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30-Something Working Group

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Location: Washington, DC


30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP -- (House of Representatives - October 17, 2005)

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Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, let me follow up on what the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Ryan) said because he certainly was right. We had a week when we were back in our districts doing things locally. I was thinking when I was listening to the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Ryan) about three events that I attended in the last 48 hours in my district or nearby which point to this whole idea of what is good and what is the Republican leadership and what is President Bush doing because all I hear are complaints about his policies.

For example, on Sunday, I went to a senior complex for a group of seniors that were meeting in Lakewood, New Jersey, which is a community just outside my district. It used to be in my district until redistricting a few years ago. What I heard was how expensive it is for seniors to buy their prescription drugs, and how they did not feel that the President's new program, which goes into effect in January, was going to help them in any way.

One gentleman in particular, I remember, was one of these guys who was essentially forced into early retirement and promised a fairly generous health care plan that included prescription drugs. What he has found since he retired is that every year the cost goes up and the whole agreement, if you will, that was initially set out has essentially made it so he really cannot afford to buy the prescription drugs even though he has the coverage under a plan for his early retirement.

The other seniors were talking how the Federal Government should negotiate price reductions like they do for the VA or the Department of Defense. My answer was that is what the Democrats wanted to do. The reason it did not become law was because the Republicans opposed it. I remember in the Committee on Energy and Commerce I had an amendment that would have required negotiated prices by the Medicare Administrator, and it was defeated on a party line vote.

The bottom line is Republicans are so aligned with lobbyists and the cronyism they do not want to do anything that is going to be helpful to the average person. This prescription drug bill is a perfect example.

In addition, all the seniors were saying as of October 1, all these different private drug plans are being promoted on television and they have no idea what they are all about. I said be very, very careful. Do not sign up for these things until you really look at the details because they may not be helpful to you.

Mr. RYAN of Ohio. Mr. Speaker, I wanted to highlight that fact. This totally puts into perspective what happens down here under their leadership.

We have a prescription drug bill that we spent $700-some billion over the next 10 years on, but we were told it was $400 billion. So that is another issue, to start a prescription drug Medicare program, and we are not doing anything to control the costs, whether it is reimportation from Canada or to allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to buy in bulk.

There would be every Medicare beneficiary behind that proposal. And you can say Merck, you want to negotiate this, we want 30 to 40 percent chopped off, and they would do it because they want the contract. We would not have to create a new bureaucracy. If people think the old Democrat Party wants to create a new bureaucracy, they are wrong. This is a progressive idea of giving the Administrator already in place the power. It is a progressive idea that makes sense, but you can only do it if you are not tied to the pharmaceutical lobby like our friends on the other side of the aisle.

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I have ceased even referring to this program as Medicare because as far as I am concerned there is nothing Medicare about it. You said we need to show to the American people how we would do things differently because we want a chance to be in the majority and to run the country.

Here we had a clear contrast. The fact of the matter is every Democrat, or maybe one or two that did not vote for a substitute, that basically would have been just like we do now with Medicare Part B, how seniors pay for their doctor bills, and that would have been under Medicare as a regular government program. They would have paid a $25 premium per month, and had their choice of whatever prescription drugs they wanted. They would not have to go out privately and shop around. They would have had a $100 deductible and 80 percent of the cost paid for by the Federal Government, 20 percent copay. We already have it for Part B, and the Republicans rejected that to a person. There is clear contrast. This is the kind of thing we would do if we were in the majority and in charge.

I want to use another example. The gentleman from Florida (Mr. Meek) talked about the rain and the storms

in New Jersey. There was a senior complex in my district that was near a brook where a number of homes were completely destroyed and people had to be moved out. I went there this morning with the Army Corps of Engineers because the Corps has a project that would correct the situation that we would like to do. It would cost about $8 million to do it. What I am hearing from the Corps, we would like to do it but we have to see if we have the money.

What happened with those levees in New Orleans is no different from what is happening around the country. We are not funding these infrastructure needs, whether flood control or whatever it happens to be. The reason, and I am going to go back to another forum, right after I met with the Corps this morning and talked about this flood control project which has been delayed for a number of years now, I met with students at Rutgers, a State university in my district, and we talked about the Iraq war.

I started out talking about an exit strategy and what needed to be done. A lot of the students were talking about the cost of the war, not only cost in terms of the lives and the wounded, but also the cost of the actual dollars we were spending and the fact that because we were spending so much money on the Iraq war, we were not able to pay for a lot of domestic needs, whether it be student financial aid. They were stressing that, of course. But I was thinking about my flood control project which would have avoided all of the damage and all of the people who had to move out if it had been in place.

