In a House Rules Committee meeting Monday, members from both parties considered three monumental pieces of legislation: the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, the $3.5 trillion budget proposal, and the Democrat’s “John Lewis Voting Act” elections bill.
In a highly partisan debate, Democrats argued for the passage of the three pieces of legislation while Republicans expressed reservations. Here are the highlights of those discussions.
Republicans Criticize Joint Passage of Infrastructure, Budget Bills
A major concern for committee Republicans was the attempt by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to tie the infrastructure bill and budget resolution together.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) raised concerns about the infrastructure bill. “Most notably,” he said of these worries, “that the bill is not paid for and will increase the deficit.” But Cole conceded that the bill was at least a bipartisan effort, referencing the 19 Senate Republicans who voted for the legislation.
The budget, by contrast, was “exclusively Democratic” and a “reckless spending package with tax increases and many liberal positions.” He said that the proposal “is not a budget at all—it’s a road to producing a $3.5 trillion spending bill.”
In linking the two pieces of legislation together, Cole said, the majority is trying to “have its cake and eat it too.” He pleaded with House Democrats “to rethink their plans and allow the [legislative] process to play out naturally.”
Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) said that Democrats “abused the budget process” and wanted only to “conjure up a way to use 51 votes in the Senate to enact a radical agenda [that] no one actually wants.”
Rep. Yarmuth: Government Should Not Ask ‘What Can We Afford?’
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the sponsor for the budget resolution in the House, said that Congress “must act quickly [to pass the resolution] because America cannot wait any longer. We can no longer afford the costs of neglect and inaction.”
He praised the Biden administration for having “changed the way we think about government.” He said, previously, the government asked “What can we afford?” Under Biden, he continued, the government asks “What do we need to do for the American people?” and then “How do we resource those needs?”
In response to Republican and moderate Democrat concerns about the behemoth $3.5 trillion price tag of the bill, he said simply that “we issue fiat currency … and can spend whatever we need to spend in the interest of the American people.”
Moreover, Yarmuth promised during the hearing that “No one making $400,000 per year or less will see their taxes go up” and that the bill would “make the wealthy and the corporations pay their fair share.”
The Meaning of ‘Bipartisanship’
During much of the debate, Democrats accused Republicans of being unwilling to work with Democrats in a bipartisan way, while Republicans accused Democrats of creating partisan legislation that they knew would not lead to bipartisan cooperation.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said that Democrats were “tired of the [Republican] talking point that ‘we look forward to working with you’ because [they] don’t.” He listed several primary examples: the lack of Republican cooperation on the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration, and the lack of Republican cooperation on the Jan. 6th commission to investigate the alleged “insurrection” during the “Stop the Steal” rally that day. He also said that the Trump administration did nothing on infrastructure because Republicans in Congress refused to work with Democrats on any bills for infrastructure.
Later, Cole made the same accusation, calling all three bills before the committee extremely partisan. He accused Democrats of fruitless politicking with these difficult-to-pass pieces of legislation, saying that “the [Democratic] majority needs to decide if they’re here to make political points or here to make law.” To Cole, it was obvious that the majority had “chosen to take a partisan approach.”
Smith agreed, saying that Democrats are trying “to turn this budget into a political tool.”
Cole added later, “I’ll grant you that there isn’t gonna be bipartisanship here. That was your decision when you decided to go this big in a narrow majority.” Some issues are bipartisan, he insisted, but this is not one of them. “You [wrote] a bill that you [knew] no Reps would vote for.”
Republicans Raise Concerns About Inflation
Smith focused heavily on concerns about inflation during the hearing.
He warned that the budget resolution would cost $68 trillion over ten years. He considered the resolution only the latest step in a trend of reckless spending since the Democrats took the House in 2019: “The spending in this budget, combined with what has already been spent since Democrats took the House … equals more than the total taxes paid by all Americans since the founding of this nation.” The budget would constitute the highest sustained spending level in American history, Smith said.
Smith also warned that Democrats cannot ignore the effect that this budget will have on inflation as prices are on track to rise to their highest level since 1981.
