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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 890, Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and TANF Extension Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McGOVERN. First of all, Mr. Speaker, I would tell my colleagues that this is not a good rule. It is a closed rule, and there's no need for it.

This prevents Members of the House of both parties from coming to the floor with ideas or ways to amend this legislation. Because of the rule, they're prevented from doing so. I think that is an unfortunate fact. We should have deliberation on this House floor. Given the fact that we're not doing much of anything, we certainly have the time to deliberate, and I would hope that in the future that we would see more flexibility on the rules and less closed rules. So I urge my colleagues to vote against the rule because of that.

Mr. Speaker, once again the Republican majority in the House is proving that they never let facts get in the way of a good press release.

Today's bill takes a sensible, bipartisan piece of legislation and tacks on a partisan political ploy that was used in the last Congress to try to embarrass President Obama.

Instead of bringing a simple, clean extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the Republican majority is continuing a political attack from the last election. And like many of the other political attacks lobbed against President Obama in that campaign, this attack is simply untrue and destined for failure.

Over the last 2 years, members of the majority have charged that actions taken by the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the TANF program are an attempt to ``let people sit at home and collect welfare checks.''

Such charges have been declared false by numerous fact check organizations, including, PolitiFact, and The Fact Checker at The Washington Post.

Furthermore, Ron Haskins, the former Republican staff director of the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee and one of the chief architects of the 1996 welfare reform law, said the reforms similar to the ones being made by HHS are justified. And he added:

I do not think it ends welfare reform or strongly undermines welfare reform. Each State has to say what they will do and how that reform will either increase employment or lead to better employment.

That's Ron Haskins, the former Republican staff director of the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee.

Mr. Speaker, the merits of the changes implemented by HHS strengthen Federal efforts to move Americans from welfare to work. In allowing States the flexibility from rigid TANF requirements, the administration requires that any changes provide a more efficient or effective means to promote employment. In explaining the policy changes, HHS Secretary Sebelius stated:

Governors must commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work compared to the State's past performance.

Under such requirements, it is impossible to assert that these changes will weaken the Federal efforts to move citizens from welfare to work. In fact, in looking at the actual rules even briefly, it is clear that these changes strengthen our Federal efforts by allowing for more effective and more efficient programs by giving them room to operate at the State level.

Mr. Speaker, it may be surprising to some watching today's proceedings that the majority disapproves of the administration's programmatic changes. The underlying principle of the changes is the belief that States should have flexibility to implement proven and effective methods for moving Americans from welfare to work.

Yet today, a Republican majority that often boasts of its commitment to States' rights now stands in fierce opposition to that very principle. They find themselves demanding that even when more effective methods for putting Americans to work are available, Federal standards dictated from Washington must rule the day.

And the real irony in their argument against the administration's action is that the request for flexibility came from a Governor, a Republican Governor. And it was not just a Republican Governor from a blue State like New Jersey or a purple State like Virginia. No, Mr. Speaker, the Governor of Utah--one of the reddest States in the Nation--is the one that has requested this waiver.

I've seen some interesting legislative jujitsu on this House floor. One day they're adhering to the Hastert rule, and the next day the Boehner rule applies. This Republican majority legislates by lurching from one issue to another issue trying to find something that works.

So I can't say that I'm surprised that they're declaring themselves against increasing work requirements for TANF recipients as requested by a Republican Governor. The only thing I can chalk it up to is politics. You'd think that at some point the Republican majority would rather legislate instead of fighting a political battle that was decided 4 months ago, a political battle that they lost badly. Sadly, that day is not today.

If this majority were truly serious about work and employment, about actually reducing the number of people on TANF, then we would be voting on a bill to repeal the sequester and we would be voting on a bill to save the 750,000 jobs that will be lost this year because of these arbitrary, mindless, senseless, and thoughtless cuts.

The reauthorization of TANF in and of itself is not controversial. We can move that bill on suspension. What appears to be controversial to this Republican leadership is putting people back to work. What appears to be controversial to this Republican leadership is saving our economy from the devastating sequester cuts. What appears to be controversial to this Republican leadership is responsible governing.

