House Republicans abandoned their “read the bill” ethos late Wednesday night — on the eight-year anniversary of the House passage of the ACA. They unveiled a budget-busting bill to fund every federal agency and demanded lightning-fast consideration.
It passed the House less than 17 hours later, at 1 p.m. Thursday.
Already uncomfortable with the policy — the $1.3 trillion legislation includes massive spending hikes that contradict prior GOP complaints about the debt — many Republicans were left dumbfounded by a process that looked a lot like one they had won office criticizing.
“One of the things that we criticized Ms. Pelosi about was: What, we have to pass it, then we’ll read it? So it just seems to me that maybe it doesn’t matter who it is that’s in the majority. This is kind of the same argument all the time,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.).
“I just haven’t — 2,200 pages — I just haven’t had a chance to read it,” said Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio).
What’s more troubling, the hypocrisy on the national debt or on the process that led to Thursday’s vote?
“Equal surprise for both,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.).
In 2010, Kelly, Reed and Renacci all claimed seats previously held by Democrats, railing against the policy and the process that created the law they derisively call “Obamacare.” All three voted against the spending bill Thursday, citing the hyper-fast process as the biggest factor.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who also first won in 2010, served as this group’s biggest ally in the process argument. He mocked how big the bill was by tweeting that it was still printing in his office, more than two hours after he first hit print.
The legislation — combining 12 funding bills that were supposed to have been approved six months ago — won on a sweeping bipartisan vote. A healthy majority of Republicans, as well as Democrats, supported the plan.
Those conservative principles went only so far when they were measured against the unleashed spigots of federal funds, which had been tightly held since the 2011 Budget Control Act had placed strict spending caps.
A bipartisan compromise last month gave a nearly $120 billion boost over the original 2018 spending limit, a massive 10 percent hike.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) mounted a vigorous defense of the legislation, focusing on it representing the largest spike in military funding since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
He explained that the House had done its part in September, approving all 12 of the funding bills, while the Senate dithered. So members should have been able to read those earlier bills to have a sense of what would be in the final draft.
“This isn’t as if it was a one-week process. This has been a months-long process,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly Thursday briefing. He noted that Friday’s funding deadline made it necessary to move quickly and also pointed to the need to allow several dozen lawmakers to leave early Friday morning to attend the funeral of Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D) in Rochester, N.Y.
Pelosi, now minority leader, has long made a similar defense of the process of passing the health law, which transpired over nine months in 2009 and 2010, with multiple versions of the law publicly approved by different committees by the House and Senate.
Ryan originally hoped to release the bill last week and hold a vote early this week, allowing the Senate several days to consider it. Instead, the talks dragged on and on, pushing up closer against the Friday deadline.
And all the explanations fell flat to some Republicans.
In last month’s vote on the budget framework, 167 Republicans supported leadership, about two-thirds of the caucus. On Thursday, just 145 Republicans backed Ryan, a sharp drop that many attributed to the rushed process. Kelly was one of those who went from yes to no.
“I keep hearing about the process being broken,” Kelly said. “Then why don’t we fix it?”
In 2010, when John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was minority leader, GOP leaders made process a central plank of the “Pledge to America”, a campaign-style platform that gave voters a loose blueprint for how they would govern. Boehner believed that bad processes led to bad policy, a theme that Ryan echoed in his 2015 victory speech after he won the vote to succeed Boehner.
So Republicans created the “three-day rule,” which mandated that a bill should not be voted on until the third day after its unveiling. Over the past seven years, both Boehner and Ryan have violated that rule because of imminent deadlines and potential doom of delay.
But Republicans had never broke the rule on something of this magnitude — legislation funding every corner of the federal government. Even before they held a final vote, GOP leaders gaveled shut a procedural vote, 211 to 207, while some Democrats were waiting in the back not having voted.
The whole scene brought criticism from some predictable rank-and-file Republicans who have always chafed under Boehner and Ryan.
“I never thought I would see the day when my party had a worse process than Obamacare did, but this was a worse process,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) said after the spending bill vote.
But the class of 2010, whose campaigns were fueled with promises of legislative transparency, seemed most perplexed by the haphazard process.
“For me, a 2,200-page bill is very tough to understand and read,” Renacci said. “And I was in the business world for 30 years. I wouldn’t sign a 100-page bill — I wouldn’t sign a 100-page contract on 24-hour notice.”
These Republicans worry that voters are fed up with process arguments to explain strange outcomes, particularly now that the GOP holds the White House and Congress.
“It’s a harder thing to explain back home than here. Here, it’s kind of an accepted process, that’s just the way it is,” Kelly said. “At what point does it change?”