U.S. Rep. John Rutherford told a group of local business leaders at a recent luncheon in Ponte Vedra that two procedural changes must be made to mitigate the partisanship that currently characterizes Congress: Bring back earmarks and kill the rule in the Senate that requires 60 votes to end a filibuster and ultimately pass a bill.
Rutherford, R-Fla, delivered these remarks Oct. 19 at the Sawgrass Beach Club to members of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Beaches Division and the Ponte Vedra Beach Division of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.
Regarding earmarks, Rutherford thinks allowing members of Congress to include district-specific funding in legislation would enable more bipartisan deals. He also told the Chamber members that earmarks would require members of Congress to be held accountable because their names would be attached.
The Florida congressman explained that the primary argument for throwing out earmarks was to manage the increasing national debt. Since earmarks have been removed, however, he said the national debt has doubled.
Rutherford identified what he referred to as “air drops” as the problem, not earmarks. These are appropriation bills from the House or Senate, he said, that include items that were determined behind closed doors. Often times, he said no one knows where the bills come from, no one’s names are attached to them and they haven’t been vetted or amended in committees.
At the end of the day, Rutherford said both chambers of Congress have one option, regardless of the ambiguity: Vote up or down. Then, he said the appropriation bills are delivered to the executive branch, which determines how to spend the money.
“When bureaucrats are making those decisions, no one is holding them accountable,” said Rutherford. “That needs to change. We need to force the ideologues out of their corners and back to the table to negotiate on not just appropriation bills but all bills.”
The former Jacksonville sheriff also told the Chamber members that the current 60-vote cloture rule to end a filibuster in the Senate is impeding the progress of the House.
“Unless you have 60 votes, you can’t pass a bill,” said Rutherford. “They have taken the majority that the American public has given them and handed it over to the minority.”
The representative noted that 250 of the 300 bills sent by the House are still sitting in the Senate and waiting for action. Speaking specifically in regard to his committees, he said 24 VA (Veterans Affairs) bills, 33 homeland security bills and 44 judiciary bills are sitting in the Senate.
Rutherford thinks the Senate should vote the 60-vote cloture rule down at least for health care, tax reform, transportation and infrastructure, which he said are areas the American public is expecting progress.
The congressman additionally addressed tax reform at the luncheon, expressing his wishes that it moves along with bipartisan support. He said dropping the flat rate for corporations to 20 percent would result in the U.S. being near the top two or three lowest tax rates for corporations in the world, which he said is needed for American industries and companies to be competitive globally.
Regarding the individual tax rate, Rutherford said the tax reform plan in progress would bring people in the 10 percent bracket to 0. The folks who are living paycheck to paycheck, he said, will take home a bigger portion. Rutherford added that it looks like around 50 percent of those in the 15 percent bracket will go to zero, with the other half going to 12 percent. Overall, he said these changes will help the economy grow.
Also at the luncheon, Rutherford commented on hurricane recovery. He acknowledged that the sea level is rising and that a long-term plan must be implemented for the First Coast.
“I’m tired of seeing the same places over and over flooded again,” he said. “Instead of going in and offering mitigation, why don’t we see if there’s more we can do to build resilience in? Instead of our beaches coming back with renourishment every 10 years and rebuilding dunes, how about maybe a sea wall?
“I believe the sea level is rising because the Navy believes that,” Rutherford added. “I don’t care to get involved in the conversation if it’s caused by man or if it’s a natural cycle of the earth. Forget that. We have to deal with it, because that water is coming up. “