In contrast, Mr. Speaker, House Democrats have a plan that House Republicans block time after time after time to avoid sequester.

Congressman Van Hollen has a balanced sequester replacement, one that will get rid of the arbitrary cuts and replace them with a balanced mix of cuts and revenues, revenues that come from closing tax loopholes that even Republicans like Mitt Romney thought we should eliminate.

Congressman Van Hollen has come to the Rules Committee four times this year alone in the hope that this Republican leadership, the ones who promised an open House and an open legislative process, would make his amendment in order. And four times now, the Republican leadership in this House has refused to make that amendment in order.

Why, Mr. Speaker? Why? Why not allow the Van Hollen sequester replacement bill to come to the floor for a vote? Didn't Speaker Boehner promise a more open House? Didn't he say that the House should work its will?

Mr. Speaker, this is not a way to run a democracy. This is not an open and fair process.

That's because this Republican leadership is not about openness. They're not about legislating responsibly. They're about desperate attempts to score cheap political points. That's what they're doing with the sequester. And that's what they're doing with this TANF reauthorization--something that should be totally noncontroversial, something that should be approved with an overwhelming bipartisan vote.

Mr. Speaker, we should defeat this closed rule, an unnecessarily closed rule, and defeat this bill. It is time we put partisan politics aside, at least until the next election season begins, and start working for the American people.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

First of all, I want to thank my friend, the gentleman from Oklahoma, for his improved pronunciation. I appreciate that. And I also appreciate the spirit of bipartisanship that he has displayed on a number of issues, most recently on the Violence Against Women Act.

I kind of wish that that same spirit was brought to this bill here today, this TANF bill, because it would pass overwhelmingly.

Just so that there's no confusion about what HHS is trying to do, I would like to insert into the Record a letter that Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, sent to the Honorable Dave Camp, the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, which explains how the administration views this flexibility that they might at some point utilize. But basically it is not to weaken the work requirement; it is to support States that have better ideas to improve the results to get more people to work.

The other thing, Mr. Speaker, I would say is that, again, it's ironic that my friends on the other side have kind of chosen to put a little bit of politics into this debate given the fact that a Republican Governor from a red State, Utah, suggests to the administration that he might have a better idea on how his State might get better results in putting more people to work, getting people off of public assistance and into the workforce.

I think that's a good thing. I think what all of us believe is whatever it takes to get more people into the workforce is a good thing.

I would also say to my friend--he mentioned that the Republicans have had proposals to deal with the sequester. Not in this session they haven't. Not a single time in this current Congress have my Republican friends brought an alternative to the floor to avoid sequester--these arbitrary, mindless, senseless cuts that go across the board.

If you had a line item in the budget that said ``fraud, waste, and abuse,'' under the sequester that would be treated the same way as a line item for medical research or for education or for transportation and infrastructure. This is not a way to deal with our budgetary challenges.

The reason why I bring up sequester today is because I wish there were a greater sense of urgency in this House of Representatives to deal with it. We're all talking about welfare-to-work right now. But by allowing the sequester to continue to go into place, CBO tells us that we're going to risk 750,000 jobs; 750,000 of our fellow citizens will be out of work because of the inaction of this Congress.

I find that unacceptable. We ought to be preserving jobs, we ought to be expanding jobs, we ought to be doing everything we can to get people back to work because that's the surest way to reduce our deficit. The more people working, the more revenues, the more we can pay down our deficit.

We should be talking about trying to get our budgetary House in order without diminishing the quality of life and the standard of living for people in this country.


Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume just to address a couple of points of my colleague from Oklahoma, whom I have a great deal of respect for.

First of all, if we had an open rule, Mr. Pierluisi could have had a chance to offer his amendment, and we could get a judgment from the Parliamentarian then. Secondly, also the Rules Committee could have waived the germaneness rule to allow Mr. Pierluisi to have his amendment made in order. So the Rules Committee could have done that, and chose instead to report a closed rule here so that nobody can offer anything. It is completely closed, a closed process.

