House relearns history of legislative surprise rule

Many sages, from Burke to Santayana to Churchill, have believed that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This warning came to mind on Wednesday, March 9, as I witnessed a bizarre debacle in the House of Representatives. It was ‘Groundhog Day’ (the movie), once again, as the House had to go through procedural motions twice to hold a vote on the $1.5 trillion ‘consolidated appropriations’ bill. dollars to finance the government.

What was the history lesson that the House had to relearn that day? It was that a permanent rule of the House that had existed since 1924 had been adopted for a reason. This rule, now Rule XIII section 6(a), prohibits same-day consideration of a special rule pointed out by the Rules Committee, “unless so decided by a two-thirds vote voting members, a quorum having been reached.” According to a history of the Rules Committee, the rule was adopted “to protect members

to be taken by surprise.

However, when the House passed special emergency rules to deal with legislation during the pandemic, it waived the application of Rule XIII, Rule 6(a), meaning the Rules Committee can now present special rules to the prosecution the same day they are reported, without the two-thirds vote to review them.

And that’s where the problem arose on March 9th. For weeks, the majority leadership and leaders of the appropriations committee of the two bodies negotiated a final funding measure for the government. That effort finally paid off last week. Once the compromise language was finalized, it was submitted to the Rules Committee for a special rule. The management chose a totally independent bill, HR 2471, providing for development in Haiti, as a vehicle for applying the Government Funding Agreement as a superseding amendment. When the language was available, at least online, the rules commission notified its 13-members of an emergency meeting at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

After holding its hearing on the 3,000-page appropriations measure and two other bills, one to ban imports of Russian energy, and the other a short-term continuing appropriations resolution, the committee of rules ordered its special rule reported by voice vote at 2:30 p.m.

Since the House adjourned at 12:30 a.m. after a two-and-a-half-hour recess while the Rules Committee completed its work, the Chairman of the Rules Committee James McGovernJames (Jim) Patrick McGovernThe Memo: Chinese Olympics begin under shadow of abuse Democrats call on Olympic officials to protect American athletes who speak out in Beijing (D-Mass.) was forced to wait until the House reconvenes for a new legislative day at 9 a.m. Wednesday to file its report on the rule. Majority leadership consistently predicted that the House would hold its final votes between 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. that afternoon. Why the rush? House Democrats were scheduled to take a train to Philadelphia that afternoon for their annual courier retreat.

McGovern called the rule for review at 9:15 a.m., yielding half of the allotted hour to committee-ranking Republican Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeGOP tensions erupt after Jan. 6 attack Is House proxy voting here to stay? Biden revives Cancer Moonshot: ‘Let’s end cancer as we know it’ MORE (Ok so.). Cole, voiced his support for the omnibus bill, but urged members to reject the previous question on the rule so he could come up with an alternative bill for the Russian energy import ban. Otherwise, there was little controversy over the rule itself.

When the rule debate was concluded, however, Rep. jody hiceJody Brownlow HiceVernon Jones drops bid for Georgia governor to run for Congress Perdue proposes election police force in Georgia Secretary of State’s races are in the spotlight MORE (R-Ga.), moved that the House adjourn, triggering an automatic roll-call vote. After the motion was defeated, 173 to 255, McGovern made the surprise announcement that he was withdrawing the special rule and that the Rules Committee would immediately meet on an alternative rule and report it to the House. He preceded the announcement with a sardonic aside: “Let me tell MPs that things are going exactly as planned. Everything is beautiful in its own way. Of course, the opposite was true.

During the First Rule debate, word spread on both sides that a provision of the Consolidated Appropriations Compromise would cancel $15 billion of the COVID-19 emergency appropriations enacted in March 2021 in order to pay for the new COVID relief provisions in the pending measure. This was money originally intended for the states but which had not yet been used. The revelation did not sit well with members on both sides of the aisle (although the President Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRNC Adds Salesforce as Defendant in Lawsuit Against Jan. 6 Overnight Defense & National Security Panel – Presented by AM General – Preparing for Zelensky’s Big Speech Overnight Health Care – White House Steps Up COVID MORE Money Warnings (D-Calif.), in a letter to a colleague that afternoon, blamed the rule imbroglio primarily on Republicans).

After a three-hour recess, during which the Rules Committee held a rushed meeting and flagged a new rule separating COVID relief funding into a separate measure, the House returned to session, debated and passed the rule, the Consolidated Funding Bill, and the Russian Energy Import Ban Bill, finally adjourned around midnight. Democratic members still wishing to travel to Philadelphia for their retirement were bussed there, having missed their train. A House Democrat was heard grumbling as he walked out: “This retirement is cursed.”

George Hegel had the last word on the lessons of history: “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. At least the House now has a better idea of ​​why the 1924 rule required a supermajority vote to consider a special rule on the same day it is reported: it is to spare members the embarrassment of not knowing what is in the legislation imposed on them in the dead. by night.

Don Wolfensberger is a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Bipartisan Policy Center, former staff director of the House Rules Committee, and author of “Changing Cultures in Congress: From Fair Play to Power Plays.” The opinions expressed are solely his own.

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