The nuances of representative democracy are easily lost. Particularly in an era when sound-bite theatrics are often confused with governance, it is easy to overlook the specifics that go into developing legislation.
So, it is interesting to hear Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, dive into the complexities of how a bill becomes law. The first-term congresswoman joined The Columbian’s Editorial Board this week for an informal discussion about her first nine months in Washington, D.C., the priorities of the 3rd Congressional District and her efforts to represent those priorities.
A couple of those efforts have drawn national attention, with Perez putting the interests of her district ahead of the interests of her party.
In June, she was one of four House Democrats to vote with the Republican majority to advance the National Defense Authorization Act. That is where the nuances of governance were in evidence.
The defense authorization is an annual bill that establishes recommended funding levels and policies for national defense. It typically passes with broad bipartisan support; few lawmakers want to risk being portrayed as against national defense.
But the bill became contentious this year as House Republicans loaded it with amendments addressing hot-button issues such as abortion, transgender rights and diversity and inclusion initiatives in the military. After Perez voted in favor of the bill, she drew criticism from progressives who wrongly claimed she is against abortion rights and transgender rights.
“I voted against every weird amendment that came through the door,” she told the editorial board. “But the only way to send it to the Senate is to pass it through the House.”
Perez said she is counting on the Senate to strip the legislation of amendments that have little to do with national defense: “When we can lean on the legislative process, we should. My political calculation would have been different if it didn’t have to go the Senate.”
As she said in a statement following the vote: “This year’s NDAA was deeply flawed because of the Republican majority weaponizing the legislation to play into their senseless culture wars. I voted against these harmful amendments, and I refuse to play into their game plan. But, we have an obligation to protect our citizens, our borders, and our brave service members who put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms, which is why I voted for the bill.”
Therein lies the complexity of comprehensive legislation. If elected officials voted only for bills that met with their full approval, nothing would ever get passed.
Perez’s independence also was on display in May, when she voted against President Joe Biden’s plan to erase an estimated $321 billion in student loan debt for some 43 million Americans. Her reasoning: Student loan relief generates much media attention and much consternation in Washington, D.C., but it does not reflect the concerns of Southwest Washington.
“That’s not the most pressing thing in a lot of communities,” Perez told the editorial board. She told The Seattle Times: “Just a few years ago, it was not the dogma of the party that you had to support student debt forgiveness. Suddenly, like, everybody’s got their marching orders from somewhere, and I guess I’m not on that email chain.”
Such independence is refreshing, particularly for a first-term representative. So is Perez’s sense of duty to her district rather than party orthodoxy.