Rep. Porter Blasts Lack of Public Hearing, No Committee Debate Before Passing Tax Bill

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Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough

Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough, Straight Talk

I don’t usually write about the shenanigans down in Washington, D.C. I have a hard enough time making sense of the goings-on in Concord.

But I have to admit I was gob-smacked by the doings of the United States Senate on Friday night, as the majority party scraped together just enough votes to pass the so-called “Tax Cut and Jobs Act.”

The substance of the bill is bad enough, and it is pretty clear the public is against it. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows only 29% of Americans approve it, 53% disapprove, and 64% believe it benefits the wealthy the most.

But that’s not what got my blood pressure into such dangerous territory on Friday. No. It was the complete and total disregard for process, or “regular order” as Sen. McCain calls it.

And I don’t care which party you belong to, or who you cast your ballot for last November, you should be just as outraged as I am about how this bill was passed. This is not how a government of the people, by the people, and for the people should be functioning.

One of the very first, and most important lessons I learned when I became a representative was how vital rules and process are in getting our work done. They may seem boring, but they keep us honest.

Rules of the House help us keep order. They give us a framework on which to proceed. They help us to know what we can expect as we do our work. They ensure a certain amount of decorum during our days in session. They help to keep impassioned emotions in check, and fist-fights at bay. They guarantee all sides are heard in a debate.

They protect the rights of both the majority and the minority.

Process assures us—and you, the people we serve—that our government is open and transparent, and things are being done properly.  At the State House, bills filed must have a public hearing, where expert testimony can be presented, and citizens can make their voices heard. When committees vote on recommendations for the bill, the debate is public, the vote is public and recorded. No amendment is voted on unless it has been printed by legislative services and has an official seal in the corner.

Lengthy and complicated bills are seldom, if ever, voted on the same day they are heard, so we have a chance to re-read the bill, read written testimony and think deeply about the pros and cons.

And when bills finally come to the full house for a vote, any representative who wants to can debate it on the floor.

We may not be perfect, but New Hampshire gets this right. If only it were so in Washington.

Flash back to Friday in the US Senate. This tax bill did NOT have any public hearing. It had no committee debate. No expert testimony was taken, no member of the public heard.

The bill was still being written just hours before it was scheduled for a vote. Various scoring agencies had not completed their analysis. Lobbyists—estimates are nearly 6000 of them—were helping to write it.

When the nearly 500 page bill was finally given to members two hours before the vote was scheduled, there were changes and notes sloppily hand-written in the margins, sections crossed out in pen. When a motion was made to recess until Monday to give senators a chance to read the bill before the vote, it was voted down along party lines.

Senators admitted they had not read the bill. Early Saturday morning, without knowing what it contained, they voted on it anyway. And it passed, 51-49.

Do they really think they are representing we, the people, when they perform this way?

Senator McCain? Was this “regular order?”

And to answer the usual both-sides-do-it argument, according to the NY times and others, the Senate health committee spent 60 hours over thirteen days working on the Affordable Care Act in 2009 (aka Obamacare); the Finance committee worked on it for eight days; 130 amendments from members of both parties were considered, 79 roll call votes were taken, and the full Senate debated the bill for 25 days before its final passage.

Last year the NH House found itself in an embarrassing situation, when a hastily-drafted amendment to a bill passed by the House was discovered to literally allow pregnant women to get away with murder. Somehow, that unintended consequence slipped by us.

And I’m guessing there are some unintended consequences that slipped by in the Senate’s tax bill too.

Because you have to wonder. Did they really mean to increase the federal deficit by $1 TRILLION, as the Joint Committee on Taxation predicts it will? Did they mean to raise taxes for millions of low and middle income people, while lowering them for corporations?

Did they really mean to eliminate the state and local property tax deductions, so important Granite Staters?  Did they intend to eliminate health care coverage for 13 million people?

Did they think taxing the waived tuition for graduate students was a good idea? Under this bill, these students earning less than $20,000 will be forced to pay taxes on three times that much. Making graduate degrees unaffordable for low, moderate, and middle income students must have surely been unintended

Did they really mean to eliminate the deduction for unreimbursed employee expenses—for things like teacher purchases of classroom supplies—but allow deductions for private jets?

How about eliminating the coverage for cancer treatment for Medicare recipients?

And did they really want to make tax cuts for the middle class expire in a few years, while keeping the cuts for those at the top permanent?

Surely not.  But, according to reports, all these provisions, and a host of others, are buried in this bill, written and voted on in haste.

And uh-oh!  What’s this? I just looked at my phone!

Here’s today’s headline from Politico: “Holy crap”: Experts find tax plan riddled with glitches (Politico, December 6, 2017)


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