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Rule Of Law

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

I'm honored to be here. I think some might remember in this body that for the last about year, year and a half, I've been getting up here and talking about the rule of law and how the basic foundation of American society is based upon a set of rules, a set of laws. Without that foundation, that surrender of sovereignty of the American people to pieces of paper that describe how we will behave in this world, we would be an uncivilized Nation and we would not be the great Nation of liberty and freedom that we are today. I've talked about the fact that when we talk about the rule of law, we're not just talking about abiding by the laws of this country. We're talking about abiding by the rules that we set to operate whatever we operate in this country.

I'm reminded to tell a story. When my oldest son was, I believe, in the seventh or the eighth grade; he played football. He was the best punter. He was also the center. So the one time he didn't snap the ball was when he was the punter. He punted the ball. He did a pretty good job of it. We played a team--I won't mention where it is, but if he's listening, he'll know what I'm talking about--where the first time he kicked the ball, a guy came through and knocked him flat, and they didn't throw a flag. It's young kids playing and not, I guess, the most professional referees. So he took it and I took it and there was no problem.

The second time he punted the ball, somebody came in and knocked him flat again. At this point in time, I was really concerned about it. The third time he punted the ball, somebody came in and knocked him flat again. He turned to the referee as I was climbing the fence, I was so mad, and asked him, What does it take to get a ``roughing the kicker'' call? And he said, In this town, you better just shut up and play the game.

My son is now a coach at a major school in Texas, but I would almost assure you that he has never forgotten that person who refused to enforce the rules, and we were just lucky that he didn't get injured because he was a little kid still. He was in the seventh grade. And I have never forgotten it, and most people don't forget when people break rules that they expect to be played by. If their team is playing on Saturday or on Sunday and they see a blatant violation of the rules, most Americans get infuriated by people who violate rules.

I take the position--and I think the position is easily defended--that the United States of America cannot run without the laws that we create both in this body and our State legislatures around the country and those laws that the courts have interpreted correctly. Those things keep us on that foundation of operational procedures that we have that allows us to know that when we do something, we follow the rules, and others are expected to follow the rules, and if they don't follow the rules, we have recourse to make them follow the rules.

I have been talking about that for a year. I have been talking about that, about Members of this body that I have said, you know, that there were ethics violations filed against them, that the Ethics Committee needed to resolve those because there were allegations that they had broken the rules. Some of those things have come to fruition, and without any animosity towards anyone, I am glad at least one of those issues has been slightly resolved. But there are others, and it would seem to me that as we talk about and as we look at each other in this body--and all of us are Members and all of us agree to a set of rules when we come here.

What's interesting is that in the history of the United States, there are some people that are highly respected by both political parties, by all Americans. I think Abraham Lincoln falls in that category. I think George Washington falls in that category. I believe Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and many, many others of those who are either our Founding Fathers or people who have done such extraordinary things for freedom and for liberty in this country that we remember them, and we remember and we honor what they did.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the rules for operation of this House and of the Senate. I take that back. I don't know if he wrote it for the Senate. I know he wrote it for the House. I think he wrote it for both bodies. But whatever that may be, when our Founding Fathers were sitting around on those hot days in the summer trying to put together a constitution, trying to resolve the issues and deciding what kind of functioning government they wanted to have, they had a concept of creating a republic--not a parliamentary democracy but a republic--where you had a representative form of government, where you had two bodies, the House and the Senate. The House would be the people's House, and it would have the opportunity to change every 2 years. The Senate, at that time, would be appointed by the legislatures of the various States. The Senators would represent States, and they would change after a 6-year term, with alternating terms, so every 2 years a certain body but never all that body would change.

And when they looked at how they wanted these two Houses to operate, they set up that this House would be the rapid-solution-to-the-problem House. This House goes and moves, compared to the Senate, at light speed, and it was intended that way by our Founders. They intended it because they wanted the people's business taken care of and addressed first, and they wanted it addressed in an important manner by this House. But they also realized that sometime in the heat of debates that can go on in this place, that level heads needed to calm things down for a bit and ponder it before it's passed so things aren't rushed to judgment and mistakes aren't made. We have the same kind of procedures in the courtroom today. Just, for example, in a capital murder case, we spend an inordinate amount of time and slow things down so that we can try our very best to make sure that mistakes are not being made, because it's life or death, what occurs in that courtroom.

