A picture of Representative Jared Polis
Jared P.
Democrat CO 2

About Rep. Jared
  • Providing for Consideration of Conference Report on H.R. 644, Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, and Providing for Consideration of Senate Amendments to H.R. 2250, Legislative…

    by Representative Jared Polis

    Posted on 2015-12-11

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    POLIS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    I thank the gentleman for yielding me the customary 30 minutes.

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition--I might add, reluctant opposition--to the rule on two important bills that really shouldn't be controversial: the Senate amendments to H.R. 2250--that is a short-term continuing resolution. It shouldn't be necessary. This body should have acted, but given that the body has not passed through regular order an appropriations process to keep government open, that bill is necessary--and the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015.

    H.R. 644, which is often called the Customs bill, is a bill that needs to pass in some form. I want to see it pass. I have voted for it to go to conference. It has a lot of provisions that are extremely important to many Members, to our economy, and to even Americans traveling casually overseas. It increases, finally, the amount of items they can buy as gifts for their friends and then bring back without having to pay duties. But looking at the version that we are considering today under this rule, which does not allow amendments, I think the body would be better taking individual votes on some of the provisions.

    There is a lot of good in this bill, but there is also a blatant attack on climate science, on environmental protection, and, really, items that serve no purpose in a bill written to facilitate trade. They even put a separate item preventing Internet sales tax, which I support the bill separately, and somehow this wound up in the Customs bill, a totally unrelated measure from a different committee that wound up in this bill at the last minute, this Christmas-tree bill. It wasn't in the House or the Senate version before. I think we do need to give Members a chance to be on the record to approve or not approve these items individually, and I think that would be the open process that this Speaker has committed to.

    The second item under this rule, the Senate amendments to H.R. 2250, our short-term continuing resolution, is straightforward and is necessary as we near the shutdown of government, which would otherwise occur December 11. Today would be the last day that we would fund government, so, of course, we have to act. You don't hear objection about that. The only objection I hear is: Why does this Congress always wait until the eleventh hour to pass these kinds of bills? It just doesn't make any sense. You don't wait until the day before government shuts down to say: Okay. We will give ourselves a 5-day reprieve.

    Are we even going to be able to complete the omnibus or continuing resolution in those 5 days? I don't know. Are we going to be back here next Wednesday doing another 3-day or 5-day CR? There is no particular reason that we are doing this, nothing new. No new information about how to better construct funding bills comes to us next week or the week after than we had last week or 2 weeks ago. I don't understand why we didn't do these bills last month. We passed the budget bills. We agreed on the overall dollar figures about a month ago. That is one of the hardest things about figuring out the appropriations bills and spending is what levels are you going to spend. We agreed on that. The House, the Senate, and the President agreed. So that is not even being discussed. Why didn't we do it within a week of that and just be done with it? It makes no sense.

    So this bill would make December 16 the new deadline to finish Congress' appropriations work and keep government open, and I do think that Members and the public are anxious for us to complete our work. It is also critical that we get a good product.

    Now, Mr. Speaker, the majority, the Republicans, have previously shown this country their willingness to go into a shutdown, so I hope that we take this new 5-day period to avoid a shutdown permanently rather than just to do another 3 or 5 days again and again and again.

    Why aren't we sending a bill on appropriations to the President today? From my point of view, it seems like it is nothing more than partisan politics that is keeping it from getting done. I think the votes are here--they have been here, were here a month ago, and were here a week ago--for a commonsense bill that meets the budget that we have already agreed on, that doesn't have completely unrelated Christmas-tree policy riders that were put together in smoke-filled rooms rather than the open process that the new Speaker has committed to. And it is a real opportunity for this body to live up to that promise and put together an appropriations bill that passes overwhelmingly, which I think can absolutely be done.

    Nearly every single member of the Democratic Caucus has said no divisive [[Page H9277]] or controversial riders. The appropriations bills are not a place for them. You don't bring government to the brink of a shutdown over policy disagreements. You don't say: ``Look, unless we don't fund Planned Parenthood, we are shutting down government. Look, unless you don't ban the EPA from keeping our air clean, we are going to shut down government.'' You can have those debates and you can have those discussions, but it is not appropriate to do that with a threat of shutting down government.

