With an aggressive agenda and a tight schedule, senior House Republican appropriators plan to urge their rank and file to withhold divisive or duplicative amendments that could derail their bills this year.
Appropriators want to move all 12 spending bills individually by early July, they said, but poison-pill amendments could bog down the process and result in another round of omnibus packages that the Republican Conference despises.
On the other hand, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) promised an open amendment process in the GOP’s “Pledge to America” and Members could revolt against any effort to keep them from bringing up their favored provisions.
That leaves Appropriations subcommittee chairmen, the veteran cardinals, with a quandary this year: keeping order in an open process.
“You don’t want to tell somebody that they can’t offer an amendment, yet you really need to think about it,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment.
The Idaho Republican held four days of hearings last year and only scratched the surface of the myriad amendments Members introduced. Simpson said last year’s mad dash to defund President Barack Obama’s health care law, for instance, and Members’ insistence on other pet spending-cut amendments was simply too much.
“Many of the amendments are press release amendments,” he said. “Last year, we repealed Obamacare nine times. ... It’s like, ‘We mean it. No, we really mean it, No, no, we really, really mean it.’ At some point in time, the Conference has got to come together and realize that if they want this open process, they have to be a part of making it work.”
Although the conversations have not started yet, Simpson said he plans to speak with his rank and file. He particularly wants to urge Members with overlapping amendments to get together and consolidate.
Simpson, who is close to Boehner, might have some level of support from leadership in his endeavor.
“Speaker Boehner is committed to an open and robust debate in the House of Representatives, but it seems sensible to avoid duplicative amendments,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
The cardinals are certainly under pressure from on high to move the spending bills for fiscal 2013. One subcommittee aide said they are planning about 11 hearings over the course of five weeks. The first hearings are anticipated to begin next week.
“Chairman Rogers is committed to completing the FY 2013 appropriations bills as quickly as possible,” a full committee spokeswoman said, referring to Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). “He has asked our cardinals to get their bills written expeditiously so we may begin the committee process early to have the bills ready for the floor, giving all Members the opportunity to consider each of the 12 bills.”
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said her main concern in meeting the deadline is keeping her financial services and general government appropriations bill free of controversial amendments. The Missouri Republican’s measure was among the final pieces to move last year, as an amendment that would have tightened Cuba visitation restrictions drew the ire of the Obama administration and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“We had some issues on Cuba and my goal will be to keep anything with regard to Cuba out of the bill, keep it noncontroversial in that regard,” Emerson said. “Everyone understands that is a tough issue. ... You don’t want to hold a bill up over that.”
Another option could be putting a cap on the total number of amendments each side can introduce and letting leadership decide which ones to bring forward, said Rep. Robert Aderholt, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
“I think we have to be more disciplined if we’re going to go by regular order,” the Alabama Republican said. “I would not be in favor of trying to completely shut down the open amendment process. I think we just have to maybe limit it, and I think a fair way to do it would be to let each side have a limited number of amendments to bring up.”
Rep. Jack Kingston, chairman of the subcommittee dealing with agriculture, noted that it could be a troublesome route, bringing the Conference back to something resembling the tightly controlled House of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“It’s actually contrary to what the Speaker said a year ago about open process, open rules, not rigging things on the floor,” the Georgia Republican said. At the same time, it would be smart to avoid votes on amendments that could hurt Members in swing districts, he said.
Kingston suggested that the Conference could avoid an intraparty fight by having an “open, up-front dialogue” with Members, telling them, “‘You need to think this through.’”
“What’s hero legislation for you might be very, very difficult for someone else, and it can bog down the bills, and then I see, instead of enjoying the regular order of things, we’re back in the omnibus business,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.