So our Founding Fathers wanted our legislation to go to the Senate and give the Senate the ability to slow the process down, take a hard look at each of the elements, and try to come up with a resolution in the Senate that was more philosophical and more pondered than the House. It was intended that way. And for that reason, they set up a means by which the Members of the Senate could do what's called filibuster the Senate. And that means that they can start talking, and one person could hold up the whole operation until everybody agreed to calm down and get certain points resolved at a slower rate.

This has evolved, but the rules have been following that various trend and with that concept since the creation by our Founding Fathers. Today, we have a process that takes place over in the Senate which is sort of, if you will--imagine that there is someone standing up talking until you get 60 votes to shut him up. But there is not really somebody standing up and talking. We have a rule called ``cloture,'' and that rule says that until you can vote on an up-or-down vote on any issue in the Senate of the United States, you have to have 60 Members of that body to agree to bring that to the floor of the Senate for a vote. And that's an issue that it should be--if it's not in the minds of all the American people today, it should be in the minds of the American people, because one-sixth of our economy teeters on the verge of change based upon whether or not the Senate rule of cloture will be maintained as a rule which has been in existence and the concept since the founding of the body that is over on the other side of this building.

Now, whenever there's a rule, there is always someone who will try to come up with a way to get around the rule. That's human nature. Sometimes people can get around it by breaking the rule, and sometimes people can get around it by adjusting the rule. The rule was adjusted slightly back in, I think it was, 1974, and they came up with a concept called reconciliation. And what they were finding was that in the budgetary process, when you have to reconcile revenues with expenditures to balance your checkbook, balance the budget, whatever you do at your home--don't use the kind of accounting we use around this place. But to make those two things reconcile, they put up the process of reconciliation, which for reconciling those numbers--for reconciling those two numbers to make them work, you could use a reconciliation process if you had put it in the rule prior to the passage of the budget or the addressing of the budget so that you could reconcile the numbers, and it didn't take 60 votes to get that vote. And reconciliation has been used for budgetary and number balancing ever since in a very limited manner.

It comes up maybe once or twice a Presidential term for a President, to make sure that when new things are being done in the way of expenditures or taxation or whatever it is, to make things reconciled. Sometimes that's done by reconciliation. But it never was designed to take a whole body and battery of laws and just change the rule to make 51 votes a win in the Senate. It was always intended that that was just for balancing your checkbook and not for creating your job and paying your bills. So, in other words, it wasn't for the big ideas. It was for the little tweaks to make things work. I don't think everybody understands that, but that's what it was for. That's what it's been used for.

I have some examples on this page. This was written by a man named John Dalton about the process. It's a good explanation. He points out--and there may be others, but he has got a list of the names of the bills that have used reconciliation. Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1980 under Jimmy Carter, Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 under Ronald Reagan, Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1982 under Ronald Reagan, Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act 1982 under Reagan, Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

Notice the names ``budget,'' ``taxes,'' ``fiscal'' under Reagan. Deficit Reduction Act under Reagan. All of those took place in the eighties. All of those, you hear the word ``budget'' or you hear the word ``tax'' or ``expenditures.'' That's what it was for.

Today we have been debating now for over a year President Obama's concept of health care for the United States. I hesitate to say President Obama's bill because, at least to my knowledge, President Obama has never himself, nor the White House, written a bill and presented it to this body for deliberation.

