This was a vote to suspend the usual House rules and approve H.R. 44, a bill titled the Guam Recognition Act. The bill implemented the recommendations of the Guam War Claims Commission, which had recommended additional compensation for natives of Guam who suffered injury during the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II. The Commission was established in 2003 to examine whether there was parity in the World War II damage claims that had been paid to the natives of Guam compared with United States citizens or nationals. The Commission was also charged, if it found there has not been parity, to advise the Congress on changes required to compensate the natives of Guam equally. After its work was completed, the Commission recommended increases in the levels of compensation that had been paid to the natives who were injured and to the descendants of those who had been killed. The additional compensation was to cost $131 million.
Delegate Bordallo (D-Guam) led the support for the motion. She said that it “would fulfill (a) moral obligation on the part of our national government to . . . the people of Guam, most of whom were indigenous Chamorros who bore the burden of a brutal occupation. “ She argued that Congress did not originally provide for war claims for the people of Guam in the same manner as were afforded to others, even though the people of Guam carried what she called “ a disproportionate burden of the war”. She characterized the prior disparity in compensation as “a tragic injustice of history” and said that the people of Guam “just want to receive the same restitution that other Americans received.”
A law had been enacted at the end of the war making payments to all residents of Guam, including U.S. citizens and nationals, as well as natives of Guam for claims for damages they suffered during the occupation. Those claims were for death, personal injury, forced labor, forced march, and internment. Questions had been raised over the years about whether the original Act, as implemented, adequately compensated the natives as compared with U.S. citizens and nationals. In response to those questions, The Claims Commission reviewed events that occurred during and after the war, and heard testimony from some of those who had experienced the occupation.
A motion to suspend the rules and pass a bill is a procedural mechanism that is usually employed to gain approval for measures that the House leadership deems to be not very controversial. There is a limited time period for debate. Amendments cannot be offered. A two thirds vote is required to approve the motion and pass a bill, rather than the usual majority.
The legislation received generally bipartisan support. Rep. Foxx (R-NC), articulated the limited opposition to the measure. She first agreed that “ certainly we want to honor the people who have fought to help keep this country free”. Foxx then added, in a reference to the major economic stimulus bill Congress had recently approved, that she was going to vote against passage of the Guam Recognition Act because she was “very concerned about the expenditure of another $131 million in addition to the (billions we recently committed).”
The bill passed by a vote of 299-99. Two hundred and thirty-one Democrats and sixty-eight Republicans voted “aye”. Ninety-seven Republicans and two Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the House passed and sent to the Senate a bill providing for additional compensation to the natives and descendants of Guam who suffered during the Japanese occupation.