House Republicans grumble about the 'worst process ever'

House Republicans grumble about the 'worst process ever'
© Greg Nash

During his maiden speech as Speaker in 2015, Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIs Joe Biden finished? Krystal Ball previews fifth Democratic debate Former Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled MORE vowed to change the way the House does business.

The lower chamber, the Wisconsin Republican said, would “return to regular order” under his leadership. Individual lawmakers would have a greater say in the process. And bills wouldn't be jammed through the chamber at the last minute.    

“We do not echo the people; we are supposed to represent the people. We are supposed to study up and do the homework that they cannot do,” Ryan told his fellow lawmakers that day.

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“So when we do not follow regular order, when we rush to pass bills that a lot of us don’t understand, we are not doing our job,” he said.

Those words were on the minds of many Republicans on Thursday as Ryan and his GOP leadership team rammed a $1.3 trillion spending package through the House — just 16 hours after unveiling the 2,232-page bill.

Republicans and Democrats alike said it was impossible to read the catchall omnibus before casting their vote Thursday afternoon.

“I don’t think anyone’s read it,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

Angered by the speed at which the bill moved, some Republicans normally aligned with leadership voted against the omnibus. Among the 90 Republicans who cast a “no” vote were Rep. Jason SmithJason Thomas SmithPressure rises on Cheney to make decision Seniors deserve access to Health Savings Accounts House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Ryan’s leadership team; Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinHouse GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment This week: Round 2 of House impeachment inquiry hearings Sondland testimony looms over impeachment hearings this week MORE (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally; and Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveFormer GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (R-Utah), a usually dependable leadership ally. 

The bill passed on a 256-167 vote. 

“I was a ‘no’ because of the simple optics of it. It would take 74.4 hours to read straight through that bill if you averaged two minutes a page,” Rep. Markwayne MullinMarkwayne MullinLawmakers beat Capitol Police in Congressional Football Game Democrats hold first hearing in push for clean energy by 2050 Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe MORE (R-Okla.), a member of the GOP whip team, told The Hill. “I voted for the budget, I voted for the [continuing resolution]. If I had more time to get through it, I could get there. But on a spending bill of this magnitude, I need to know what’s in it.”

GOP Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordThe Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field Michigan GOP attempting to have Trump be only Republican candidate on ballot Weld files to run in GOP presidential primary in New Hampshire MORE, the former South Carolina governor, called the omnibus process “an abomination,” while conservative Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDiplomat seen rolling his eyes amid testy impeachment exchange with Jordan Live coverage: Impeachment spotlight shifts to Fiona Hill, David Holmes House GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment MORE (R-Ohio) blasted it as “bad, bad, bad, the worst bill I’ve seen in 10 years.” Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieGOP lawmaker says newly-released Butina was jailed due to 'Russophobia' O'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats Scalise blasts Democratic legislation on gun reforms MORE (R-Ky.) called it the “worst process ever,” but added that he couldn’t top the description given by Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.).

“Whoever designed this process is not qualified to run a food truck,” Kennedy quipped.

“This is an embarrassment to every taxpayer in America,” the senator went on. “This is a great dane-sized whiz down the leg of every taxpayer in America.”

When House Republicans swept into power in 2010, Sanford said, GOP leaders pledged to do things differently than Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs On The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel MORE (D-Calif.) and the Democrats. Under their “Pledge to America,” Republicans instituted an internal rule requiring that they post legislation for at least 72 hours before voting on it.  That way, lawmakers would have enough time to read a bill.

But that “three-day rule” was tossed aside this week as GOP leaders raced to avert a government shutdown on Saturday.

“We’ve had a day to look at this one and it makes it impossible to read the bill,” Sanford told The Hill. “The most fundamental responsibility we have as legislators is actually read what we are going to vote on.”

“I’m not trying to fault anybody. Obviously there are a lot of pressures on the Speaker and leadership, but would it have been the end of the world if we had voted on this tomorrow? No,” he said. 

