Horn Says It’s Time to Get Back to Work, Focus on Targeted, Bipartisan Aid Package

May 18, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – If there’s a simple way to sum up the message Rep. Kendra Horn delivered to her colleagues and constituents during the marathon session of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, it was that enough is enough.

In the first of two significant votes she cast, the Oklahoma Democrat supported history-making rules changes that will allow the House to get on with its constitutional obligations utilizing proxy voting and virtual meeting technology as necessary during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

With her second vote, the first-term congresswoman bucked House leadership and joined 13 of her moderate Democratic colleagues and voted against a $3 trillion economic aid package — maintaining that any measure worth voting for would be bipartisan in nature.

As it happened, the only Republican to vote for the measure was Rep. Peter King, of New York, who cited its robust aid for states and localities as his primary reason for supporting it.

Speaking to The Well News shortly before casting her vote on the proxy voting and remote committee work resolution, Horn said the bottom line for her was “we have to be able to conduct all of the business of the House.”

“Our constitutional duties don’t just pertain to voting on bills,” she said. “We have to be able to mark up legislation, amending it when necessary and debating issues that arise. And there’s critical work that we still have to do.

“For instance, I’m on the Armed Services Committee, and we have got to get the Defense Authorization Bill done,” she continued. “So we have to be able to adapt and operate either in person or remotely.”

Horn conceded that her position was born of frustration, noting that it has been nine weeks since the House voted on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 14 and then effectively left town, not to return on any extended basis.

The Act, sponsored by House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey, of New York, provided funding for free coronavirus testing, 14-day paid leave for American workers affected by the pandemic, and increased funding for food stamps.

“We’re in a time of unprecedented crisis and that requires us to be prepared and able to respond in all the ways we can,” Horn said. “So of course, we had to change the way we did things. The inability to operate remotely, to hold hearings and conduct the rest of our business, was no way to continue operating.”

“Yes, I have been frustrated that it’s taken so long for us to get here because there is so much more we have to do,” she said. “That’s not to say we’re not working in our districts. We absolutely are. But just passing these relief packages doesn’t get us all the way to where we need to go.

“We have other work we need to do,” she continued. “We have to pass appropriations bills … and we need to do oversight to ensure the effective implementation of these critical relief packages that we backed … Because we’ve seen already that some of the things we passed either didn’t work the way we thought they would or that the funding was not getting to the people who need it.”

The House ultimately voted 217-189 to approve the temporary change to House rules that will now allow Horn and her colleagues to join the millions of Americans who are currently working from home.

But as critical as they are, enabling members who are unable to travel to Capitol Hill to participate in House business, the new rules won’t necessarily get the House back on schedule after nine weeks away.

Asked how much longer into the summer the current session of Congress might extend, Horn laughed.

“If I could tell you that, I’d be able to see into the future,” she said. “I will say that we need to get back to a regular schedule.

“I am troubled by the fact we’ve been called in to vote on one bill or rather, for one day of voting on bills, and then returning home without working on the rest of what we have to do,” Horn said. “Hopefully, remote voting resolves that. I mean, we do have members with underlying health conditions that would make it difficult — and unsafe — for them to travel here during the health crisis.

“Personally, just speaking of myself, I’d like to be here,” she continued. “We are essential workers. We should not just say, ‘Okay, we passed this one package, let’s go away,’ We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Asked what the new remote working regime will mean for House staffers, Horn said her staff has adjusted to the transition to remote work over the past several weeks, and will likely continue to work from home, whether they are located in D.C. or back home in her district, “building relationships and responding to constituents.”

Horn said since the crisis started, the few times she’s had to come to the Capitol, she’s been accompanied only by her chief of staff, he working in his office and she in hers.

“In the near term, we’ll probably continue that practice, but we’ll continue to reassess and look at when it’s possible to bring staff back in a smart and sustainable way.”

The conversation then turned to the relief bill itself, which passed on a near party-line vote of 208-199.

Horn, who is the first Democrat to represent her Oklahoma City-area district since the mid-1970s, said what troubled her about the package is that she saw it as a “messaging bill” that could never garner widespread bipartisan support in the House, be passed in the Senate or signed into law by the president.

“Any legislation that we consider to address this crisis has to be timely, targeted and transparent,” she said. “That’s what I’m looking for … and in the end, that means we have to work together. We don’t have time for scoring political points.”

Horn said she absolutely supports emergency funding for cities and smaller municipalities to address the coronavirus-related shortfalls they are experiencing in terms of revenues.

“I’ve seen the ripple effects in my home state of Oklahoma and it’s absolutely critical we address them,” she said. “But at the same time, there were many things in this package that shouldn’t have been there.

“Do we need to address our broken immigration system? Yes. But this bill wasn’t the place for that. Is there a need to discuss the future of the $10,000 SALT deduction cap? Yes. But not here. That’s why I couldn’t support the bill. There were a lot of things included that simply were not related to the crisis at hand, and we need to be focused.”

Horn said she was also deeply troubled by the lack of transparency in the process of moving the House relief bill forward.

“It was an 1,800 page bill that we were given on a Tuesday and asked to vote on it on Friday,” she said. “That’s 600 pages a day just to get through it and try and understand the implications of it. It didn’t go through committee. It wasn’t subject to any debate. The Republican and Democratic caucuses had no opportunity to work on it together … so it was just a bad process.

“Partisanship is wrong, no matter which side is committing it — when partisan provisions have come out of the Senate, I’ve called them on that as well,” she said. “But we’ve got to stay focused on getting support and relief to the families and communities that need it.”

Horn said she does believe there will be another relief bill and one that can pass the House and Senate and be signed into law.

“We are not beyond this crisis. We have not seen the end of it. And the needs are great and in some cases, we’re only beginning to discover them,” she said. “So with anyone who says we don’t need another relief package, I wholeheartedly disagree. But as I said, it needs to be timely, targeted and transparent. And we have a responsibility to the taxpayers to make good use of taxpayer dollars and to ensure that the relief gets to where it is needed the most.”

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