So the bill that we're talking about right now--we had a House bill pass this body by one vote, and we had a Senate bill pass the Senate on Christmas Eve. Both of those were contentious, and both of those were hard fought, and both of those barely squeaked by. And normally, because the Senate bill is drastically different from the House bill, those would go to a conference committee where they would work out the differences and try to come up with solutions. That's the normal process for bills in this House. But the normal process doesn't seem to be wanting to go on in this House right now, so we're not going to a conference committee. And the only other alternative would be that either the Senate take the House bill without any changes and pass it, which they said ``no,'' or now that they've passed their bill, they send it over here to the House, and the House has to pass that bill without any changes. And if there are any changes, it's got to go to a conference committee, because you can't change it. You either accept it or you haven't accepted it. If you haven't accepted it, then you've got to reconcile between the House and the Senate bill.

The proposal on health care, which is being strong-armed in this House right now is to get this done by Easter, and they're going to do it by strong-arming the elements in this House on the Democratic side of the

aisle because the Republicans are not going to vote for this bill, to ask them to give up their conscience--both our liberal Members and our conservative Members--to give up what they stand for and pass the Senate bill, even if they don't agree with it, and then to trust the leadership of this House to put together a reconciliation package that will fix things like abortion, which has nothing to do with anything to do with reconciliation, and do a reconciliation bill to address the issues concerning abortion in this bill, or do a reconciliation bill to address a government option, which is the far left liberals' concept--and you heard it talked about here tonight--of what's missing here in this bill.

The leadership here is asking them to not mess with the Senate bill; pass it, even though they don't agree with it. And they don't think it should pass the way it is. Pass it and trust it that it will be changed. And it will be changed through a process which is not for changing these types of life-changing issues, but for tweaking your checkbook, if you will. And that means that we are going to change over 200 years of history in order to get a health care bill passed that, by the best poll out there, 57 percent of the American people don't want. And there are polls that say as many as 60 and 70 percent of the American people don't want this health care bill. They want us to start over and try again. They think we can do better than to create hundreds--not hundreds. That's an exaggeration. Let's get it right--about 35 or 40 new agencies and bureaus in this country that will have people overseeing everything to do with health care in this Nation and that will put people who operate in Washington, D.C., between you and your doctor in making health care decisions.

The American people have said, We don't like it. Tens of thousands of them took to the streets in August and said, Go back and do it right. Both you Democrats and you Republicans, get together. We want to see you work together on this bill, and we want you to come up with the kind of solutions we're looking for that deal with costs, deal with accessibility, deal with preexisting conditions. But they don't have to be in something that nobody--unless they've got a couple of months--can read through and digest and understand. Put it in a series of bills that we can understand as American people.

If there is one thing we owe, as Members of this body, is that we owe it to the American people to pass bills that they can read. I mean, it is affecting one-sixth of their lives. One-sixth of their paycheck is going to be hit every time they think about health care.

And people are going to be ordered to take health care and mandated with penalties if they don't want to take health care. And there's some people that don't. So it's life-changing. But what I'm talking about today--that's an argument you've heard made for months now--I'm back to where I started. There are rules and there are laws that you run your operation by, and when you start violating, especially laws and rules that go to the basic tenet of the Constitution of this United States, that the Senate is the deliberative body, then you are basically changing not only a sixth of our economy but you're changing the way the government of the United States has operated for over 200 years. That's not the way it ought to be. It shouldn't be that way.

And so I would argue that my issue about rule of law goes to the reconciliation process. And yet the leadership of this House, the Speaker of the House, NANCY Pelosi; HARRY REID, the majority leader of the Senate; and the President of the United States are all talking about fixing the disputes that are in this House about the Senate health care bill through reconciliation which would then be an abuse of the rules and violate what this country has stood for for over 200 years.

Now, what's wrong with that picture? Well, first off, it changes everything that happens in the future. Because if now we can turn over one-sixth of the economy to the government, again a portion of the economy will now be managed by the centrists, if you will, the people who want a central government here in Washington running everything, when they do that, then the next issue that comes before this House, there's no reason for anybody to honor the 60-vote rule in the Senate. There's no reason for anybody to honor it. Once you break it, that affects every human being that lives on this planet, inside the United States, once you fix it and violate the rules to suit yourself against those people, what can we bring before this House that would require that rule ever again? And I think an argument could very well be made that that will be the end of the cloture rule in the Senate. And when you end the cloture rule in the Senate, we'll either go back to the old filibuster or, quite frankly, we'll go back to a different Senate that's not operating the way our Founding Fathers intended it to operate.

