From the Office of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
 

Pelosi Offers Privileged Resolution Condemning House Process During Medicare Debate

December 8, 2003

Washington, D.C. -- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi introduced a resolution in the House today condemning the House Republicans' tactics during the debate and vote last month on the Republican Medicare bill. The resolution failed by a party line vote of 207 to 182. A copy of the resolution is attached below. The following are Pelosi's remarks on the House floor:

"Mr. Speaker, more than 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers designed this House of Representatives to serve as the People’s House. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote that, 'it is essential to liberty' that this House have 'an intimate sympathy with the people.'

"In the centuries since, this body has earned its status as the greatest legislative body in the world.

"Yet perhaps never before have the actions of this body fallen so far short of both the ideals envisioned by the Founders and 'the sympathies of the people' as during last month’s vote on the Medicare Prescription Drug Conference Report -- a vote that will surely be remembered as one of the lowest moments in the history of this august institution.

"The American people expected a fair and open airing of issues affecting 40 million older Americans on Medicare -- our mothers, our fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. Yet Republicans locked House Democrats out of the conference negotiations, and in so doing locked out the 130 million Americans we represent.

"This is a diverse country, but ours, the Democratic Caucus, is the only diverse caucus. By shutting out the Democrats, they denied the conference negotiators the benefit of the thinking of representatives of the African American community, our Hispanic community, our Asian Pacific American community, the whole diversity of philosophy within our caucus, from the Blue Dogs to New Democrats to our progressive Democrats.

"The American people expected genuine debate. Yet Republicans limited floor discussion on one of the most dramatic changes to Medicare in its history to a mere two hours. Two hours. And this behavior was not limited and confined to the vote on Medicare. For some reason, and I think it should be obvious what it is, the Republicans insist on having votes that are of great import to the American people, where they are clearly on the wrong side of the issue, taken in the middle of the night.

"On a Friday in March at 2:54 a.m., the House cut veterans benefits by three votes. At 2:39 a.m. on a Friday in April, House Republicans slashed education and health care by five votes. At 1:56 a.m. on a Friday in May, the House passed a leave no millionaire behind tax cut bill by a handful of votes. And at 3:38 a.m. on a Friday in June, the House GOP passed a Medicare privatization and prescription drug bill by one vote. At 12:57 a.m. on a Friday in July, the House passed a Head Start bill by one single vote, and that Head Start bill was to undermine and unravel a very successful Head Start initiative. And then after returning from a summer recess, at 12:12 a.m. on Friday in October, the House voted $87 billion for Iraq, an issue that Democrats and Republicans were on both sides of the issue, as were the American people. They deserve to hear the debate in the light of day.

"It degrades our democracy when Democrats have no role in the legislation. This legislation affects millions of Americans -- but we had no role in conference negotiations, no chance to offer amendments, no alternatives, and limited debate or discussion.

"It degrades our democracy when secret negotiations -- such as those on energy legislation -- rip up provisions supported by both Houses and insert new provisions approved by neither House.

"Mr. Speaker, this is not the House our Founders envisioned. Such behavior is unfair. It is un-American. And it is unacceptable. It is not for this that our Founding Fathers sacrificed their lives, their liberty, and their sacred honor, so that we could have government of the few, by the few, for the few, behind closed doors. Why are Republicans so afraid to subject their agenda to the normal rules of debate?

"Republicans are afraid of fair and open debate because they know that the American people reject their radical agenda. As President Kennedy said, 'A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.' So afraid of the people were they, that again this went into the dark of night when we even took the first vote at three o'clock in the morning.

"A member of the majority in the other body, that would be a Republican in the other body, warned recently: 'f you have to twist people's arms over and over to vote for you on issue after issue, then you would be wise to reevaluate your position.' Of course, Republicans have no intention of reevaluating their reckless position.

"As one newspaper editorial observed recently, 'It appears the Republicans want to govern the nation by themselves.' Government of the few, by the few, for the few.

"The ancient Greeks had a word for such audacity -- hubris. Hubris, the wanton arrogance that leads to the violation of accepted rules of conduct. In the tragedies of antiquity, mortals who defied the Gods in this manner were punished for their hubris.

"Indeed, if there ever there was an argument for why Republicans must get their punishment at the polls and be defeated at the polls next year, we need only look to their unprecedented abuse of power and their neglect of the will of the people.

"Mr. Speaker, Democrats will not stand by while our democracy is denigrated. We will not be silenced. We will not be rolled over. And as we preach democracy to the rest of the world, and we talk about in glowing terms about our own democracy, we must also speak about the power of example. The example we set and the conduct of our legislative business for the rest of the world. The Republicans are not setting a good example of democracy for the rest of the world.

"Republicans must know -- we will fight this abuse in the committees. We will fight this abuse on the floor. We will fight every day in every way we can. We will carry this fight all the way to Election Day.

"And on that day, the American people will reject the Republican special interests and their shameless abuse of power. With all the regard I have for my distinguished colleagues on the other side of the aisle who appear to be at the microphone -- and I know that the time will be led by the gentlewoman from Connecticut -- why is not a member of this House leadership on the Republican side on the floor to respond to this privileged resolution about how the leadership has conducted its business?

"We have a great deal of respect for the Speaker of the House. The Majority Leader is a forceful personality. The two of them orchestrated what happened that night. We would like them to at least extend the courtesy to Members to be present on the floor as the leaders of their party to respond to the people's need to know as to why, why the will of the majority is not respected here.

"We will return the 'People’s House' to the American people. And we will once again make this the revered institution worthy of its status as the greatest legislative body in the world."

# # #

Privileged Resolution

Whereas on November 22nd, the Republican Leadership held open the vote on Roll Call #669 on H.R. 1, the Prescription Drug Conference Report, for nearly three hours, the longest period of time in the history of electronic voting in the U.S. House of Representatives;

Whereas the normal period of time for a recorded vote is 15 minutes, and the Speaker of the House reiterated that policy on January 7, 2003 saying “The Chair wishes to enunciate a clear policy with respect to the conduct of electronic votes…The Chair announced, and then strictly enforced, a policy of closing electronic votes as soon as possible after the guaranteed period of 15 minutes”, and in addition the Speaker pro tempore on November 22nd announced prior to the vote on Prescription Drugs that it would be a 15-minute vote;

Whereas the amount of time for the vote on H.R. 1 went far beyond any time considered reasonable under established House practices and customs, and was a deliberate attempt to undermine the will of the House;

Whereas the opponents of H.R. 1, both Republicans and Democrats, were on the prevailing side for more than two and one-half hours and proponents never once held the lead during this period of time, and the sole purpose of holding this vote open was to reverse the position that a majority of the House of Representatives had already taken;

Whereas, according to press reports, a Member of Congress who is retiring was told on the House floor during this extended vote that “business interests would give his son (who seeks to replace him) $100,000 in return for his father’s vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress”, and such an act is in violation of Section 201 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which prohibits bribery of public officials;

Whereas these actions impugn the dignity and integrity of House proceedings, bring dishonor on Members of Congress, and were a gross violation of the rights of Members who opposed this legislation;

Therefore, be it resolved that:

The House denounces this action in the strongest terms possible, rejects the practice of holding votes open beyond a reasonable period of time for the sole purpose of circumventing the will of the House, and directs the Speaker to take such steps as necessary to prevent any further abuse.


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