This week, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress return for the first legislative session week in the calendar year. While a new year often ushers in hopeful anticipation about what can be achieved over the next 12 months, it’s important to remember that the divided government which shaped 2019 will continue to influence 2020. And if last year’s highly polarized environment serves as any guide for what to expect from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, there will sadly be more political games, delaying or preventing bipartisan wins and critical work for the American people.
Throughout much of last year, House Democrats wasted a lot of time making political points through their radical legislative agenda, partisan investigations and deeply flawed impeachment process. On the legislative front, this included the introduction and consideration of numerous nonstarter bills with no chance of passing the Republican-led Senate or receiving the president’s signature.
In early March, Democrats brought to the floor an enormously misguided piece of legislation that would limit free speech, weaken election security, disrupt the constitutional roles of states and redirect hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns. Despite claims to the contrary, the Democrats’ hallmark H.R. 1 was not a bill to ensure more American citizens can exercise their right to vote or participate in making their views heard. Rather, the misnamed “For the People Act” was a brazen attempt to rewrite voting laws, election laws and campaign finance laws to get more Democrats elected.
At the end of April, the House Rules Committee, where I serve as Ranking Member, conducted a hearing on the Democrats’ Medicare for All, which would pave the way for one-size-fits-all, government-run healthcare system. In order to pay for such an expansive overhaul, it would require massive tax increases. Not to mention, it would force more than 150 million Americans off their current health care plans – even if they like their coverage.
Even more outrageous, Democrats in both chambers rolled out their so-called Green New Deal, which is really socialism masking as environmentalism. Though billed as the means to save the earth from destruction, only a small part of the plan addresses environmental policy. In fact, much of the proposal’s cost would go toward purely socialist policies – like a federal job guarantee and “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.”
For months last year, Democrats played politics amid an ongoing and worsening humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border. First, that involved Democrats refusing to acknowledge there even was a crisis, calling it “manufactured” by Republicans. Then when President Trump requested money simply to provide for the immediate humanitarian needs like providing care for the vulnerable families and children arriving, Democrats ignored his request for several weeks. It wasn’t until the end of June – when funds were just days away from running out – that Democrats finally approved the necessary aid, but not before wasting another precious day passing a partisan package that had no chance in the Senate or on the president’s desk.
In the middle of July, Democrats pushed another misguided one-size-fits-all policy – this time calling for the federally-required minimum wage to be drastically increased from $7.25 to $15 per hour over five years. While well-intentioned, enacting such a policy would be unprecedented for a country as large and diverse as the United States. And doing so would cause millions of lost jobs. Remember, unemployment is already at record lows and wages are increasing at the fastest rate in a decade. We clearly don’t need to trade artificial wage increases for some at the expense of others’ livelihood and recent economic gains.
Toward the end of the year, Democrats also brought up Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s radical prescription drug pricing plan, which would damage innovation and inhibit the discovery of new cures. Certainly, I agree that something must be done about the often-overwhelming price of prescription drugs and life-saving treatments, and I am proud that bipartisan solutions already exist to do that. Unfortunately, Democrats failed to advance those policies, even when they were given the opportunity to vote on a package with those common ground ideas offered by Republicans.
Aside from nonstarter messaging bills in the House, Democrats wasted a lot of time on fruitless investigations into the Trump Administration. Until September, most of those investigations were conducted by the House Judiciary Committee and focused on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Such investigations by Judiciary Democrats persisted despite the thorough and earlier findings of the Mueller Report that confirmed there was no collusion between Russia and President Trump’s campaign, nor was there evidence to justify indictment for obstruction of justice. Though some embarrassing detail may have been revealed, no impeachable offenses were found. As you might remember, Speaker Pelosi even said in March, “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country.” However, by late September and amid reports about a whistleblower complaint on an entirely different matter related to Ukraine and U.S. military aid, she changed her tune and declared an impeachment inquiry was underway.
Throughout the rest of the year, the House was then not surprisingly consumed by the Democrats’ partisan impeachment process, which was deeply flawed and one-sided from the beginning. While I was not on the investigating committees for impeachment, related matters twice moved through the Rules Committee. First, the committee considered the impeachment process resolution written solely by Democrats without any Republican consultation. However, before the committee even received this resolution, weeks of closed-door hearings led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff had already taken place. By the time Democrats bothered with an official process for impeachment, it was clearly an attempt to legitimize what they’d already been doing.
In the weeks that followed, the flawed process was tarnished further by the speed with which Democrats on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees rushed to deliver their pre-determined judgment – to impeach the president for something, anything, whether stones were left unturned or whether they proved their case or not. At the end of it, Democrats chose to impeach President Trump over something that did not happen.
Ahead of the House vote on two partisan impeachment articles, the Rules Committee was tasked with setting the terms of floor consideration. During our daylong hearing and again during floor debate, I warned about the damaging consequences the Democrats’ rush to impeach could have in the days ahead and how it should concern every single one of us, especially the unfair precedent legitimizing impeachment as an acceptable weapon that can now be used in partisan political warfare. The fact that Speaker Pelosi continues to delay even sending the articles to the Senate confirms that she intends to further cheapen and use impeachment as a political weapon.
While Democrats spent very little time reaching across the aisle to get things done, I was encouraged that they did come around to tackle some urgent legislative items as the year was wrapping up. After nearly a year of political games and further dividing Congress and the country with their flawed impeachment, I was encouraged that lawmakers in both chambers still managed to authorize vital funding for the Department of Defense, to prevent a government shutdown by passing full-year appropriations and to finally advance the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to the Senate. Let’s hope we see more such bipartisan cooperation in 2020.
Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving
his eighth term in Congress as the elected representative of Oklahoma's 4th
Congressional District. He is recognized as an advocate for taxpayers and small
business, a proponent for a strong national defense and a leader in promoting
biomedical research. He is considered the foremost expert in the House on issues
dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. He and his wife, Ellen,
have one son, Mason, and reside in Moore, Oklahoma.