Secondly, with regard to sequestration again, I point out that the President of the United States did offer a grand bargain. My Republican friends said no to that. He put a lot of different things on the table trying to come up with a grand bargain to deal with our deficit but also not undercut our economy. It was a balance of cuts and revenue, but my Republican friends said no to that.

And I would repeat again, in this Congress, the House Republicans have done nothing, have proposed zero to be able to avoid the sequester. There have been no alternatives brought before the Rules Committee, nothing brought to the floor.

Mr. Van Hollen has, on four different occasions, tried to avoid sequester with a very balanced approach, and it would save 750,000 jobs. If there's anything that's urgent in this Chamber, it should be to preserve and protect the 750,000 jobs that will be lost because of these sequester cuts.

I would finally say that the United States Senate, far from a perfect branch of government in my opinion, but nonetheless, the Senate Majority Leader had an alternative to sequester that got 51 votes. That's a majority. But, unfortunately, under the Senate rules and with Republican insistence that they needed 60 votes, it didn't make it. But 51 Senators voted for an alternative.

So there are alternatives out there; and the notion that we should kind of sit back, lay back, and maybe something will emerge miraculously to deal with this issue I don't think is the proper role of the House of Representatives. We ought to be deliberating and debating and finding ways to protect those 750,000 jobs.

We talk about welfare to work here. And again, the irony is we're trying to prevent the administration from being able to have the flexibility to be able to work with States who want to get better results, to get more people off of welfare to work. But when you talk about getting people to work, we ought to also be talking about preserving the 750,000 jobs that will be lost because of our inaction on sequester.

Mr. Speaker, at this point I'd like to yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Doggett), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.


Mr. McGOVERN. I thank the gentleman, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I would urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on this closed rule. Again, I regret very much that something that really should be truly bipartisan and totally bipartisan and totally noncontroversial has now become politicized so that there's division.

Again, I wish that we had followed the same path we did with the Violence Against Women Act, when a more controversial and divisive attempt on that bill was put aside for something that was more of a consensus and had broad bipartisan support. We could do the same thing here, and I wish we would.

There is no need for this bill to become politicized; and my guess is that when it comes back to the House, the controversial provisions that we are complaining about right now will probably be gone.

Mr. Speaker, we just had a long discussion about work requirements; but, ironically, the bill that we're going to deal with tomorrow cuts this program called the SNAP Employment and Training Funding. This is a program that helps low-income individuals get training for proper employment, training for jobs that could help those individuals lift themselves out of poverty and off public assistance.

It is my understanding that my friends are going to bring a bill that guts that particular program. I find that puzzling because the whole point of that program is to give people the training they need so they are qualified for some of the jobs that are open out there, and yet we're going to eliminate that.

My friends have routinely gone after the SNAP, or food stamp program, again, helping low-income families get by during difficult times while they find employment. Sadly, there are a lot of people who are working who earn so little that they still qualify for SNAP. We ought to have a greater discussion on poverty and how to deal with some of these big issues like hunger and food insecurity, and I hope at some point we can have that discussion.

But, today, what I wish we were doing, in addition to passing a noncontroversial TANF bill, I wish we were on the floor debating an alternative to the sequester--750,000 jobs are about to be lost, 750,000 jobs. If we are truly interested in work, we ought to protect those jobs.

Mr. Van Hollen of Maryland had an alternative that four times he's brought to the Rules Committee. Four times the leadership here has said, no, you can't bring it to the floor, you can't debate it, you can't deliberate on it.

And my friends on the other side of the aisle in this Congress have offered zero. They're totally content to let the sequester go into play--750,000 jobs at stake.

I think that's what we should be doing here, Mr. Speaker.

As I yield back the balance of my time, I would urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to suspend politics for just a little while so we can get a few major things done. We can do the politics next year when it's campaign time, but now's the time to achieve results.

We can come together on a lot of these issues. I hope that that happens; but if this is any indication of how we're going to proceed, it makes me less hopeful.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


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