Co-sponsoring a bill in Congress doesn't really mean all that much. But — maybe — it ought to at least mean a member has agreed to sign on, and will actually sign.
At least, that's the argument Washington Democrat Adam Smith made on the House floor Wednesday. Smith took to the House podium to lambaste co-sponsorship practices after he was accidentally listed as a co-signer of GOP legislation, authored by Tennessee Republican Diane Black, that would prohibit certain funds to abortion clinics. He says he never consented to being listed as a co-sponsor — and first found out about the mishap after an anti-abortion group started praising him.
"I just rise about a particular issue that happened to me, and I'm sure has happened to other members that you might not be aware of," Smith said on the floor Wednesday. "Other members can sign you on to a piece of legislation without your consent."
He said it happened to him this week after Black accidentally mixed him up with a Nebraska Republican by a similar name. "I am Adam Smith," the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services panel clarified. "Regrettably, there's an — well not, regrettably, he's a nice man — but there's an Adrian Smith."
Black thought she was signing Adrian Smith, R-Neb., onto the bill.
Adam Smith said that, "first of all," nobody should be able to sign a member on to a bill without that member's signature anyway. "I know we do that and it speeds up the process, but it creates a situation where anyone can put you on any bill," he said. "In this case, I was put onto a bill that was polar opposite to my beliefs and my 18-year record in Congress."
The bill would prohibit family planning grants from going to abortion clinics — "I don't understand the exact details of it because it's something I don't support," Adam Smith told CQ Roll Call off the floor — but it is certainly not something he would typically endorse. Adam Smith has a zero percent rating with the National Right to Life organization after 1998, when he apparently sided with them on one vote in the 105th Congress to earn a 5 percent rating that year.
"Actually, the way it came to our attention is a pro-life group sent me a thank-you letter," Adam Smith told CQ Roll Call. "So, I'm like, 'Nooooo.'"
Adam Smith said Black's staff also noticed the error and, "to her credit," she took his name off the bill as soon as she could. Black's office conceded the slip occurred, with Adam Smith seeming to support the bill for three days, and they took quick action to right the "clerical" wrong.
"Once our office recognized the error, staff immediately contacted both the House Clerk’s office and Rep. Adam Smith’s office to reconcile the situation," a spokesman for Black told CQ Roll Call in a statement. Black subsequently spoke on the House floor, noting for the record that Adam Smith had not intended to sponsor the legislation and offering a unanimous consent request to remove him as a co-sponsor.
"But that's not what happens," Adam Smith pointed out on the floor. "On the bill out there with the original co-sponsors, my name does not simply disappear. A line is drawn through it and it says next to it, 'Withdrawn,' as if at some point I did co-sponsor the bill and then changed my mind."
Sure enough, the bill in question, HR 217, does list Adam Smith as a withdrawn co-sponsor. He called that "the most vexing part."
He said his only hope was for Black to withdraw the bill and reintroduce it as a separate measure. A clunky process, he acknowledged, "but we will ask."
Adam Smith said this wasn't the first time he had been mistakenly listed as a co-sponsor. More than a decade earlier — "so long ago that I don't remember" — he said he was put on another bill accidentally.
"That's the way it works," he said. "You walk around the floor, say, 'Hey will you co-sponsor such and such,' and, if you say 'Yes,' then they just go sign you on. Your signature is not required."
Adam Smith said he wants the House to change that rule. He wants physical signatures to be part of the actual process for co-sponsoring legislation. "Or if you are erroneously put on it, to require the person to reintroduce the bill, so that your name is not part of the permanent record," he said.
"I don't know how we change this rule," Adam Smith said on the floor, "but when this happens, when it is clear that someone signed you on a bill you had no intention of being on, your name should be removed. Period. End of story."
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.
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