The bottom line is we are spending all of this money on the Iraq war. The President does not have an exit strategy. He keeps talking about how everything is going to get better, and the cost is not only lives and the wounded, but also in terms of the dollars we are not spending here domestically, and we are not investing in the future to remain competitive with China and the other countries competing with us.

People get this. I am not making this up. This is within the last 48 hours at three different forums or opportunities I had to meet with my constituents, and this is what they are saying. They are not happy. They realize there are alternatives. The bottom line is some of those alternatives are easy, some are hard. Democrats are saying we have alternatives, whether it is prescription drugs or any of the other topics.

Many of us voted against all these tax breaks that the President gave because we knew it would put us into debt and we would not have money to

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pay for a lot of the domestic programs, and most of the money went to the wealthy rather than the average person.

One more thing, and that is when we were here last time, the week before being back in our districts, I think it was the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Wasserman Schultz) talking about the energy bill because the next day we voted on the Republican energy bill. She pointed out there was no benefit from this bill. It would not do anything to reduce gas prices or reduce our dependence on foreign oil. All of the things that people would like us to do, the Republicans were not doing.

What it was doing, two things she mentioned, one was it was going to allow for offshore drilling off the coast of Florida and New Jersey, all these sensitive areas. The second thing the gentlewoman mentioned was it was going to weaken the Clean Air Act. Lo and behold, the interesting thing was the next day the Republicans took those provisions out of their energy bill because there was such a hue and cry. When they finally passed the energy bill, they barely were able to pass it. We had to wait an hour for them to get the votes.

Mr. MEEK of Florida. Ninty minutes.

Mr. PALLONE. The bottom line is that this Republican majority is starting to fall apart because their policies are not good for the American people. Even some of the Republicans are starting to realize it and are not willing to vote for some of the junk bills that come to this floor with the Republican leadership.

I just mention that because I think there is hope here. I left last Friday thinking maybe now because of yourselves getting on the floor, maybe because Democrats are speaking out and talking about why these Republican initiatives are not helpful, maybe people are starting to realize it. Maybe some Republicans are starting to realize it. That is why I admire what you are doing because I think it is making a difference.

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Mr. MEEK of Florida. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Ryan) brought up some interesting points; and I can tell him, as a parent myself, this issue of No Child Left Behind, we would talk to our Republican leadership colleagues and they would say, well, that was a bipartisan bill and over on the opposite side, in the Senate, folks were having press conferences and bill-signing ceremonies and everything.

But we believed that we were going to see full funding of No Child Left Behind and that this Congress would go down in history as the education Congress, and we are not even close to fulfilling our obligations. As a matter of fact, we have about eight States that are suing the Federal Government over No Child Left Behind unfunded mandates. These are States. These are not other countries. These are States here in the United States that taxpayers pay money.

We have a number of school districts that say, listen, if we can opt out of it, we want to opt out. We do not want to opt in. That is not a federalized education program to help local communities and chambers and all the other do-gooders in small communities and big communities who want to make sure they have an educated workforce. It is not that same theory.

We have one other issue that is here. The gentleman mentioned the issue of the energy bill. I am glad that resurfaced because I am going to tell the Members the reason why that is important. The energy bill came to this floor, and for 90 minutes we sat and stood here on this floor waiting for the board to close. What we call the board here in Congress is a voting board. For several minutes, almost 1 hour. The bill was defeated. And, Mr. Speaker, I think this is where if I had a yellow flag and I was a referee or an official on the 40 yard line that I would actually throw a flag. I would have thrown the flag because the spirit of the rules were violated because when the board opens up and there are 15 minutes to vote, there are 15 minutes to vote, give or take 1 or 2 or 3. But when they say the board is open for 15 minutes and we will close it when we win, then that is a violation of the spirit of the rules of this House. And it feeds into the whole issue of the corruption and cronyism.

I have two young children; and if there were a homework assignment that was due, and my wife and I have to sign their reading stuff and say that it is done, but it would not be fair if my children were to do their homework and there were two other children in the same classroom or in the same school that say, Well, I do not have to do my homework. I will just do it two nights from now because my father or my mother is a chairperson of the PTA and we have power like that. We can do it. That would not be fair to the children who actually did their homework.

I use that analogy because I want to make sure that the Members and the American people understand what we are talking about. Yes, it is a bad thing dealing with children, but it is a horrible thing when we are talking about national policy for the greatest country on the face of the Earth, the shining example of democracy. Now, we salute one flag. And my colleagues heard me speak a couple of weeks ago about those Americans; and, yes, we think about those 2,000-plus individuals who have fallen in this war, but for those Americans who are still here who are voting for representation and fair play, they are individuals that are without limbs now.

