Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Adam Schiff
Date: May 9, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SCHIFF. Madam Chair, I rise in strong opposition to the amendment and urge my colleague to withdraw the amendment and work with us on this issue.

As a former U.S. attorney, I have the greatest respect and support for loan-forgiveness programs of this nature. It is absolutely a worthwhile cause. But the Mars program was devastated by the administration's budget.

This is one of the crown jewels of planetary science. In fact, the whole planetary science budget was decimated by the administration in its proposal. Thankfully, through the work of the chairman and the ranking member, the planetary science budget has been restored, and part of what has been taken out of the Mars program has been restored. Nevertheless, the Mars program was cut by hundreds of millions, and we have a long way to go to have a healthy Mars program.

As we speak, one of the most difficult missions ever undertaken, the Mars Science Laboratory, is on its way to the Martian surface. This will be path-breaking in terms of its scientific return. This is an area where we are second to none in the world. No one else has the skills to enter the Martian atmosphere, descend, and land on Mars. That is an incredible talent pool that can make that possible. At a time when we have to go hat in hand to the Russians to get a ride to the space station, but we are still the unquestioned leader in planetary science, with the Mars program leading the way, we do not need to decimate the Mars program further.

Thanks to the work of Chairman Wolf and Ranking Member Fattah, we are on the path to restoring this great program so that we can continue on the road that we're on where we are tantalizingly close now to finding the building blocks of life on another planet, and this is what is at stake.

So while I sympathize with the desire of the gentleman from Massachusetts to plus-up the program that he supports--and I support it, too--the offset would be devastating, devastating to the brilliant people that work in this area, devastating to all those around the country that love planetary science and that are going to be watching breathlessly on August 5 as Curiosity lands on the Martian surface and sends back new information about one of our neighbors in the solar system.

I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment. I urge us to continue to push the envelope of our understanding of the universe. And we just simply cannot choose this as an offset, such a valuable national treasure as the Mars program.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. SCHIFF. Madam Chair, I'm not sure that I understand the basis of the amendment that we should defund the Justice Department from any effort to defend a law if the polling indicates that it is unpopular at the moment. The polling on the health care reform law has varied since its enactment. At times it has enjoyed majority support; at times it has enjoyed minority support. Almost entirely throughout the period since its passage, if you ask people whether they support the components of the health care reform law, Americans overwhelmingly say that they do.

But, nonetheless, is this really the basis that we want to make whether we can defend the constitutionality of a law, and that is: What do the polls say? If so, then perhaps we ought to broaden the gentlewoman's amendment to say that, whenever a law is unpopular in the country, we should refuse to allow the Justice Department to support its constitutionality. In fact, many of the laws that we pass here are not always popular. Sometimes they're the right thing to do, and sometimes they're the hard thing to do. I would imagine that some of the decisions that we make on the debt ceiling and other things, if we put them to a poll, would be very unpopular but, nonetheless, necessary. Are we going to say that because they're unpopular at the moment that they're, therefore, for no other reason, unconstitutional? I don't think so.

We have a Justice Department that studies the constitutionality of laws to determine, in their best judgment, whether something is consistent with the Constitution, and I don't think we want to be in the business of telling the Justice Department not to defend a law because of what a particular poll might say.

With that, I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment and yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I'll be very brief.

I just want to say that I concur with my colleague's points, to a point. As my colleague acknowledges, we take an oath to defend the Constitution. The administration, the executive branch, also takes an oath to defend the Constitution.

Effectively, what this amendment would do is say we are going to defund the Justice Department's ability to undertake and fulfill its oath to defend the Constitution. If the Justice Department disagrees with some Members of Congress about what their oath to the Constitution requires, we are going to defund their ability to follow through.

I don't think that's really where we want to be because, plainly, the Justice Department feels the law is constitutional. They believe it's their obligation to uphold the Constitution. And to say that we're going to defund their ability to follow through on that, I don't think that is good policy.

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Mr. SCHIFF. I appreciate that.

And that's absolutely correct. If the Justice Department determines in its view, just as you and I must, that something is constitutional and must be defended or something is unconstitutional and cannot be defended, then we have to follow through with those obligations. But I don't think it's our position to defund the Justice Department when, in the good faith execution of its oath to uphold the Constitution, it is defending a law that this Congress has passed.

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