BREWSTER – The failure to follow the rules of “regular order” are at the root of Congress' inability to address the pressing issues of the day, Representative William Keating said Tuesday.
Health care, immigration, affordable housing and many other matters could be tackled if legislation could just come to the floor for a vote, Keating said, but the current leadership won't allow that to happen, either because they are doing the bidding of lobbyists or are afraid the bills might pass.
In a town hall meeting held at the First Parish Unitarian Universalists Church, Keating, D-Ninth District, fielded written questions posed by some of the approximately 100 people present and read by moderator State Representative Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown. He said the “winner take all” system in the House of Representatives, in which the majority party has “absolute control” over which bills are voted on or even go before committees, needs to revet back to the “regular order” that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan promised when he was elected but failed to deliver. Ryan failed to allow the time-honored tradition of having an open process of hearings, deliberations and votes, and instead presided over a Congress that had the most closed pieces of legislation at anytime in history, Keating said.
“DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] is a good example of that,” he said. If a “clean” DACA bill was voted on today, “it would pass overwhelmingly,” Keating said. Even though such a bill was proposed, the leadership would not allow it come to a vote. When Democrats tried to follow the discharge process, which allowed circumvention of the rules if backed by a majority, many Republicans signed on but the effort failed by two votes.
“The pressure came on and that was it,” Keating said.
During the 90-minute event, Keating -- who faces a challenge in the Sept. 4 primary from Osterville Democrat Bill Cimbrelo -- hammered the Trump administration's policies on health care, tax cuts and immigration. As a former district attorney who started a child advocacy center to reduce trauma for child victims of violent or sexual crimes, he was especially hard on the policy of separating children from their parents at the border, which he said could expose kids to long-lasting trauma.
“What kind of a policy would separate children and create that lifetime trauma?” he said. He was disappointed that many of his colleagues seem to have surrendered Congress' oversight role by refusing to hold hearings on that policy and others that clearly have impacts on immigration, homeland security and the economy.
During a homeland security hearing on the Russian cyber attacks, Keating said, he tried to question an administration official but could not get direct answers; administration officials, he said, are afraid to speak up, and Congress is “missing in action.”
When questions were posed about health care, trade and affordable housing, Keating said the topics are all connected through the economy, and there are programs that will work if only they could be enacted.
“It's not a case where we don't have solutions,” he said. “We're just not putting enough resources into those areas.”
A change in leadership in Congress would make a difference, he said, calling the upcoming mid term elections the most important in his lifetime. He was one of 60 Democratic House members who signed a letter asking for a change in the way leadership is selected, which he believes will make a difference in how the next Congress operates.
“Things will change, because these issues will come to the floor for a vote,” he said. “If people don't agree with them, they can vote no. I respect that, but put it on the floor for a vote.”