These are issues that I think as we vote about this, we need to realize that our concept, that we should go by a set of rules and we should operate by that set of rules. To violate those rules, there are consequences. I'm not saying we're going to put anybody in jail. I'm saying the consequences are right now you might have a win. But when you're in the minority, which this 60-vote rule is done to protect the minority, whoever it may be, Democrat or Republican, if you once give up the power to protect the minority, or at least give them a voice, then down the road someone's going to wake up, it's something that breaks their heart to see it passed into law, and there won't be a cloture rule to protect them.

Breaking rules has consequences. I don't know if what I'm saying here has any effect on those folks, but I can tell you that, for instance, the health care bill calls for $1 billion in budget savings over a 5-year period of time of deficit spending totaling about, estimated, $8 trillion. This impact is about one one-thousandth of a percent, which indisputably reaches the ``incidental'' definition of budgetary impact under the Byrd rule.

Senator Byrd wrote a rule that said you can't use this idea of reconciliation for just incidental effects. There is nothing more incidental than that. When you're talking about $8 trillion versus $1 billion, that's pretty incidental. And yet it is one-sixth of the economy.

The reason we have rules is for people to follow the rules. I encourage and I hope and I pray that every one of the American people will now understand, and this is difficult to talk about, and it's not easy for anybody to understand. And if anybody tells you that JOHN CARTER's an expert on it, you tell them they don't know what they're talking about. I'm not an expert on it. I'm just here to tell you that I do understand what common sense means and I understand what's right and wrong. And when Thomas Jefferson writes the rules and everybody abides by them for over 200 years of history of the United States and all of a sudden to get your way you decide not to abide by the rules, that's wrong. And I think the American people are going to know it's wrong. And I hope the American people will rise up and say it's wrong.

If they can pass it with 60 votes in the Senate, that's the blessing of the American people. That's the way the deal operates. That's playing within the rules. That's following the rules that make the playing field, I consider, level because we all play by those rules. And that's fine. But if you can't, don't play tricks and don't change rules that you're not supposed to change, because if you do, the consequences to the American people are going to be awful. There's a lot of anger in this country right now, and I believe that anger will be increased six-fold or more if they find out, the same bunch of Americans who watch basketball or football or baseball, who know the rules of the game and watch somebody break the rules, they expect a foul to be called, they expect a penalty to be set, they expect a man to be called out or a man to be called safe, they expect the rules to be played by; and if they expect that on the baseball field, the football field and the basketball court, why wouldn't they expect it when people are changing their life? When people are writing rules to change their life, why wouldn't they expect that?

Health care reform has been on our plate now for quite a while. Meanwhile, we're losing jobs. We've got issues that we really need to be dealing with about people that are out of work and trying to figure out a way to get them back to work. We've got companies that are confused about the future. By that confusion, they're not willing to make investments either by expanding their businesses or hiring people, so they're just sitting on the sidelines right now and waiting. We've got small businesses that are frightened because they don't know whether they're going to be mandated to do health care or not, or whether they can do what they're doing now or what they need to do, or where they can go to make it better for their employees so maybe I don't want to hire any more employees. We've got millions of people that need a job. And we're happy when only 30 or 40,000 lost a job this month. That's supposed to be happy? I think we should be happy when 30 or 40,000 got a job this month, not when only 40,000 or 30,000 or 20,000 lost. That's not our goal. Our goal is to be able to say, we're happy to announce on the floor of this House that 40,000 people got a job this month.

But instead, we've been debating health care. We have been like people who say, I'm going to take my football and go home, demanding the game be played by their rules, not by the rules of the game, and demanding that their way be taken even when the American people tell them they don't want that way. That's what I think this debate is about.

I have a whole bunch of posters here that a lot of people went to a lot of work on, and I will go through some of them. ROBERT BYRD, who's still alive and still working over in the Senate, here is what he said about reconciliation:

``I oppose using the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform and climate change legislation. Such a proposal would violate the intent and spirit of the budget process and do serious injury to the constitutional role of the Senate.