    Didn't the Republicans recently sign some sort of pledge to have no extraneous or legislation or must-pass bills? Well, what about taking on the President's attempt to protect clean air standards? If Republicans want it, then debate it and pass it. If you want to defund Planned Parenthood, then debate it and pass it, but not in a last- minute, closed package with a threat of closing government.

    Compromise is what we did on the highway bill to pass a long-term authorization. It worked great. It didn't have what every single Member wanted, and we had to make tough compromises, but we can live with it. It passed overwhelmingly. Compromise is what we took yesterday when I got to go to the White House to see the Every Student Succeeds Act signed, the new Federal education law that replaces No Child Left Behind. It passed overwhelmingly in its final form in both the House and the Senate. Now, a compromise is not seeing how many partisan stocking stuffers you can jam into a must-pass bill before we head home for the holidays.

    Moving to the Customs enforcement bill, H.R. 644, it is, for the most part, a very positive bill. The Customs bill is about giving the administration the tools they need to make sure we are fighting a fair fight when it comes to trade and to updating and eliminating unintended consequences of other trade laws. I heard Ranking Member Levin testify in the Rules Committee yesterday that the key to enforcement on trade issues was the willingness of the administration to act, and the final step of enforcing our existing and future trade agreements will always fall to the executive branch. But they can't fight those fights without the right tools in the toolbox. That is what the Customs bill does, and this bipartisan bill has a lot of very high-quality elements that we will likely send to the administration before the holidays.

    It has the full ENFORCE Act, which would require immediate action to investigate and address trade cheats and take measures to stop those who continually attempt to circumvent the penalties already imposed on them. It establishes and funds the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center, which helps agencies find trade cheats and those who engage in illegal dumping that risk putting Americans out of work. It establishes the Trade Enforcement Fund, which would provide critical and dedicated resources to enforce our trade agreements, and it would help with capacity building, an important issue which would help our current and future trading partners implement labor and environmental standards that we push them towards in a real way.

    The bill also contains important language on ending the importation of goods made from child or forced labor, which is yet another step we are taking towards ending this abominable practice on a global scale. It also includes bipartisan language which gives the executive branch new tools in evaluating and consulting with partner countries who may be manipulating their currency.

    Mr. Speaker, if we want to be serious with enforcing our trade agreements, then the enforcement provisions in this bill are a major step forward. We may still have to push this Executive when we feel they aren't using these tools, but having these tools available is a critical step.

    The Customs bill also gives a leg up to American small business. The bill makes commerce at the border more efficient. It modernizes the operation of Customs and Border Patrol; and something that I fought for for many years, it raises the de minimis threshold from $200 to $800, which, again, is important to all Americans who travel overseas. Being able to have smaller items cross our border duty-free is a major win for small businesses and consumers, especially in the e-commerce space on the commercial side, but also for casual tourists who travel overseas.

    What that means is, when you are reentering this country, if you ever have to fill out one of those forms if you are coming back from Mexico or Canada or Europe, the de minimis threshold was $200, and technically you are responsible for a duty above that. This finally raises it. It hasn't been adjusted for inflation for decades. This raises it to $800, so you can truly bring back gifts for your friends and family. This is important for individuals, and it is important for businesses.

    The bill makes important technical corrections that are important to companies in my district, like adjusting tariff lines for outdoor wear and footwear.

    {time} 0930 I am also very excited to say, as the cochair of the Nepal Caucus, that the bill includes the Nepal Trade Preferences Act, a very important provision that is a tangible benefit for Nepal's recovering economic market. That is simply the right thing to do. As many here know, Nepal suffered a devastating earthquake on April 25, 2015. Over 9,000 people were killed; 23,000 were injured. The earthquake triggered a series of avalanches on Mt. Everest where 19 people, including one of my constituents, were killed in what was the deadliest day in Mt. Everest history.

