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 RyanWarren now also knocking Biden on Social Security Biden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record 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 SmithCongress must act to modernize the Endangered Species Act Even in a time of impeachment, health care is on the agenda House panel advances Trump's new NAFTA MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Ryan’s leadership team; Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Both sides of the aisle call for local, state, federal cooperation on homelessness MORE (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally; and Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe biggest political upsets of the decade Former GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster 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 MullinOvernight Energy: Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel | GOP lawmakers push back on bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners | Green groups sue Trump over California fracking plans Republicans push back on bipartisan bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners Lawmakers beat Capitol Police in Congressional Football Game 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 SanfordTrump challenger Bill Weld rules out 2020 independent bid Judge throws out lawsuit against South Carolina GOP for canceling 2020 primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field MORE, the former South Carolina governor, called the omnibus process “an abomination,” while conservative Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanCheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules This week: Raucous rules fight, opening arguments in impeachment trial MORE (R-Ohio) blasted it as “bad, bad, bad, the worst bill I’ve seen in 10 years.” Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold Massie2 Democrats say they voted against war powers resolution 'because it merely restated existing law' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week NY Times's Haberman: Trump 'surprised' Iranian strike wasn't 'more of a unifying event' 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 Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now 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 SlaughterHouse passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading Sotomayor, Angela Davis formally inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame Seven Republicans vote against naming post office after ex-Rep. Louise Slaughter 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 McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Mark Mellman: A failure of GOP leadership 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 ScaliseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Trump welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' 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 GravesThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Republican Tom Graves announces retirement from House Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms 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 ShelbySenate fails to get deal to speed up fight over impeachment rules Roberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight GOP senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Those are just statements' 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.”