We have all gone to Walter Reed. We have all gone to these hospitals in our own communities, these VA hospitals, watching these men and women come

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back, half of their head blown off, legs and arms missing. And we are here and we walk through this door and we put our voting cards in these machines to represent them and the Americans that they fought for. And then we come to the floor because the majority did not get what they wanted when they wanted it, to say that they will hold this vote open as long as they have to to make sure that they twist enough arms on the Republican side because every Democrat voted against the bad policy, this bill.

I do not even want to address it as an energy bill because basically it was just a giveaway to the industry. That is all it was. Everything, 7 months prior, that could not go straight-faced into the ``energy bill'' at that time they got in this last time right before we took a break of the bill that just passed recently. And the reason why they got it: A, Hurricane Katrina came through. Hurricane Rita was on its way. The bill was already being marked up before Rita came, but it was on its way to help deal with the issue of price gouging and making sure that we are able to provide energy for our country and hopefully bring down the price of gas, and it did not do that. What it did was it raped our environmental laws. It raped the process of fair play in this institution.

There are certain things, as Members of Congress, we cannot allow to happen on behalf of the institution. When the record books are opened, the annals of history of the 109th Congress, yes, there will be individuals that will be mentioned; but also it will be that day that we were on the floor and the spirit of the rules of the House were violated in the worst way, time after time again. Time after time again.

The leadership from this side, Mr. Speaker, came to the floor with a parliamentary inquiry. The clock was at triple zero. Obviously, the measure did not pass, Mr. Speaker. Can we ask for the Speaker to call the vote? And each person was gaveled down for not making a parliamentary inquiry, and the Speaker said what he had to say at that particular time to keep it going. The gentlewoman from California (Ms. Pelosi), Democratic leader, came to the floor, gaveled down for asking the question and then pointing out the fact this is what is wrong with Washington now, the culture of corruption and cronyism, not in the dark corners of Congress but under the lights on international, not national, but international television that we are willing to rape the spirit of the rules of this House and the spirit of fair play in America. Not something that we watched on cable television in some foreign land somewhere in a Third World country. Not there. But right here for the world to see. I would not say the hypocrisy of the democracy of everyday Americans, but because of the leaders who allowed it to happen here in this House.

Mr. Speaker, last point, I just want to make sure that we understand, as Members of Congress, that we have a responsibility in the majority and minority. I take full responsibility for what took place, Mr. Speaker, here on this floor, yes. Did I do everything I could? Of course I did. Did I walk over to the other side of the aisle and talk to some of my friends over there that are level-minded individuals, who will go unnamed because we do not want them to receive any repercussions for speaking out, who said, I think that the vote should have

been called. Well, you need to go tell your leadership that the vote needs to be called.

I mean, we want to do it in a gentlemanly way. We call ourselves, Mr. Speaker, gentlemen and gentlewomen, respect for the institution, and still the vote was not called. I mean, individuals' arms were twisted. You vote, hurry up, and trying to call the vote while they went. And it almost happened once, and then the conscience kicked in of some Members and they changed their vote and it went back to a losing vote again, and they said we have to hold the board open another 20 minutes because we did not get our way.

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield, he is absolutely right. This is strictly an abuse of power. That is what is going on here. This is the majority, the Republican majority, abusing their power. And I think that last Friday was the perfect example of it. And it was not the first time. I have to say one thing that was interesting that he pointed out was that was the first time I remember that they did it in broad daylight, because if the gentleman remembers, most of the time when we had to deal with these major policy initiatives, which that was not, they waited until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning so nobody was watching. And, of course, the best example of that was the Medicare prescription drug bill, which, as the gentleman knows, was voted on at 3 o'clock in the morning. We had to wait here for hours while they were twisting arms all night for that too and even lied about the fact of how much it was going to cost; otherwise they would have never passed it. Remember when they said it was only going to cost, I guess, 400 billion, and then it ended up being 600 or 700 billion?

We see this abuse of power constantly. I see it in my committee because what happens is when bills come to committee, they do not go to a subcommittee. They do not have a hearing. When the Democrats were in the majority, every time we had a bill that we wanted to move, we had a hearing, sometimes several hearings, in the subcommittee. Then we would have a markup in the subcommittee. Then it would go to the full committee. Then it would go to the Committee on Rules. And at every point there was an opportunity not only for the majority but also for the minority to have some input into what went on.