``As one of the authors of the reconciliation process, I can tell you that reconciliation was intended to adjust revenue and spending levels in order to reduce deficits. It was not designed to create a new climate and energy regime and certainly not to restructure the entire health care system.''

This was said by Senator ROBERT BYRD, 4/2/09. He was one of the authors of the reconciliation process in 1974. And that's what I've just been telling you. The Senator agrees with what I've just been saying, and I think really important things that we have to be concerned about is what he said about the Constitution: ``serious injury to the constitutional role of the Senate,'' just what I've been talking about with you.

Let me point out, all these chairs that you see in this room have somebody that sits in them. They're not assigned seats, we sit where we want to, but we all tend to sit somewhere. Every one of us stands up on the first day of this House and we swear an oath. We raise our right hand and we swear an oath. And the nature of that oath is pretty darn simple. We don't swear to be loyal to our party, Republican or Democrat; we don't swear to be loyal to a man or a Speaker or a majority leader or a President. We swear one thing. We don't swear to provide for everybody and give a free ride to everybody in the country. We swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. That's what we swear to. That's our job here. Our job is to make sure that piece of work that created this simple but intricate system of rules that we've all accepted and has caused us all to prosper, our job is to defend that and the President's got the same oath. Our job is not other things; it's preserve what's in the Constitution and the way the Constitution is supposed to operate.

Senator Byrd points out as I did, we're looking at something that will be in violation if not of the nature but at least of the spirit of the Constitution of the United States. This is more serious than some people may be thinking about.

Here's some stuff about reconciliation:

It gives the Congress the ability to change current law to bring spending and revenues in line.

Uses numerical targets and not program-specific.

Debate is limited to 20 hours, non-germane amendments are not in order, a vote is guaranteed and requires 51 votes to pass rather than 60 as normal.

The Byrd rule. Legislation cannot be added to a reconciliation bill if it has a budgetary impact which is merely incidental to the policy components of the provision. As I've told you, the bill that we're talking about is $1 billion versus $8 trillion. That's pretty incidental.

Now you may not think so until you realize what a billion is, and then you realize what a trillion is. A trillion is a number that's so hard to understand that if you stacked thousand-dollar bills 4 inches high, they're brand new, they don't have any wrinkles, they perfectly fit together and they're 4 inches high, that's a million dollars. A trillion dollars, 67 miles high.

So you can see, that's a whole lot of money we're talking about. A billion to $8 trillion is pretty incidental.

Health care reform is not fiscal policy. That means it's not about money. That's what we're talking about. When you change a rule to do something that you can't do, that you shouldn't be doing in the first place, and so you're going to change the rule just to get your way and change the constitutional history of our country, something's real wrong with all that, and something that people ought to think about, because someday somebody might be rolling over you and something you care about by breaking the rules, and I don't think you will be very happy about that, because we are a group of people that play by the rules.

Been picking on these two guys for a long time for the last 2 months about tax evasion with no penalties: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Mr. Rangel, who is the former Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. But it is not fair to have spent the time picking on these two guys when this whole House is fixing to break rules that are going to affect everyone sitting in this Chamber, and in fact everyone drawing a breath in this country, and they are going to break rules and change rules and avoid rules.

I am almost embarrassed to have picked on these two individuals for the rules that they broke concerning taxes and other things. Although it is the right thing to say, and if they break the rules you ought to talk about it. Well, the Congress is about to break the rules, and we ought to talk about it.

Finally, and I am going to quit now, I would hope that everybody realizes that everybody in this Congress wants

to make health care work. And they want to make health care work for everybody and give everybody equal opportunity under health care. And there are many people on both sides of the aisle that think we can do better than these 2,000- and 3,000- and 4,000-page bills that seem to hit that table once in a while. And health care is one of them. So I am appealing to my colleagues in the House of Representatives to encourage everybody, when it comes to this important one-sixth of our economy, to play by the rules.

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