    The country has begun the urgent process of rebuilding. Despite the trying circumstances, Nepal has remained resilient. On December 20, I am proud to say, the democratically elected constituent assembly announced the passage of a new democratic constitution, a remarkable chapter for a country that, until recently, had been mired in civil war and strife.

    I am honored to join Representative Crenshaw, my cochair on the U.S. Nepal Caucus, in introducing the Nepal Trade Preferences Act, which gives preferential treatment to textile, leather, and apparel products made in Nepal. And the bill facilitates capacity building to help expand the Nepali export market.

    I am very grateful for the hard work of my colleague from Florida (Mr. Crenshaw), and the simultaneous effort that has been taking place in the Senate under the leadership of Senator Feinstein.

    Nepal is a very important and strategic ally between global powers, India and China. Cooperation with America to help build capacity and build the Nepali economy and stability is a critical foreign policy priority, in addition to being an economic benefit to the American people.

    I believe trade can be a mechanism for poverty reduction worldwide. I am heartened to see that this act, which attempts to do that, is included in the Customs bill.

    With all these great things, why would anybody oppose this bill? Unfortunately, like anything, it is not that easy. I joined my Democratic colleagues in voting against the Customs bill when it was on the House floor last summer. Despite knowing that it needed to get done, I was simply unable to vote for a bill that contained extraneous, unnecessary attacks on climate science, on environmental protections, and on immigrants.

    These are some of the things that needed to be taken out in the conference committee. They should have been taken out in the conference committee. If they were, I would be proudly 100 percent supporting this bill. If I could, in an open process, I would be amending the bill today to take them out, so that this bill could enjoy broad Democratic support.

    The only positive thing I can say is that, emerging from conference, this bill is less bad than it was. Included in the underlying report is a renegotiated provision on greenhouse gas emissions and the role in international trade agreements that certainly is not as bad as the version that originally passed the House and, many argue, would not have any significant legally constraining role on agreements negotiated by the chief executive.

    The House negotiated an objective that would have prohibited the USTR from pursuing trade agreements that obligate United States law or regulation towards global warming and climate change was stripped. It was replaced with an equally nontopical, but [[Page H9278]] somewhat convoluted, provision that is a little difficult to understand.

    We use new language to bar trade agreements from including obligations to alter U.S. law or regulations surrounding greenhouse gas emissions.

    To clarify, international trade policy will not be the stage on which the United States establishes and implements strong and thoughtful climate change policy. That is what Congress is for, that is what our States are for, that is what our local governments are for. That must be done. I think we all agree that won't be done through trade agreements.

    In that sense, the language was only added to speak to a deeply held fear by my Republican Party colleagues to even acknowledge that climate change exists. To my colleagues on the other side, I would say, this is simply not the place for that kind of ideological statement.

    Further, the language contradicts itself by explicitly allowing the USTR to seek provisions, including those related to global warming and climate change, if doing so would fulfill another negotiating objective.

    So, we bar negotiators from discussing environmental policy objectives and then flip, allowing them to do so if it meets another objective.

    Not only is this language unnecessary, it is a messy, convoluted, contradictory-type of compromise that nobody really even knows what it would mean, and is really rife for lawyers on both sides to be debating it for years or decades.

    The entire world is in Paris right now talking about specifics on fighting climate change. And here we are today, with the only political party in the developed world that still questions the existence of climate change in their very platform, attaching this ridiculous provision to an unrelated Customs bill, embarrassing our own negotiators while they are in Paris.

    We get it: you don't agree with the rest of the world on this, you don't agree with scientists on this, you don't agree with the majority of Americans on that. We get that. Next year, feel free to pass a resolution that says, we don't believe in climate change, if that is what you want to do. But put it on your letterhead; don't put it into an unrelated Customs bill that is actually important for our economy and for the American people. Stop trying to muddle good bipartisan bills with this sort of divisive, unscientific language that, frankly, not only threatens the environment, but also embarrasses our country. These kinds of provisions have no place in bills like the Customs bill and should have been taken out in the process.

    I reserve the balance of my time.

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