The concern now, Sanford said, is that appropriators or other lawmakers have tucked costly, pet provisions or “goodies” in the omnibus that won’t be discovered “for days, weeks or months.”

At a news conference Thursday, Ryan aggressively pushed back on criticism from his own party. While he acknowledged the bipartisan negotiations took longer than he had hoped, Ryan said Thursday’s vote was the culmination of months of work by House appropriators and other lawmakers. 

The House passed all 12 individual appropriation bills last year, Ryan pointed out, and the Appropriations Committee has been “working on this bill, drafting this bill, negotiating this bill for weeks and even months."

“So it’s not as if these are big surprises,” Ryan continued. “These things have been long works in progress. The finishing touches came out this week and we have a hard deadline” of Friday.

The Speaker also noted that giving lawmakers an extra day to read the bill and postponing the vote until Friday would prove difficult since members of both parties were planning to attend the Friday morning funeral for Democratic Rep. Louise SlaughterDorothy (Louise) Louise SlaughterSotomayor, Angela Davis formally inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame Seven Republicans vote against naming post office after ex-Rep. Louise Slaughter Breaking through the boys club MORE in upstate New York.

Pressed again whether he believes he had fulfilled his promises to restore regular order and allow for a more freewheeling, open-amendment process, Ryan replied that he had.

“I think, by and large, we’ve done a phenomenal job of that,” the 48-year-old Speaker said.

In an interview after the vote, Ryan’s top deputy, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns McCarthy blasts Pelosi on USMCA The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Witness dismisses 'fictional' GOP claims of Ukraine meddling MORE (R-Calif.) conceded that “no one” believes this week’s omnibus process was “ideal.”

“Nobody likes an omnibus; nobody ever has,” McCarthy told The Hill.

Still, the No. 2 House GOP leader cast blame on the Senate, saying the other chamber had failed to move any of its own appropriations bills. That resulted in Congress needing to pass continuing resolution after continuing resolution and, finally, the massive omnibus.

“The House does all 12 appropriations bills and the Senate doesn’t do anything. It boxes in the whole country,” McCarthy said. “It’s not a good process.”

Despite the GOP griping about the process, very few Republicans were willing to single out Ryan, McCarthy or Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump attacks Fox News for interviewing Swalwell How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment Chris Wallace: Trump testifying 'would be akin to Prince Andrew testifying about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein' MORE (R-La.) by name. The leadership team had tried to roll out the bill last week, though that deadline slipped to Monday, then Tuesday and finally Wednesday at 8 p.m.

“I support Paul. I support Kevin and Steve. They’ve been trying to get us the language,” Mullin said. “It’s not our guys’ fault. They made it known openly they wanted to bring us the bill last week.” 

Last year, Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms House extends Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress for another year Modernize Congress to make it work for the people MORE (R-Ga.), who’s running to become the next Appropriations chairman, had pressed Ryan and GOP leaders to pass the fiscal 2018 omnibus before the long August recess so Congress could focus on other important issues. But leaders abandoned that idea, leaving Congress to veer from continuing resolution to continuing resolution. 

But in an interview Thursday, Graves defended Ryan’s leadership team and said he hoped the incoming Senate Appropriations chairman, Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyTrump signs short-term spending bill to avert shutdown Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Senate eyes sending stopgap spending bill back to House | Sondland delivers bombshell impeachment testimony | Pentagon deputy says he didn't try to block official's testimony MORE (R-Ala.), would pass bills out of his panel this year and work more closely with House counterparts.

“This week hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been easy for the Speaker. It’s really hard when you are dealing with the Senate that hasn’t passed anything, so it’s a little bit disjointed” between the two chambers, Graves told The Hill. “So I hope the Senate catches up with us. There’s a new chairman coming in. I have high expectations for Sen. Shelby. 

“I think this year will be better.”