This vote was on the “rule” setting the terms for House consideration of the legislation containing the large economic stimulus package. The rule, among other things, allowed only eleven designated amendments to be offered. Various House members had asked The Rules Committee, which drafted the rule, for a total of 206 amendments to be made in order.
Most of the debate over the rule related to the merits of the stimulus legislation, rather than the merits of the rule itself. Rep. Slaughter, the chair of the House Rules Committee, said: “If nothing is done, our economy will continue this downward spiral, and we must take action . . . . The stimulus package is a critical and necessary investment that will create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, will jump start our economy . . . with $550 billion in carefully targeted priority investments (and provide) immediate, direct tax relief . . . .”
Rep. Dreier (R-CA), the most senior Republican on the House Rules Committee acknowledged “(I)t is a very, very difficult time. And on that, Democrats and Republicans are in total agreement.” He went on to say, with reference to the stimulus legislation, “(U)nfortunately the way it was handled in the House Rules Committee, and the way that we are considering this measure on the floor, it appears that there is very little focus on the merits and that most of the attention is focused on politics.” He also argued that the stimulus package should emphasize the increased tax reductions that Republicans favored.
Under usual House procedures, before it can consider a piece of legislation, the House must first approve a resolution containing the rule for that bill. The rule sets the terms under which the legislation will be considered. Those terms generally include such things as whether only specifically enumerated amendments may be offered to the legislation, and the time that will be allotted to the Democrats and to the Republicans for debating the legislation.
Dreier characterized the rule as being “very unfair” and “badly flawed”. He pointed to the fact that only a few of the 206 amendments submitted to the Rules Committee could be considered under its terms. He also criticized House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) for what he said was her inaccurate claim that the process associated with the stimulus legislation was “bipartisan, open and transparent.”
The House voted 243 ayes to 176 nays, primarily along party lines. All 243 “aye” votes were cast by Democratic Members. Nine other Democrats joined with all the Republican Members and voted “nay”. The “yes” vote on the rule allowed the House to take up consideration of the economic stimulus legislation.