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Monday, October 14, 2013

The House GOP's Little Rule Change That Guaranteed A Shutdown

Normally any congressperson can call for a vote on any bill at any time. But just before the shutdown happened, the GOP quietly passed a measure that said only House Majority Leader Eric Cantor can call for the shutdown to end (unless he gives a designee permission). Not even the most senior GOP congressperson, Speaker of the House John Boehner, is allowed to do it, without permission from his own guy.
Here's the thing. Democrats are not always right. Neither are Republicans. The political system is messed up from top to bottom. But this is just crazy. The guy in charge of the GOP can't end the shutdown.
With less than two hours to midnight and shutdown, Speaker John Boehner's latest plan emerged. House Republicans would "insist" on their latest spending bill, including the anti-Obamacare provision, and request a conference with the Senate to resolve the two chambers' differences.

Under normal House rules, according to House Democrats, once that bill had been rejected again by the Senate, then any member of the House could have made a motion to vote on the Senate's bill. Such a motion would have been what is called "privileged" and entitled to a vote of the full House. At that point, Democrats say, they could have joined with moderate Republicans in approving the motion and then in passing the clean Senate bill, averting a shutdown.

But previously, House Republicans had made a small but hugely consequential move to block them from doing it.

Here's the rule in question:



In other words, if the House and Senate are gridlocked as they were on the eve of the shutdown, any motion from any member to end that gridlock should be allowed to proceed. Like, for example, a motion to vote on the Senate bill. That's how House Democrats read it.
But the House Rules Committee voted the night of Sept. 30 to change that rule for this specific bill. They added language dictating that any motion "may be offered only by the majority Leader or his designee."

So unless House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wanted the Senate spending bill to come to the floor, it wasn't going to happen. And it didn't.

"I've never seen this rule used. I'm not even sure they were certain we would have found it," a House Democratic aide told TPM. "This was an overabundance of caution on their part. 'We've got to find every single crack in the dam that water can get through and plug it.'"

Congressional historians agreed that it was highly unusual for the House to reserve such power solely for the leadership.

"I've never heard of anything like that before," Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM.

"It is absolutely true that House rules tend to not have any explicit parliamentary rights guaranteed and narrowed to explicit party leaders," Sarah Binder, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, told TPM. "That's not typically how the rules are written."

Republican staff on the House Rules Committee did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But here's what House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) told Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) when she raised those concerns before the rule change was approved.
"What we're attempting to do is to actually get our people together rather than trying to make a decision," Sessions said. "We're trying to actually have a conference and the gentlewoman knows that there are rules related to privileged motions that could take place almost effective immediately, and we're trying to go to conference."

"You know that there could be a privileged motion at any time...," Sessions continued as Slaughter continued to press the issue.

"To call for the vote on the Senate resolution," Slaughter interjected. "I think you've taken that away."

"I said you were correct. We took it away," Sessions said, "and the reason why is because we want to go to conference."



Dylan Scott is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He previously reported for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., and the Las Vegas Sun. His work has been recognized with a 2013 American Society of Business Publication Editors award for Best Feature Series and a 2010 Associated Press Society of Ohio award for Best Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at dylan@talkingpointsmemo.com.

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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