Republican-led House Approves Cicilline Amendment to Increase Accountability of Taxpayer Dollars

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously approved Congressman David N. Cicilline’s (D-RI) amendment to the ENFORCE Act to help ensure transparent accounting of taxpayer money spent under Republican backed legislation.  Cicilline’s amendment was the only Democratic amendment that was accepted by the Republican-led House.

The ENFORCE Act, which is based on the false premise that the President has failed in his duty to faithfully execute the laws, could impose numerous and limitless costs on taxpayers.  Cicilline’s amendment, which acts as a safeguard to protect taxpayers, requires the Government Accountability Office to issue quarterly reports to Congress on the costs of litigation initiated by the United States House or Senate under this Republican-backed legislation.

“Instead of tackling the real issues facing our country, the House Republicans continue to make a mockery out of Congress by bringing politically-motivated bills to the floor that do absolutely nothing to improve the lives of Americans. The ENFORCE Act would allow for a Congressional majority to sue the Executive Branch without any oversight, safeguards, or accountability to prevent abuse.  I offered my amendment to make sure Americans know exactly how their hard-earned taxpayer dollars would be spent under the proposal.  I am pleased my safeguard was included in this misguided bill that passed the House today,” said Cicilline.

The bill included no limitations on the costs, expenses or process by which the House or Senate may bring legal actions.  Litigation can be time-consuming and expensive, particularly when outside counsel is retained. Over the last few years, the House of Representatives, at the direction of the Majority, hired outside counsel to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court. What began as a contract for up to $500,000 in legal services has grown to up to $3 million through a series of contract extensions.  Today, nearly 9 months since the Unites States struck down Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional, we still do not have an adequate accounting of how much the House Majority has spent, or will continue to spend, defending this discriminatory law.

“Ultimately, the tab for litigation under the ENFORCE Act is to be paid by the American people.  At a minimum, they should be informed of how much of their hard earned money is being spent pursuing these lawsuits,” Cicilline concluded.

Text of Cicilline’s speech as delivered on the House Floor today prior to the vote is provided below:

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Clearly, as my colleagues have noted, the ENFORCE Act is a deeply flawed piece of legislation.

It would give any legislative majority a blank check to challenge in court by filing a law suit any decision of the Executive branch it disagrees with.

Instead of considering legislation to create jobs, to fix our broken immigration system, repair our crumbling infrastructure, or raise the minimum wage, today, this majority has brought to the floor a partisan measure to increase only one thing – Congressional litigation.

The bill raises its own constitutional issues, and fails to put in place responsible safeguards to prevent abuse.

This I believe Mr. Chairman is dangerous attack that threatens the careful balance of power developed by our founding fathers.

At a time when the American people have lost so much confidence in Congress, my Republican colleagues are offering yet another bill that will do nothing to improve the lives of Americans.  Instead this bill will only add to the American people’s scorn and ridicule of Congress.  

Just what we need: more contention, more division here in Congress by encouraging Congressional lawsuits.

But in addition to its questionable purpose and substantive defects, the ENFORCE Act also fails to adequately protect taxpayer money, as it would open the floodgates to litigation for nearly any Executive Branch decision that a Majority in either chamber disagrees with.

And it would do so without a transparent accounting of taxpayer money spent.

That is why I offer this amendment today, which simply requires quarterly reporting of the costs associated with litigation under this Act.

Specifically, it would require the Comptroller General of the United States to issue quarterly reports to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on the costs of civil litigation actions brought pursuant to this Act, including any attorney fees.

Since many of my colleagues have previously and routinely expressed significant concern about ensuring taxpayer dollars are used appropriately and carefully, one would expect the ENFORCE Act to have clear oversight and transparency provisions in place. However, it does not.

That is why I urge my colleagues to support my amendment, which would provide a transparent, quarterly accounting of the costs of pursuing legal action under this Act.

As many of my colleagues know litigation can be extremely expensive. So let’s ensure Members of Congress and the public are aware of exactly how much taxpayer resources are being spent on pursuing legal action under this Act.

And while disbursement reporting processes already exist for federal expenditures, recent experience underscores their inadequacy to provide timely, transparent disclosure of precisely how much has been spent on litigation.

For example, over the last few years, the House of Representatives, at the direction of the Majority, and over strong objections by Leader Pelosi and Whip Hoyer, hired outside counsel to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court.

What began as a contract for up to $500,000 in legal services to defend DOMA, has grown through a series of contract extensions to be up to $3 million. And it’s hard to determine at what point and at what cost the Majority’s pursuits will end.

Today, nearly 9 months since the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional, we still do not have an adequate accounting of how much the House Majority has spent on defending this discriminatory law, or whether it continues to spend taxpayer funding on this matter.

And as Minority members of the House Administration Committee reported during this legal challenge in 2012,

“… no one seems to know where the funds are coming from. There has been no appropriation for this expense. There has been no mention of the funding source in the contract extensions. There is no record of a payment being made in the statement of disbursements.”

Clearly, the existing reporting requirements are insufficient to inform Members of Congress and the general public of its litigation disbursements.

And while Members may disagree on the merits of DOMA, as well as this legislation before us today, we must all recognize that neither side, nor the public interest is served by obscuring the disclosure of litigation expenses.

Therefore, I urge my colleagues to support my amendment, a simple reporting requirement safeguard that would at least ensure transparency in spending under this very misguided legislation is made clear.

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