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Opinion: Business as usual for Congress en route to COVID deal

Dusk falls over the Capitol, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Washington. [AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin]
Dusk falls over the Capitol, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Washington. [AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin]

A coronavirus relief package finally made it through Congress last week, with broad support. Among those voting against the bill, however, was Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin, and his reason goes to the heart of why Americans get so frustrated with Congress.

“I don’t blame those who voted for it,” said Mullin, R-Westville. “But how in the world do you expect me to vote for a bill that there’s no way members of Congress had time to read?”

Indeed, the 5,600-page bill, which included spending approaching $900 billion on a variety of things not related to COVID relief, arrived on lawmakers’ desks hours before the votes in the House and Senate — and in time to allow members to depart for the holidays.

The vote ended a process that had stretched back months. At one time, a September vote was thought possible. Instead, negotiations dragged on and on. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected several offers from the White House — even some members of her own party complained — and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell at one point reportedly advised President Trump not to agree to a deal with Pelosi. As this was written, a Trump veto of the bill was possible.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, was among the six members of the state delegation who voted for the bill. A compromise “that provides real help for American workers is better than no deal at all,” Cole said. “And that compromise could have and should have been reached months ago.”

No member of the delegation was more critical of the process than Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, who called it “the ugliest I’ve seen” during his decade in Washington.

Although the bill provided overdue help to millions of Americans, Lankford noted, it also included all 12 appropriations bills, tax policy, an energy bill and myriad other things.

“There are many essential bills in this package, but each of them should have been done individually over the past seven months, rather than crammed into the last legislative week of the year,” he said.

Lankford said a year’s worth of work was left to be decided in the final week because of “excuses about COVID, the election and a failure to even try the committee process …”

“This isn’t sustainable,” he said. “Amendments were behind closed doors, arguments were conducted through the media and the bill grew larger the longer it stayed in the dark. This process needs sunshine.”

Reaching an agreement required passing three short-term spending bill extensions in the final week, Lankford noted.

“We need to get back to actually conducting the appropriations process on time and allow it to happen in the public throughout the year, not behind closed doors with four people, four days before Christmas,” he said. “It’s time to get back to legislating again.”

That would make a good new year’s resolution. But then, seeing one of those through takes real determination. Congress has shown no such inclination.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›