included to address coronavirus, even though discussions and negotiations are underway on another supplemental specifically for that purpose. These funds were added without any consultation with House Republicans, with the Senate or with the president. And without that consultation, they have no chance of becoming law.
Now let’s remember some of the critical things these six appropriations titles are supposed to support each year: Our dedicated service members, who put their lives on the line every day to defend and preserve our precious freedoms. Our courageous law enforcement officers who keep our communities safe. Our hardworking small business owners and their workers, who are seeking to achieve the American dream. Our vital researchers, who are looking for life-saving treatments and cures. Our ports and waterways that are so critical for commerce. And finally, it supports our transit systems on which many Americans depend on daily. All these things are put at risk, Mr. Speaker, unless Democrats and Republicans work together.
Unfortunately, along with the unworkable approach taken in writing this package of bills, there are many partisan policy provisions that must come out before it can become law. Many of these partisan provisions are similar to policies pushed through the House in recent months. Considering that the committee has had more than 100 hearings and briefings to make important funding decisions, it is disappointing that many of these provisions seem to be dictated from the top.
A few examples: The bill jeopardizes our safety and security by allowing terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay to be brought to U.S. soil. It also includes language that would prevent the United States from exercising the right to defend ourselves and our allies, such as Israel. In a time when China is seeking to dominate the world order, this bill would undermine America’s pre-eminence in space exploration and cede the opportunity to China to dominate the next frontier. Also concerning, this minibus plays into the dangerous narrative of defunding the police through its failure to provide adequate funding for our federal law enforcement agencies. Moreover, state and local law enforcement agencies are barred from receiving excess equipment from the Department of Defense.
As the Ranking Member on the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, I am of course most familiar with the partisan provisions contained there. Indeed, the text of that bill includes a wide variety of harmful riders. First, it includes partisan policy prescriptions that will tie the hands of the Administration with respect to the Title Ten family planning program. Most notably, the riders would force the Administration to resume grants awarded to controversial groups that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood, and it would prevent the Administration from granting waivers that protect deeply held religious beliefs of institutions and organizations and individuals that provide vital services funded in the bill.
The Labor-HHS title also includes riders that would undo the Department of Labor’s rule clarifying the “joint employer” standard. If this policy rider were enacted, it would cause chaos for thousands of businesses and millions of employees, leaving them uncertain about the nature of the employment relationship.
Not to be outdone, this bill also includes riders micromanaging and second-guessing how the Department of Health and Human Services administers the unaccompanied alien children program, which will ensure that the individuals devoting their energies to assisting such unaccompanied minors will find themselves devoting their energy to becoming wrapped up ever more deeply in congressionally-mandated red tape.
Again, the same can be said for the other five divisions of this package. Throughout this minibus, the Democratic 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 aimed at preventing the president from spending money on barriers and security measures at the southern border. And they have removed countless bipartisan policy provisions that have been carried in previous year’s bills.
When it comes to Congress’ fundamental function of keeping the government open and operating, good faith negotiation must be present at every stage. In this era of divided government, that might be challenging, but we’ve proven time and time again that it’s certainly not impossible. We did it when we negotiated the 2019 budget agreement. We did it again when we moved through an orderly process for the 2020 fiscal year appropriations bills. And finally, we did it most recently on four separate occasions dealing with the coronavirus. All this success was the product of bipartisan negotiation in divided government. And in those negotiations, no side can dictate the other or jam the other, or failure will result.
In the days ahead, Mr. Speaker, we must work together on appropriations bills that reflect the bipartisan budget agreement and leave out controversial policy language. Until we do that, no appropriations bills will make it to the president’s desk, and we will run the risk later this year of either a long-term continuing resolution or a government shutdown.
For those reasons, Mr. Speaker, I stand in opposition to this second minibus package.