Vote Notes: Consortium Vote
Today, I voted against the consortium vote that included the debt ceiling, federal flood insurance extension for 3 months, Harvey aid, and a few other extraneous items. I believe it was a real mistake and a loss for the taxpayer and even those of us who live along the coast who might one day be in need of further federal assistance. The measure however passed by a vote of 316 to 90.
Let me be clear that I have no problem working on bipartisan ideas. Neither Republicans nor Democrats hold the corner on truth, and as a consequence, whether on offshore drilling, things like the president’s tax returns, and more, I have been willing to reach across the aisle in search of solutions.
But I don’t believe that the deal the president negotiated with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi was in the interest of taxpayers in the First District. I say this at several levels:
One, you can never fix a problem that you don’t deal with. This is in fact the story of federal spending and the national debt these days. What conservatives have insisted on for years has been some breaking measure in slowing up the growth of debt in exchange for their vote to increase the debt. It’s a blunt tool. It’s an awkward tool. But it is one of the few leverage points that conservatives have in trying to say that we have to do something to slow up this juggernaut of federal spending. What this proposal did was to deny conservatives what they had asked for, which was the inclusion of some sort of spending reduction measure in exchange for their vote to increase the debt ceiling. This was imminently reasonable. The entire House leadership had heard from its membership, and it was willing to proceed on that basis. Our Founding Fathers were deliberate in setting up a bicameral, legislative body. This would allow the House to signal its will while the Senate might signal a different will, and the differences would be resolved in conference. If things had been allowed to play out, this is what would have happened in this instance. There would have been a more conservative statement of opinion from the House, and perhaps a less conservative one from the Senate...and then we would have ironed out our differences. Instead, the rug was jerked from underneath House and Senate Republican leadership, as the president went around them and instead negotiated with Democratic leadership to move this measure forward. There was much conversation on this very point in the Republican conference this morning, and it has real implications on the trust equation in negotiating other legislation going forward.
Not only did the spending issue not get dealt with, but it got pushed to December - the month that most favors more in the way of spending. I say this because all institutions are human, and in the case of Congress, Members want to go home to be with their families at Christmas. When Congress finds itself negotiating on something around Christmas Eve, you can be sure that there will be a lot of efforts “to get something done” so that Members can go home. It’s for this reason that it wasn’t an accident that Chuck Schumer chose the three-month time period.
Two, hurricane relief should not be held hostage to the debt debate or any other debate. If an emergency is an emergency...then it’s an emergency. It should be treated as such. People’s lives and possessions hang in the balance. Do we really want to get into the business of tying hurricane relief going forward to must-pass legislation? This has not been done in the past and sets a horrible precedent going forward for any of us who live along the coast.
Three, there is no accountability in a Christmas tree. What I mean by that is that when you have a string of 5 or 6 different items that make up a bill, you give every legislator an excuse. You give them a reason to have voted for it or against it. You enable them to say to their constituents “I was for you but had to vote against it because of this other issue.” This is something I fought hard as Governor of South Carolina and have tried to fight equally as hard in Congress for the lack of accountability that comes with these kinds of votes. This is especially the case on big issues like the debt ceiling and emergency aid.
Finally, it was Rahm Emanuel who once observed that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” While the legislative load that was before us for the month of September could hardly be counted as a crisis, it certainly could be counted on as difficult. That pressure of difficulty or crisis is a precondition oftentimes of change in the political system. By letting all the air out of the steaming pot, creative approaches to funding emergencies like hurricanes, the debt limit, and a host of other issues was short-circuited. In fact, I think that what the president did in this instance may make tax reform tougher, given the way in which these different reauthorizations and even the debt ceiling itself will hang over Congress through the fall rather than having dealt with and cleared so that we could exclusively focus on tax reform going forward.