Gives update on U.S. House rules changes, immigration debate:
DALLAS — Rep. Kurt Schrader, visiting home while Congress takes its August break, said Washington, D.C., isn’t all contention and partisanship.
During his D.C. update to Dallas Rotary on Aug. 13, Schrader said Democrats voted to change the rules guiding conduct in the House of Representatives, and that has resulted in more bills getting votes.
“The (U.S.) Senate has its set of rules and the House has its set of rules. They are Roberts Rules of Order on steroids, if you will, for the different chambers, about how you are supposed to conduct yourself,” Schrader said.
He said once the majority party votes in the Speaker of the House — Rep. Nancy Pelosi now, and previously former Rep. Paul Ryan — the power to bring legislation to a vote resides with the person in that role.
“One of the things that became clear to me at both my tenure at the state legislature, and certainly at the federal, is the democracy really stops at the election level,” Schrader said. “They (speakers) get to decide everything. They get to decide what committees there are or not. Who is going to be on that committee or not, what bills get heard by the committee or not. It’s very dictatorial.”
He and his colleagues approved rule changes that allow bills with strong support to get a vote.
“For the first time ever, if a bill has 290 co-sponsors, it’s guaranteed a vote on the floor,” he said. “So, your representative matters. Your vote, your opinion matters.”
Another rule change approved at the beginning of the session gives lawmakers and citizens 72 hours to review legislation before it goes to a vote. Also, amendments to bills with bipartisan support get priority in consideration.
“The frustration you feel at home about politics is also felt in Washington, D.C., by your elected representatives,” Schrader said. “We are taking a little more charge of the process on your behalf to democratize things.”
Schrader said, though he didn’t vote for it, the rule change lead to the House passing a budget. He said the two-year budget spends too much money in his opinion, but he was pleased it was a bipartisan effort, with 65 Republicans joining 218 Democrats in voting yes.
“The takeaway was we actually agreed on a long-term budget. That’s not an inconsequential thing,” he said. “It’s probably the most significant duty we are supposed to do every year, but for the first time in a long time, we actually got that done. It passed. It’s now law.”
He said there’s also a push for Congress to take back lawmaking authority from the executive and judicial branches. Schrader said there’s been a long-term trend of Congress ceding its authority to the other branches of government.
“We are starting to push back a little bit on executive privilege and the judiciary coming in telling us what we meant, when we knew clearly what we meant when we passed a particular statute,” he said.
Schrader said he belongs to a group of legislators who buck the tide of partisan bickering in D.C. called the Problem Solvers. The band of 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans have committed to come up with solutions to issues facing the chamber.”
Schrader said the group started about six years ago and continues to grow.
“The goal here with the Problem Solvers is to make sure we hear each other,” he said.
Members of the group recently took a trip to the U.S. southern border to see for themselves the conditions.
“It was an eyeopener going down there. The whole issue is so difficult to even talk about now. It’s gotten to be such a political hot potato,” he said.
Schrader said he witnessed two trends in immigration, one in which people are coming to the U.S. to seek work, and a newer trend of those from Central American countries seeking asylum.
“It’s a whole different issue, and the border patrol folks are struggling to figure out how to even begin to deal with this,” he said. “Going down there, it brought home the point to all of us — no matter where we stand on immigration or why they are coming or who’s coming, and all of that stuff — that the conditions are pretty tough.”
He said Congress approved a $4.5 billion humanitarian aid bill, but before that, it faced a short-term roadblock in the House. Leadership wanted to craft a “House version.” Schrader said enough representatives voiced their approval of the Senate bill to get it to a vote.
“We said this is serious. We can’t afford not to do something at this point in time,” Schrader said. “America, the world, would expect us to step up and do some basic aid. To the speaker’s credit, she listened. We voted on the Senate bill. It passed overwhelmingly. It’s law. The money is going down there.”
Rotary member Bob Ottoway asked if there’s a chance in the next decade that lawmakers will address immigration.
Schrader said the closest the country got to passing reform was in 2013, when the Senate sent legislation to the House. It didn’t get a vote. Schrader said it can happen, but faces an uphill battle in the current political environment. He said the Problem Solvers group is brainstorming a strategy now.
“We actually came up with a plan of how we are going to deal with this, hopefully, as we build on the humanitarian aid package and people begin to work well together in this phase and the next phase, too,” he said.