PRESS CONFERENCE WITH HOUSE MINORITY LEADER REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH); REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO); REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R-FL); AND REP. KAY GRANGER (R-TX)
REP. BOEHNER: Well, good morning everyone. Today, House Republicans are launching a renewed effort to make federal spending more transparent and more accountable. Last year, our leadership team spent a great deal of time working on earmark reform first for the appropriations process, and then for all authorization bills and tax bills. Earlier this year, we won a big victory in bringing the kind of transparency and accountability that we had in our reforms last year to the appropriations process. But during that fight earlier this year that we won, we were unable to convince our Democrat colleagues that bringing the same kind of transparency and accountability to authorization bills and tax bills was necessary.
And what we're doing is today I signed a discharge petition on the floor of the House. We're asking all members from both sides of the aisle to sign this discharge petition to allow a bill to come forward that really will put the kind of transparency and accountability that the American taxpayers expect of their Congress. After all, it's their money, it's the American people's money; they ought to have a right to all the transparency and accountability as possible to see how their tax dollars are being spent.
I think the taxpayers deserve better, and I'm hoping my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will work with us to enact real accountability and real transparency in terms of how we spend their tax money.
REP. PUTNAM (?): Earmarks are admittedly a small portion of the federal budget, but they are a large portion of the culture of spending, and too often they teach people to become dependent upon the federal government. Now, although there are many good earmarks out there, there are worthy earmarks, too often the process still lends itself to a triumph of seniority over merit, secrecy over transparency and the special interest over the national interest.
You will never combat excess spending until you combat the culture of spending, and you will not combat the culture of spending until you have transparency and accountability in this earmark process. Why is this important?
The controller general, not any of us here on this stage, but the controller general has said if we don't alter the spending patterns of the federal government, that this generation -- we're on the verge of being the first generation in America's history to leave the next generation with a lower standard of living, and the Republican Conference will not be a part of that. And that's why this discharge petition is so important.
Now, the Democrats claim that they were going to clean up the pork. If you're going to clean up the pork, you can't just deal with the sausage. You have to deal with the ham and the bacon as well. In other words, you can't just deal with appropriations; you have to deal with the tax pork and the authorizing pork as well. They said they'd clean it up, and instead they rolled back transparency and accountability. And this discharge petition, headed by our leader, Leader Boehner, will give the Democrats an opportunity to put their vote where their rhetoric is.
REP. BLUNT: Well, as the leader said, this is a renewed effort on our part. We'd just like to get the Congress back to where we were in the last Congress. I'll readily admit in my -- almost my first 10 years in the Congress, I believed that members eagerly took credit for the specific things they got done in the process here. We all learned last year that that wasn't always the case, and so we learned last year. And in the last Congress, we put the rules out there that made it absolutely essential that you take credit not just for spending specifics but for authorizing specifics.
After a very public fight earlier this year where the Democrats had walked away from all of that earmark reform -- they said, well, okay, we admit, we've heard, we've lost on being able to advance these spending bills without more transparency, but they're not willing to do the even harder work -- and believe me, I know it's the harder work, because we did it in the last Congress -- of getting the authorizers to agree that when they put things in a tax bill or in an authorizing bill, that's going to be transparent as well.
Transparency's important. I had legislation in the last Congress that got signed into law in this Congress where the administration has to be transparent as well with their grants and contracts. There's a website that makes all of that public and has a -- and begins to create a history. Well, the history of the last Congress was we moved toward transparency both in writing laws and spending money; they have sort of adopted part of that, but they're a long way from where we were. This discharge petition would get this Congress as transparent as the last Congress had committed itself to be. And we're signing the discharge petition today, and Mr. Putnam's our chairman.
REP. PUTNAM: Thank you, Mr. Whip.
The discharge petition is an infrequently used but important tool that the minority party has at its disposal in the House of Representatives, and the use of this is a clear indication of our ratcheting up the intensity of our effort to bring this culture of spending back under control.
