You can’t make this stuff up.
The 1,603-page omnibus spending bill–or at least part of it–was, according to one of Speaker John Boehner’s top allies, actually negotiated in a literal cigar smoke-filled backroom somewhere in Washington, D.C.
“There’s no secrets in this body,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a close friend of Boehner’s who sits on the Appropriations Committee and Rules Committee, said in the first part of the hearing, adding:
John Kline [a Minnesota Republican who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee] is my best friend in the United States Congress, and George Miller [a California Democrat who’s the ranking member of that committee] is certainly one of my best friends on the other side of the aisle. I’ve had the opportunity to talk about this particular pension problem over a cigar at the end of the day on more than one occasion. I’ve heard about his great frustrations and the cost and the only other person who seemed to realize the problem was named George Miller, which was pretty shocking in and of itself.
The revelation–which came during the open hearing where House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) cleared Boehner’s omnibus spending bill for a Thursday House floor vote–is a brazen caricature of just how bad bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C. are. The garish tableau aside, the bill funds many policies harmful to America’s working class, moving along President Obama’s amnesty and many big government programs.
Miller and Kline, who were sitting in the Rules Committee testifying about pension provisions they managed to slip into Boehner’s omnibus spending bill, beamed with smiles as Cole told the world of their backroom cigar smoking.
The bill funds Obama’s amnesty, funds Obamacare, provides funds for controversial pro-abortion measures, and is packed to the hilt with pork–like money to save rhinoceroses from poaching; a reauthorization of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s casino crony kickback, the Travel Promotion Act; and more.
“While we wish that Congress had the courage to stop the President’s unilateral, unconstitutional amnesty, this bill would not only give him free rein to double-down on his lawless behavior but has greater implications on a range of important issues,” Glyn Wright of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum said in an email. “From the EPA to foreign policy, this bill would be a detriment to conservative ideas. You simply cannot call yourself conservative and vote for this monstrosity.”
Liberals are upset about the bill, too. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is calling on House Democrats to kill the bill over banking restriction rollbacks it contains, and Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., issued a scathing statement ordering all members of Congress to oppose the bill.
Cole wrapped his questioning in the Rules Committee in which he brought up the cigar smoking–a line of questioning that was more like a speech–by berating conservatives for seeking to use the power of the purse to block Obama’s executive amnesty, and noting that there’s something in this omnibus bill that everybody will like and something everyone will hate. He also touted his role in crafting part of it with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), whom Cole called “my partner.” Schultz is the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that Cole chairs.
When Miller took the microphone away from Cole, he joked about the cigar smoking, too. “A lot of people over the past couple years have asked about Mr. Kline’s and my relationship, and since you alluded to it, I guess we can let the secret out of the box that a number of years ago, when I was new to the minority and Mr. Kline was new to the majority, we didn’t know one another. You invited us to come and have a cigar with you one evening.”
“A common invitation,” Cole jumped in, laughing. Miller went on:
But the fact of the matter is it allowed us to have a whole range of discussions over these several years, without animosity, agree or disagree, that’s all possible and that has worked. People have speculated about my relationship with Speaker Boehner when he was chair of the Education Committee. It was Johnny Isakson [a U.S. Senator from Georgia now] who asked us to come together to a dinner with him and we were able to have a conversation forever on rarely agreeing but certainly not being disagreeable as Speaker [Tip] O’Neill used to say. So I thank you for the cigar. I gave them up 15 years before that meeting and I tried not to smoke them since then, but thank you.
Everybody, especially Cole, burst out in laughter. It would certainly be funny if it weren’t Americans’ taxpayer dollars–$1.1 trillion of them–these officials were playing with.
Later in the second part of the hearing, after votes were done, Sessions–the Rules Committee chairman himself–admitted that members will be voting on the bill on Thursday on the House floor without actually knowing what’s in it.
“There may be some bit of pages that have not been vetted,” Sessions said before correcting himself after the massive snafu: “But it would be unfair to say the whole bill we didn’t have a chance to look at or vet or know or understand.”
At the beginning of the hearing, Democratic ranking member Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) admitted that no member of the committee could have read the bill before it was hashed out in the Rules Committee–slamming the Republicans for the secretive process.
“[The bill was] released in the middle of the night,” Slaughter said at the beginning of the hearing. “Not one member of the committee has been able to read all the way through it or anything of it, I suppose. No opportunity for public input. No hearings. No committee markups. And no time to adequately consider $1.1 trillion in spending.”
Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan quote top House GOP aides saying they’re confident the bill will pass on Thursday.
