Congressman Jason Smith
In the Dark
This week was “Sunshine Week,” where hundreds of organizations, civic groups, and schools around the country held events to educate the public and advocate for transparency in government. If we truly are to have a government “of, by, and for the people,” we must be open and honest about how the people’s business is being conducted. In the spirit of Sunshine Week, I want to shine a light on the lack of transparency which has taken place over the first few months of 2019 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
When Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in early January, one of the first bills they put on the House Floor was a list of rules they would follow. Contained in those rules was a promise from Speaker Pelosi to the American people that any legislation the House Chamber would vote on would be posted publicly online for all to see for at least 72 hours before a vote was held. While I wholeheartedly agree with the merits of this goal, Speaker Pelosi’s practice has been a different story. Just last week your Congress was forced to vote on legislation which was just drafted less than 90 minutes beforehand. So much for the Speaker’s promise that this would be a “professionally run Congress that would be more transparent.” She promised the American people three days, well she couldn’t even give us three hours. But this is the new normal – House Democrat leadership has broken their own 72-hour rule at least 7 times in the last 70 days.
Bills have consistently come to the floor without Congressional Committees approving them first, and we frequently vote on bills that violate House Democrats’ promise to the American people that they would only pass bills if they had a way to pay for them. Just last week we voted on major legislation to overhaul elections without even giving the Congressional scorekeepers time to calculate how many billions of dollars would be charged to the American people. All of this closes the legislative process to what’s best for the Speaker of the House, not the American people.
The U.S. House of Representatives is a body dominated by a simple majority and once a bill is on the floor, the minority party has very few methods available to change it. One of the only tools the minority party has is the “Motion to Recommit,” the last chance to change legislation before it receives a final vote for approval. The Motion to Recommit process has been in place for the last 110 years, but after a few votes they didn’t like, House Democrat Caucus leaders are now pushing to eliminate the motion entirely. They became frustrated with commonsense recommittal motions that were able to pass, like requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be notified if an illegal immigrant tries to purchase a firearm. After a few votes they couldn’t control, House Democrat leaders want to close the legislative process and silence any voices who disagree with them.
The Motion to Recommit is vital because our amendments to bills are often blocked from ever being considered on the floor. When Democrat leadership was pushing H.R. 1, their massive election power-grab attempt, 87% of amendments allowed to be debated on the floor were Democrat amendments. While House Republicans had a lot of good ideas to change the bill, only 12% of Republican amendments offered were allowed to receive a vote. One of the many blocked amendments was my simple one-page amendment, which said Immigrations and Customs Enforcement should verify the citizenship of any person being automatically registered to vote under H.R. 1.
The House of Representatives is commonly called “the People’s House.” It’s better for the American people when we have an open, transparent process with as many ideas and opinions shared as possible from all over the country. Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi has a firm grip on the U.S. House of Representatives and has turned it into a place where both Members of Congress and the American public aren’t given time to read the bills and the sun doesn’t shine.