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GOP should take ‘handcuffs’ off speakerless House, Rep. Kaptur says

Work on spending bills to help Americans is languishing, writes Appropriations Committee member

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, says "a small band of extremists is holding the House and the American people hostage."
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, says "a small band of extremists is holding the House and the American people hostage." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

I write this out of deep concern for our country and the current paralysis in the House of Representatives. Constitutionally, the House of Representatives was established in Article I — our nation’s Legislative Branch — the foundational pillar of our governance as a nation. Unlike the Senate, the House was created to be closest to the American people, with every member representing the same number of people. The speaker of the House is third in line of succession to the presidency of our country. Tuesday is the 21st day that the business of our House has been suspended for no worthy reason.

If America’s enemies were to attack our nation tonight, the House would be paralyzed to conduct business critical for our nation’s interests at home and abroad, including our power to declare war. With House operations suspended, the work of EVERY House committee and subcommittee hangs in limbo. Members are denied floor time to speak during morning hour and after close of business on topics of concern. Why? Because the House has no elected speaker.

Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was derailed by but a handful of malcontents that were angry he did not shut down the government of the United States as they did not agree with a negotiated bipartisan budget agreement essential to the operations of our federal government and its instrumentalities. Every operation hangs in the balance — military pay, Social Security, national parks, forest management, western water systems, veterans health care, school lunches and so much more.

The House majority party has failed miserably in its primary responsibility — to organize the House to govern and to dispatch those duties. Despite numerous ballots and internal wrangling, the Republican Party — the majority by a thin margin — has not been able to elect a successor speaker from within its ranks. After multiple ballots, candidates to date have not garnered the necessary votes — a small band of extremists is holding the House and the American people hostage. NEVER in the history of our nation has this occurred, and it should NEVER happen again.

As one of my Party’s most senior members of the House Appropriations Committee, a bill I have worked on for nine months in the subcommittee on Energy and Water, was cleared for floor action the very week this unnecessary chaos brewed up and was the next matter of business for consideration.

Our committee’s membership — on both sides of the aisle — did our work over several months. Our jurisdiction covers everything from harbor dredging, to water reclamation, to energy systems, to nuclear naval reactors for our nation. But our work didn’t matter as partisan warfare broke out inside the Republican conference, led by a few members who seem to not know what or who they want to dispatch as their top leader. For most members after months and months of bipartisan compromises on committees and subcommittees that do their work, our efforts are being sidelined.

The working committees of Congress don’t get a lot of publicity because of the exacting nature of their work, but members in these committees do their job. For our full Appropriations Committee, our job is to complete and pass 12 separate bills by Sept. 30 each year to operate the government of our nation for the succeeding fiscal year — from Defense and Homeland Security to Transportation and Housing, from Agriculture and Commerce to Health and Human Services and Interior, to name a few. By Sept. 30, the end of the 2023 federal fiscal year, the House had passed only four of 12 key appropriations bills to operate the U.S. government through fiscal 2024, which began Oct. 1, each at reduced levels than agreed to this spring when bill writing began.

Thus, Congress was forced to pass a temporary resolution to operate our government on last year’s spending levels with but a promise that we MIGHT finish our bills by Nov. 17. With the chaos in the House, our work for the American people languishes.

As a senior member of my party and the longest serving woman in the history of Congress, I have never witnessed such a convolution of normal House operating procedures. Regular order must be restored. A permanent or temporary Speaker must be elected, and their duties clearly defined.

To allow the House to remain in free fall is not in America’s interest. Those who have caused this needless, protracted shutdown should not be paid. They have not done the hard work of governing. They have wasted all our time. The clock is ticking. Members who wish to meet their sworn duty should be allowed to function. The majority party should discharge its Constitutional duty, take the handcuffs off House members, and elect a speaker of the House.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur is a Democrat who is the longest serving woman in the history of Congress. She represents Ohio’s 9th District and is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

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