But that does not go on around here. A lot of bills just go to the floor without even having a hearing or even go into committee, and then they change it when they get to the Committee on Rules. They do not allow us the opportunity to offer an amendment or to offer a substitute so that our voice is not even heard. And what is going on, the reason why they have these closed votes and have to do this arm-twisting is because these are bad bills. These are not bills that are good for the average American, and they can barely get enough people to make a majority and they are even starting to lose some of their own Republicans.

If the gentleman noticed, a lot of Republicans voted ``no'' on that energy bill, and then they had to twist their arms to get them to come back and barely pass the bill. This is happening all the time. It is an absolute abuse of power. It is not letting the minority have its say, not letting the minority have a voice. And I think it is very important that we get that out there.

This is procedure and a lot of times people maybe listen and maybe they get bored or they yawn because they say this is just procedure, but in a democracy these kinds of procedures are very important. And when the Republicans are abusing the procedure, it is really bad.

And I want to mention one more thing. I cannot help but mention it. The other day when the gentleman from Texas (Mr. DeLay), the majority leader, was forced to step down because of the indictment by the grand jury, a lot of people forgot that the only reason why that happened was because Democrats insisted that the Republicans go back to the original rules. They tried to change the rules of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct at the beginning of this Congress to say that if somebody was indicted in leadership that they did not have to step down. And we came here, and the gentleman was part of it too, and insisted that we go back to the old rules, the bipartisan rules, that had that type of provision in it. And there were other changes as well that we insisted on.

So, again, it is important that we speak out because we can make a difference and the public needs to understand the abuse of power and the cronyism that is going on here.

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Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman would yield, I want to say, because I have been here longer than the gentleman, and he has already told me that many times, the fact of the matter is I remember when the Democrats were in the majority. I was here from 1988 to 1994 when we were in the majority. The core of our being in the majority was oversight. That is what we did. That was our life blood. We spent more time on oversight than anything else.

I remember specifically in my committee, the Committee on Energy and Commerce, every one of the subcommittees had oversight on health care, environment, consumer issues, energy, you name it. That was our MO. For all practical purposes, the Republicans have eliminated any real oversight. So you are absolutely right.

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Mr. PALLONE. If I could just say, that is the other part that is so important is, again going back when the Democrats were in the majority, most legislation was done on a consensus, bipartisan basis. In other words, you would find in my committee, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell), on the Committee on Energy and Commerce,

who of course was the chairman, and legislation, if it was an energy bill, if it was a health care bill, he would start by going to the ranking member, the Republican man, the minority, and saying what input do you want into this bill and let us sit down and there would be meetings, and they would try to build a consensus on legislation.

That does not happen anymore around here. I mean, it is very rare to

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see someone who is the chairman of the committee on the Republican side reaching out to the Democrat on the committee and saying let us see if we can work together and come to a consensus on a bill. That is why most of the time you did not have to have these situations where you would vote in the middle of the night and have to get people to change votes because, if the bill came to the floor most likely it was a consensus measure and most people voted for it.

Some people may say not everything has to be that way, and not everything was that way, but the bottom line is when someone is elected, when you are elected or I am elected, our constituents send us down here. They do not expect us to just come down here and object to everything because we do not have input. They expect that we are going to have some input on what goes on, and to deny us that, which is what the Republican leadership does for the most part now, I think denies the basic principle of democracy.

We are not supposed to be coming down here and just objecting. We are supposed to be part of what goes on, but we are not allowed to for the most part. We cannot bring up amendments or ask for hearings. So this is the problem.

I just want to go back and say one more thing. The reason why the Republicans do not want the oversight and do not want the accountability is because they are doing bad things. The reason they do not want to have this bipartisan Katrina Commission is because they do not want the commission to come back and report that there were problems in what the FEMA Director and the administration did during the hurricane.

It is pretty simple stuff, because if it is bipartisan and it has equal members and there is a lot of oversight, they are going to show what the problems were. They want to whitewash. That is the bottom line. That is why they do not want this independent commission. It is uncovering things.

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Mr. PALLONE. There was an editorial in the New York Times on September 26 about faking the Katrina inquiry. The last paragraph, if I could just read it, said this. It says, There is no way to whitewash a hurricane. A government dominated by one party should be disqualified from investigating itself. Just as President Bush repeatedly fought the creation of the Ð9/11 Commission until public pressure forced him to yield, so should the public now demand the administration and Congress get real about Katrina.

That is what we are getting with this Republican-dominated committee. It is just going to be another whitewash, and we cannot allow it. So I appreciate the opportunity.

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