Mariel Saez 202-225-3130
To: Editors, Editorial Writers, Reporters
From: House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer
Re: The 114th Congress’s Second Session Begins
Date: January 8, 2016
As we begin the new year and the Second Session of the 114th Congress, newly elected Speaker Paul Ryan has an opportunity to turn the page on the bitter partisanship of the past few years and show that he is willing to work across the aisle to get things done for the American people. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that “House Speaker Paul Ryan starting this month will push to turn the chamber into a platform for ambitious Republican policy ideas.” But evidence points to the contrary, with the first items on the House’s agenda for 2016 being the sixty-second vote to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, the eleventh vote to attack women’s health, and several bills that would undermine consumer safety, workplace safety, and environmental protections. House Republican leaders know these bills will never become law, yet they continue to pander to the far right with political messaging bills instead of bringing substantive, bipartisan legislation to the Floor. It is also unfortunate that Speaker Ryan has already taken issues such as comprehensive immigration reform and an expansion of paid family and medical leave off of the table.
Speaker Ryan has a choice: yield to the hardliners in his party who want to focus on partisan messaging until November, or work with Democrats to tackle the challenges Americans are facing every day. We cannot wait another year to act. Congress must take steps that will create the conditions to encourage the private sector to create good jobs here, make opportunities available to those who are working hard for a secure place in the middle class, and make our nation and its communities more secure. Americans expect their Congress to put responsible policymaking ahead of partisanship and messaging.
Opportunities for Bipartisan Progress
In 2016, there are a number of areas where Democrats and Republicans can – and ought to – work together to achieve results for the American people and move our country forward.
- Helping more of our people Make It In America: Congress has an opportunity over the months ahead to set policies that encourage private sector businesses to invest and create good jobs here at home. As House Democrats continue to hold hearings as part of our “Make It In America: What’s Next?” series to update our jobs plan for 2016 and beyond, we will be looking for opportunities to work across the aisle with Republicans to pass bipartisan legislation that supports job training, infrastructure development, high-tech innovation, an educated workforce, and a strong manufacturing sector.
- Securing a fiscally sustainable future: Democrats and Republicans have a responsibility to work together to reach a long-term fiscal agreement that permanently replaces the sequester. Sequestration was never meant to be a permanent pathway to deficit reduction. It was intended to be so objectionable that it would necessitate a bipartisan compromise on real, sustainable deficit reduction that addresses revenue and the long-term health of our entitlements as well as strategic changes to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending that allow Congress the flexibility to invest in long-term growth and in helping end the scourge of poverty in America.
- Making our tax system work again: Businesses and individual filers alike have demanded for years that Congress take action to reform our tax system to encourage growth and opportunity. This is an area where there is a lot of potential for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground, but it will take a concerted effort, serious leadership, and a spirit of compromise from Members of both parties from the first hearing to final passage to get workable tax reform off the ground and across the finish line.
- Addressing Puerto Rico’s debt crisis: Congress must act quickly to ensure that Puerto Rico’s debt crisis does not turn into an economic catastrophe. While Democrats are encouraged by Speaker Ryan’s comments that he will bring legislation to the Floor early this year, we continue to urge House Republicans to work with us on a bipartisan basis to enact a commonsense package of reforms addressing the crisis as soon as possible.
- Fixing our broken immigration system: While the Senate passed its historic immigration reform bill, S. 744, with a strong bipartisan vote of 68-32 in June 2013, the House has failed to follow suit. In the absence of action by Congress, President Obama took what steps he could on his own to create the DACA and DAPA programs, but that is no substitute for legislation. Democrats and Republicans have come close to achieving a real bipartisan, bicameral immigration reform package. Now it’s time to finish the job and keep families together, create an earned pathway to citizenship, secure our borders, and recruit the best innovators and entrepreneurs from overseas to help build our economy.
- Reforming our criminal justice system: Our criminal justice system faces significant challenges, which Congress has an opportunity to address this year. Committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate have put forward various proposals, and Democrats stand ready to work with Republicans to move forward with responsible, common-sense reforms.
- Restoring voter protections: Since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, there has been ample opportunity for bipartisan action on legislation to restore the protections that were lost. As millions prepare to head to the polls this year, we must work together to ensure that the victories of the Civil Rights Movement are not lost. Additionally, Democrats are urging action to enact key election reforms, such as addressing long lines and outdated election equipment and registration practices. There is no reason we cannot make reforms on a bipartisan basis, similar to what we achieved in 2002 when we passed the Help America Vote Act by large bipartisan majorities. Democrats have introduced the Voter Empowerment Act as a starting point for making these reforms. Eligible voters across the country deserve to have their voices heard, and Congress must act to prevent our democracy from being undermined.
- Protecting Americans from gun violence: While the President’s executive actions announced this week were a positive step, only Congress can take the actions necessary to close the loopholes in our gun safety laws. An overwhelming majority of Americans agree that someone who purchases a firearm ought to be required to pass a background check. Convicted criminals, terror suspects, and the severely mentally ill should not be able to acquire dangerous firearms. Democrats and Republicans must work together this year to address the epidemic of gun violence in our country by passing a universal background check law that keeps guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them while safeguarding the rights of responsible gun owners.
- Addressing mental health and substance abuse: According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 18.5 percent of Americans suffer from a mental illness each year, and it is critical that we work to improve access to mental health treatment for these Americans and their families. Members on both sides of the aisle are focused on this issue, and Democrats hope to move forward on a comprehensive bill to invest in our mental health system and improve access to services for all Americans. In addition, in every district across the country, individuals and families are affected by substance abuse and addiction, and we are focused on taking action to support the efforts of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to address this crisis in our communities.
- Addressing our national security challenges: Congress owes it to our troops and our allies to consider an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) bill to define the United States’ mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We must also ensure that the nuclear agreement with Iran includes the most rigorous verification and enforcement regime possible to prevent the exploitation of any possible loopholes and to make clear that the United States will never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Democrats and Republicans must continue to work together to pursue stability in the Middle East and Asia, which includes standing firmly in defense of our allies.
Building on Bipartisan Successes
We know that Congress can achieve bipartisan results because we’ve seen it happen in recent weeks. First, Congress reached a major bipartisan budget agreement in October that prevented a default on our debt and provided greater certainty to our economy, removing the threat of the sequester for FY 2016 and FY 2017. Next, Democrats and responsible Republicans came together to force a vote to reopen the Export-Import Bank and stop jobs from being shipped overseas. That took real courage and leadership on both sides of the aisle, and we got it done. In November, we passed a bipartisan highway bill that made investments in our roads, rails, and bridges across the country. Last month, Democrats and Republicans enacted a new, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to set high standards and promote student success that prepares young people for college and careers.
The Speaker’s Choice
If we can build on these recent successes in the weeks and months ahead, there is no reason why the 114th Congress’s Second Session cannot be one marked by bipartisan action and productivity. The choice belongs to Speaker Ryan – will he continue House Republicans’ dysfunctional and partisan business-as-usual, as he has this first week of the year, or will he instead work with House Democrats to achieve results based on bipartisan compromise? We hope he will choose to do the right thing and put the needs and expectations of the American people first.