WASHINGTON, D.C. | January 27, 2009
The bill before us was the first substantive piece of legislation considered by the 111th
Congress. In a matter of days, it could be one of the first substantive measures signed into law by the 44th
President of the United States. And despite all the promises of openness and bipartisanship, at the end of the day it will have been considered not once, not twice, but three separate times in the House without the opportunity to debate a single Republican amendment.
It didn’t have to be this way.
This legislation is supposed to be about protecting workers, and especially women, from discrimination in the workplace. Like my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I am strongly opposed to discrimination of any type – be it gender discrimination, racial discrimination, or any other type of discrimination inside or outside the workplace. Rooting out such discrimination is a bipartisan goal, and I cannot think of a single reason why it is not being given a bipartisan debate.
The arguments on both sides of this bill are clear. They have been debated on this floor before. For my part, I believe that enriching trial lawyers is simply the wrong way to ensure a fairer, more just workplace. And clearly that’s what this bill would do. By eliminating the statute of limitations, the bill invites more and costlier lawsuits. We’re talking about economic stimulus this week, so it’s only fitting that we begin with an economic stimulus package for trial lawyers.
But for me, Mr. Speaker, the controversy we face today is not just the underlying legislation – although it certainly is controversial. No, the controversy today is the stunning lack of openness being shown by a majority that seems intent on wielding the heavy hand of power.
Less than 24 hours ago, the Rules Committee held an emergency meeting in order to bring this bill to the floor today. As I understand it, the job of the Rules Committee is to consider potential amendments and decide which of those will receive a vote by the full House.
After two years of watching Republican amendments routinely discarded without a vote, I wasn’t surprised that the majority brought this bill to the floor under a closed Rule. What surprised me was that they didn’t even bother to keep up the illusion that they might make one of our proposals in order.
In fact, the Rules Committee did not even set a deadline for amendments on this bill, so certain were they that not a single proposal would be worthy of consideration.
For the record, I offered two amendments that were refused by the majority. Two amendments that I believe were consistent with the majority’s stated goals of preventing wage discrimination and overturning the Ledbetter decision. At the same time, I believe those amendments would have helped to avert at least some of the unintended consequences this legislation is sure to spawn.
I did not ask the majority to guarantee that my amendments would pass. I simply asked for a debate among members of good will who can argue the merits and vote as they see fit.
I was denied.
Mr. Speaker, workplace discrimination is a serious issue and it deserves a serious debate. What a disappointment this is.
# # #