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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 RyanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only Cheney at donor retreat says Trump's actions 'a line that cannot be crossed': report 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 SmithGender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama Death should not be a taxable event — it's time to end the estate tax GOP ramps up attacks on Biden's border wall freeze MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Ryan’s leadership team; Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinThe US has a significant flooding problem — Congress can help GOP lawmakers ask acting inspector general to investigate John Kerry Andrew Giuliani to meet with Trump before potential New York gubernatorial campaign MORE (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally; and Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveVoters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican Democrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains McAdams concedes to Owens in competitive Utah district 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: Update on Biden administration conservation goals | GOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices | Push for nationwide electric vehicle charging stations GOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats hearing 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 SanfordLobbying world 5 lawyers leave Trump impeachment team ahead of trial: reports South Carolina GOP votes to censure Rep. Rice over impeachment vote MORE, the former South Carolina governor, called the omnibus process “an abomination,” while conservative Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan says 'votes are there' to oust Cheney from GOP leadership Republicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld Facebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one MORE (R-Ohio) blasted it as “bad, bad, bad, the worst bill I’ve seen in 10 years.” Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieOvernight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna Vaccine hesitancy among lawmakers slows return to normalcy on Capitol Hill Gaetz, House Republicans introduce bill to defund Postal Service covert operations program 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 PelosiOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Rural Democrats urge protections from tax increases for family farms Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women 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 SlaughterDemocrats must go on the offensive against voter suppression House passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading Sotomayor, Angela Davis formally 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 McCarthyLoyalty trumps policy in Stefanik's rise, Cheney's fall Cheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Likely Cheney successor appears on Bannon show to tout GOP unity 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 ScaliseLoyalty trumps policy in Stefanik's rise, Cheney's fall Likely Cheney successor appears on Bannon show to tout GOP unity Twitter accidentally suspends account of Stefanik's communications director 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 GravesGreene's future on House committees in limbo after GOP meeting McConnell says Taylor Greene's embrace of conspiracy theories a 'cancer' GOP has growing Marjorie Taylor Greene problem 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 ShelbyRepublicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate Top Senate Democrat announces return of earmarks Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban 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.”