Later, Smith said that “Democratic economists early on at the beginning of the last budget resolution said that our economy did not need additional spending—but yet the Democrats still passed the $1.9 trillion ‘Biden Bailout Bill.’ Inflation has increased seven percent since that time.”
Smith argued that this goes against the notion that the bill would not raise taxes on average Americans, saying that “Inflation is a direct tax on every American.” This budget, he said, would only make the situation worse. He concluded, “We cannot inflate our way out of inflation.”
Yarmuth agreed that inflation was a concern. He said that “inflation is the one constraint to how much money we can inject into the economy at any particular time.” But, he responded curtly, this inflation is “most likely transitory.”
Decreased Spending for Homeland Security and Defense
A major criticism raised by Republicans during the hearing was the cut or flatlining of military and homeland security funding in the bill.
Smith said that all the proposals in the budget resolution are “fueling the crises we currently have.” He pointed specifically to the border, energy, inflation, and Afghan crises. This budget resolution only makes those worse, he warned. While it provides “amnesty to [millions of] illegals,” it would “flatline our defense budget—in fact, our defense budget at the end of this [budget] window will be … the lowest it’s been in 80 years.”
There is “not one additional dollar for our border” in the resolution while “we are facing the worst border crisis in decades.” He added that it “shows [Democrats’] priorities.”
He later criticized the fact that while the budget cut or kept constant military and homeland spending, “everything [else] has a 16 percent [funding] increase across the board.”
Cole called this cut “alarming … given the increasing aggression and assertiveness … of the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians, and the North Koreans.”
Debate Over ‘John Lewis’ Voting Act
A key issue during the latter half of the hearing was whether the John Lewis Act (H. 4) was constitutional or needed.
At the beginning of the hearing, Cole criticized H. 4 as a “partisan bill” that is “nothing more than another attempt to federalize all elections.” He insisted that states must oversee and operate their own elections; under H. 4, all states’ elections procedures would have to be approved by the federal government. The bill, he said, was an “unprecedented power grab by Washington that would completely change the character of elections.”
Cole added that he would support bipartisan election legislation if needed, but that this bill was not one he or his Republican colleagues could support. But, he said “Democratic leadership is unwilling to work with Republicans or even [with] their own rank-and-file members.”
But Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that the bill was necessary in the wake of an “onslaught of discriminatory laws and practices” that have happened since the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) Shelby v. Holder decision.
In Shelby, SCOTUS shot down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) as unconstitutional. This section of the bill required that states with a history of discriminatory practices get preclearance from the Department of Justice before changing election laws; SCOTUS said that this rule no longer reflected the reality of the times, as voter participation by nonwhites had increased dramatically since 1965.
Nadler argued that the bill was necessary as states prepared to redistrict in the wake of census results, as this would be the first time redistricting was done without the oversight contained in the VRA since 1960.
As to whether Congress had the authority to make such legislation, Nadler argued that the power always fundamentally lay with Congress. To back this up, he pointed to a clause in Article I of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to decide the “time, place, and manner” of elections; he said that the 14th and 15th Amendments extended that power.
As to whether the bill constituted a power grab by the federal government, Nadler argued that it did not because states never had the power to control elections unconditionally in the first place. Finally, he asserted that it would not face insurmountable legal challenges as SCOTUS authorized Congress to pass new legislation that updated Section 4 of the VRA to meet the circumstances of the times.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) argued that H. 4 was a federal power grab. He pointed to the fact that Shelby said that the conditions that caused the VRA to be necessary no longer described real-world conditions and was thus indefensible. More pressingly, he said, SCOTUS said that “exceptional conditions” would be necessary for any such legislation. He contended that such exceptional conditions do not exist. He pointed to the fact that some states have a higher black voting rate than white voting rate. Thus, he argued that the bill was still indefensible on the grounds SCOTUS laid out in Shelby.
Rather than stopping voter suppression, which Jordan argued was not happening in the first place, the real goal of H. 4 is to allow the Democratic DOJ to exert control over states. Moreover, it moved to prohibit voter ID laws, which Jordan said 81 percent of Americans support.
“[States] do not need bureaucrats in Washington telling them how to run their elections,” Jordan said.