“The margin could be razor thin, but House Republicans think they will pass their funding bill before the government shuts down Thursday,” said Sherman and Bresnahan. “Top aides and lawmakers on the GOP whip team privately say they believe between 150 and 175 Republicans will support the $1.1 trillion, nine-month government funding bill. And senior House Democrats predict that some of their members will help make up for the Republican defections to get the bill across the finish line.”
But Sherman’s sources on Capitol Hill have a history of being wrong. Just this week, for instance, aides told Sherman the bill text would be public around 3 p.m. on Tuesday. The bill text, of course, didn’t come out for at least five hours later, after 8 p.m.–an eternity in politics.
“House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his staff have been in contact with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) throughout the whole process, despite Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) public proclamation that Democrats were worried about provisions tucked into the bill that would loosen Wall Street regulations and campaign finance laws,” Sherman wrote with Bresnahan, nonetheless.
Republican and Democratic aides tell Breitbart News it’s still a crapshoot, and nobody knows what will happen on Thursday.
“It’s really hard to say. We don’t have any clear indication that it won’t [pass],” a House GOP aide from a conservative office said in an email. “But we’ll see in the morning what the whip’s office puts out when it lays out the legislative day. If it’s kind of a vague schedule with a wasted vote or two early, then you know they’re looking for an excuse to drag members to the floor to whip.”
A Democratic aide said that, since there’s so much incompetence on GOP Whip Steve Scalise’s team–Scalise took over after now Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy moved into Eric Cantor’s old slot when now Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) beat him–he doesn’t buy the claims that GOP leadership aides are peddling.
“The GOP whip team screws up the count so often that no one has very much confidence when they come out the day before and say they have the votes,” the top Democratic aide said in an email. “If I had to bet, I think Rs will lose 60-80 guys, Remains to be seen if there are enough Dems no votes to sink it.”
There are 67 cosponsors of an amendment from Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) that would have inserted language blocking Obama’s executive amnesty into the omnibus package. While the Rules Committee blocked the amendment from getting into the bill, a hardcore group of the members supporting Mulvaney’s amendment–Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA), Dave Brat (R-VA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and more–were brought into the Rules Committee to testify as an act of good faith by Chairman Pete Sessions. Sessions, who was visibly shaken, as he’s taken serious credibility hits with conservatives in Washington and back in Texas over recent days, promised the conservatives he’d give them a vote on the Mulvaney measure in January.
“It would be unfair for anyone to characterize your vote–regardless of how you voted–but if you voted yes, that you were voting for this amnesty program because in fact, until the House, the Senate, and the president all come to an agreement, the government could be shut down tomorrow and that would continue,” Sessions said after conservatives movement-wide have framed his–and all other Republicans’ who plan to back it–support for the omnibus bill as a vote for amnesty. Heritage Action, NumbersUSA, Tea Party Patriots, and more have called a vote for an omnibus that doesn’t block Obama’s amnesty a vote for amnesty.
“Whatever the alternative [to the current omnibus], it must defund executive amnesty,” Tea Party Patriots co-founded Jenny Beth Martin told Breitbart News on Wednesday night. “This president promised a ‘fundamental transformation’ of the Republic. I’d say Obamacare, plus unconstitutional amnesty, with a 1,600-page funding monstrosity thrown in, is a good start. We are simply at a tipping point. Did Speaker Boehner watch a different set of midterm elections? Does the House GOP leadership not realize that this is what the American people voted against on November 4? This is the hill we’ll fight on. We’ve burned the phone lines for three days, and we’ll keep doing it until the political ruling class listens.”
So Sessions promised Mulvaney he’d get a vote on his amendment in early 2015, in the first week or two back–but he wouldn’t promise to put it in must-pass legislation, which means that President Obama will just ignore it, and Congress will have just another show vote like the one from Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) last week without asserting its power of the purse. Mulvaney issued a scathing statement afterwards, expressing his disappointment that his amendment was “killed without a vote.”
“Unfortunately, my amendment was disallowed, and as a result we will not have the opportunity to vote on it on the floor,” Mulvaney said. “That is disheartening, especially when nearly 30% of our conference supported the amendment. I believe very strongly that Members of Congress should be afforded the opportunity to amend bills instead of having to take a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on a 1600-page bill.”
The Rules Committee hearing proceeded after Mulvaney’s amendment was killed with no vote, only to kill further efforts by Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) to add additional amendments which were killed to block funds for Obama’s amnesty.
During banter with Rules Committee members–which praised Bachmann, who will have been appearing before the committee for the last time as a member of Congress, as she is wrapping up her final term in the House after retiring–Sessions touted his conservative credentials, noting to the committee and Bachmann that he was an “original member” of the Tea Party Caucus that Bachmann created in Congress in response to the 2010 elections.