What we have seen out of the new Democratic majority is a Swiss cheese reform. And it took a great deal of effort on our part to bring this place to a halt in the summer to apply the same earmark transparency standards that we had lived under to the appropriations process.
But it is an unfinished task, and every American knows that a great deal of mischief occurs in the authorization bills and tax bills as much as in the appropriations bills. And if the transparency that we were able to bring to this Congress this summer was the right thing to do for appropriations bills, it is the right thing to do for all of the bills. And that is what this effort entails.
I would hope that all of the members of the Democratic Party who campaigned as fiscal conservatives, who like to tout their canine bona fides, will join us -- will join us in signing this discharge petition to make it clear to their leadership that they share our commitment to bringing fiscal discipline back to Washington, D.C.
REP. : Transparency is truly the prescription for reform. And if we heard anything in last November's election, it was that the voters of this country wanted reform. They wanted us to change the way that Washington does business.
The Democrat leadership, Nancy Pelosi and her team, came into office promising open and honest government and that there would be transparency, so the light of day could shine on the business of Washington. But in fact, what we've seen over the last almost nine months is missed opportunity after missed opportunity. The one glaring opportunity -- or the one glaring instance that reflected the fact that this leadership by Nancy Pelosi and her team has missed is in fact earlier this year when Congressman Murtha earmarked a $39 million taxpayer gift to a National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in the intel authorization bill.
And if you remember, at the time this move was criticized by many in the press as being a drug war boondoggle, this project, and an expensive and duplicative use of scarce federal drug enforcement resources. But to top it all off, we found out, frankly, that the reason why this appropriations was able to go forward is that it was not disclosed ahead of time. There was an open and fair debate on this particular item. One of our members, Mike Rogers, he called this out and was rebuffed, and in fact, as we recall, threatened. Well, this is not the way that the American public wants us to operate. This is exactly the point that was underlying the results of last election. We've got to make sure that we open up and ventilate this process. That's what this discharge petition is about. We want our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to make sure that we remove all perception that somehow we're cutting backroom deals in this town and that we are prudently stewarding their taxpayer dollars.
REP. : If you wonder why we need to expand this transparency to the extent we're talking about, we have a very recent example that we need to take a look at, and that's the SCHIP bill.
We've had an issue that's been in the -- across the country about the difference between reimbursement for rural versus reimbursement for urban hospitals, and many of the rural hospitals are very close to urban centers; we have them far away. But there's a difference in the amount that doctors and hospitals get from Medicare in that program.
In this bill, there are special provisions very carefully hidden by cryptic language, which allows the change of address of a rural hospital to a(n) urban address even though that hospital might be 200 miles away from Chicago, the urban center. They can still claim to be special -- certain special hospitals designated by special congressmen -- not the whole Congress, just certain people.
They now get to get Medicare reimbursement at an urban rate even though they're 200 miles away from the urban center that they're claiming to have the address. And that's put in this bill. The American people need light shined upon this type of thing so they can say "No. You know what? That just isn't right."
REP. GRANGER: It's so interesting to be out in our districts and talk with constituents because they will tell you very quickly that they know Washington does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. And one of the big problems is how they spend that money, and generally the perception is that backroom deal making in smoke-filled rooms to which the public is not invited is how much of that money gets spent.
Now, there were lots of promises that were made by the current Democrat leadership in last November's election. And while they were out in districts across the country, up on the stump, talking about how they would change Washington, one of the things they promised -- one of the things they promised repeatedly -- was increased transparency and more participation. The American public is very frustrated that they've realized just the opposite so far in this Congress. That's -- the broken promises is one of the reasons that you see their ratings so low.
I want to commend our leadership for the discharge petition and the action taken today. It is the right stop. It is the type of action the American people want to see to solve the problem of spending, the out-of-control spending in this town.
REP. : Well, as the last speaker, I'm going to make a bunch of new and insightful points. (Laughter.)
