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 RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday 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 SmithMain Street businesses need permanent tax relief to grow House panel votes to boost spending by 3B over two years Progressives come to Omar's defense MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Ryan’s leadership team; Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinCo-founder of Israel boycott movement denied entry to US: report GOP to launch discharge petition on anti-BDS measure Stacey Abrams says Stephen Miller shows 'vestiges of white nationalism' MORE (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally; and Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Juan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign 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 MullinInslee presses Trump on climate change in House testimony GOP lawmaker draws backlash for telling Democratic colleague to 'shut up' during heated ObamaCare debate House Republicans find silver lining in minority 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 SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordTrump keeps tight grip on GOP Endorsing Trump isn’t the easiest decision for some Republicans Mark Sanford warns US could see ‘Hitler-like character’ in the future MORE, the former South Carolina governor, called the omnibus process “an abomination,” while conservative Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Cummings accuses Oversight Republicans of obstructing drug price probe Schumer staffer-turned-wrestling coach focus of new documentary MORE (R-Ohio) blasted it as “bad, bad, bad, the worst bill I’ve seen in 10 years.” Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieGOP lawmaker doubles down on criticizing Kerry's political science degree as not 'science' John Kerry fires back at GOP congressman questioning his 'pseudoscience' degree Overnight Energy: John Kerry hits Trump over climate change at hearing | Defends Ocasio-Cortez from GOP attacks | Dems grill EPA chief over auto emissions rollback plan 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars 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 SlaughterSeven Republicans vote against naming post office after ex-Rep. Louise Slaughter Breaking through the boys club Sotomayor, Jane Fonda inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame 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 McCarthyWatchdog: Custodial staff alleged sexual harassment in lawmakers' offices John Legend, Chrissy Teigen lash out at Trump at Dem retreat Republicans call for ex-Trump lawyer Cohen to be referred to DOJ 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 Scalise20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform GOP to launch discharge petition on anti-BDS measure This week: Democrats revive net neutrality fight 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 GravesMnuchin tells Congress it's 'premature' to talk about Trump tax returns decision Live coverage: Barr faces House panel amid questions over Mueller report Overnight Defense: Dem chair rejects Pentagon request to use B for border wall | House fails to override Trump veto | Pelosi at AIPAC vows Israel won't be 'wedge issue' 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 Shelby20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Conservatives urge Trump to stick with Moore for Fed Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field 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.”