H.R. 2187, the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act, authorized $6.4 billion in new grants and low-interest loans to local educational agencies for the construction, repair, modernization and “greening” of public educational facilities. This was a vote on the resolution or “rule” setting the terms for debate of H.R. 2187. Those terms included specifying which amendments could be offered during considering of the measure.
Rep. Polis (D-CO), a supporter of the rule and the legislation to which it related, began his remarks by saying that “an excellent education . . . (can) only be achieved . . . in safe schools and productive learning environments equipped with the resources required to succeed. Anything else is increasingly unacceptable in the 21st century. Unfortunately, as a Nation, we are unable to meet this basic standard. According to the American Federation of Teachers, our schools fall short of being in good condition by an estimated $255 billion. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our Nation's schools a D on the national infrastructure report card.”
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), speaking for the Republican minority, began by agreeing that America’s public schools “are increasingly overcrowded, unsafe, and obsolete, detracting from student performance.” He then turned to criticizing the Democratic majority for how it was handling the rule for consideration of this and other legislation.
Diaz-Balart said that the Democrats had promised “they would run Congress in a more open and bipartisan manner. . . However, that promise has yet to come to fruition . . . A prime example of how they have consistently stymied openness and bipartisanship can be seen by looking at the virtual absolute lack of open rules that they have allowed since they took control of the House of Representatives in 2006. In nearly 2 1/2 years, the majority has allowed one open rule--and that was over 2 years ago . . . Now it is time that the majority lives up to its campaign promise and allows an open debate process.” An open rule is one that allows any Member to offer an amendment.
Rep. Hall (D-NY) responded by noting that Diaz-Balart had cited the 2009 appropriations bill as an example of legislation on which the deliberation “was somehow closed . . . .” Hall claimed that it was agreed to “in committee and subcommittee and through the normal appropriations process, but there were hundreds, if not thousands, of special appropriations or earmarks that . . . were asked for and granted to Republican Members of Congress.”
Diaz-Balart responded to Hall that he “was talking about the process that does not permit amendments on the floor. . . The fact that there were earmarks in the bill is a separate debate.” Diaz-Balart also argued that it seemed illogical to restrict amendments on this piece of legislation, which he suggested had some Republican backing. Rep. Kirk (R-IL), supporting Diaz-Balart, said he wanted to offer what he termed “a bipartisan amendment” that would increase the facilities eligible for grants authorized by the Act, but was unable to do so under the restrictive terms of the rule. Kirk said he wanted “to ask the majority, What are you afraid of? You have a 78-seat majority in the House of Representatives, but you are afraid that amendments may carry.” Rep. Polis responded to Kirk by noting that 14 of the 34 amendments proposed by Members had been made in order to be offered under the rule.
The resolution passed by a vote of 248-175 along almost straight party lines. Two hundred and forty-seven Democrats and one Republican voted “aye”. One hundred and seventy-three Republicans and two Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the rule was approved and the House was able to move to consider the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act.