Let me just say that the reason the American people are so cynical about Congress is because they see promises made and promises broken. It is clear that the majority is doing everything they can to slip on their commitment for transparency. They're trying to get away with every moment, every chance, to not do what they said they would do, and the reason this matters is because we have to change the culture of spending in Washington. If we're going to get our handle on our fiscal situation, if we're going to get our hands around the fact that we have a fiscal nightmare on the horizon -- if you listen to what Congressman Hensarling said, the comptroller general, I just left a budget hearing talking about this.
We are at risk for the first time in our nation's history of severing that legacy of passing on to the next generation a higher standard of living, because of spending, because of runaway spending. And the only way to address that is to change the culture of spending in Washington.
And what we have before us here is a majority that said they would do one thing -- bring transparency and accountability to the spending process in Washington -- and is doing quite the opposite. That is cynical, that is hypocritical, and that does not change the culture of spending, which does not bode well for us getting our handle on our nation's fiscal problems.
REP. BOEHNER: Questions?
Q Mr. Boehner, you guys all talk as though transparency is this magical elixir that's going to clean up the problems associated with earmarks. Do you really think that's the case, given the experience of this year with the votes you've had on the floor and the types things that are in the bills?
REP. BOEHNER: No, I do think that transparency brings sunlight to this spending. And we all know that sunlight is the best disinfectant. If these earmarks are made very clear and people get to see them, then somebody's going to have to go out and defend them. And some of these, as we know, are indefensible. Let's put them out there -- members can see, on both sides of aisle; the public can see -- and I can think that we'll go a long way in reducing the amount of wasteful Washington spending that we have.
Q Mr. Boehner?
REP. BOEHNER: Yes?
Q The president just said he was going to veto the SCHIP bill. Do you have the votes to sustain a veto? Do you know?
REP. BOEHNER: Republicans believe that we ought to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program. This program was created in a bipartisan way in the late '90s to provide health insurance for poor children who did not have it. We want that to continue.
What we don't want is that we don't want the creation of more government-run health insurance, which is exactly what is occurring in this bill, where they want to insure adults, they want to insure people that make up to $84,000, in some states. This is way beyond what we created in a bipartisan way. And so as we reauthorize this program, let's keep the focus of the program on where we started: making sure that poor children have access to high-quality health insurance and access to high-quality health care.
Q Are you concerned that your members could be open to charges that they're setting up health insurance for children?
REP. BOEHNER: Well, I'm sure that -- this is Washington. I'm sure that someone will mischaracterize the votes of those of us who would vote against this expansion of government-run health insurance as being mean to poor children. I think it's incumbent upon us to make clear that we want to cover poor children, but we have to cover adults that make up to $84,000 and expand the size? This is Hillary care in -- cloaked in expanding children's health care. That's what this is. That's not what most members of Congress want.
REP. BLUNT: You know, a topic of the day, too, I might add -- and you all know about this, but we're getting so used to the process we're going through we're forgetting: What SCHIP bill? What SCHIP bill? We're going to vote on a bill probably on Tuesday that none of us will have seen. We'll have no opportunity for a substitute, we'll have no opportunity for a recommital, we'll have no opportunity to see the bill. Our members are, by and large, I believe will largely be co-sponsoring legislation that was announced yesterday that will extend the current SCHIP program, but on a topic on transparency, there is no -- there is minimal transparency on this process.
If you all remember the last vote we had in the last Congress, as I recall our Ways and Means chairman was very upset because we gave the Democrats a vote that they will not give us next week on a bill that was bouncing back and forth. We said even though we don't have to do it, we're going to give you your alternative vote on this bill. Next week, I'll bet, as my dad used to say, dollars to donuts that they will not give us an alternative, we will not see the bill, and this is not the process that the American people would like to be proud of.
REP. BOEHNER: Nor is it the process the Democrat leaders promised the American people and other members last year during the election.
Q Just a quick technical question. Does (H.R. 479 ?) clear up the definition what a tax earmark would be? Because I know last year there was some discussion whether it should be narrowed to benefits for one person or for 10.
REP. BOEHNER: I don't have the specific answer to that, but we can get the answer for you.
Q Thank you.
REP. BOEHNER: Thank you.