This was on a motion to move immediately to a vote on the resolution or “rule” setting the terms for debating H.R. 2847. That bill provided fiscal year 2010 funding for the Departments of Commerce and Justice and for science and other federal programs. The resolution or “rule” setting the terms for further debate of the bill permitted only a limited number of amendments to be offered.
Rep. Slaughter (D-NY), who was leading the effort on behalf of the rule and the motion to move to an immediate vote on it, said that the reason for the limitation in the rule on amendments that could be offered was Democratic concern “that we were unlikely to get an agreement from the (Republican) minority for a set and reasonable schedule to consider these spending bills. Without such an agreement, there was a very real fear on our side that the process could have degenerated into a drawn-out battle, jeopardizing our party's commitment to getting each of the 12 appropriations bills completed on time this year.” She added that “it's sometimes tempting for the party in the minority to blow up the process (and) . . . we have in recent years detected a trend where more and more amendments are given to us each year on appropriations bills, often for no other reason than political gamesmanship or stunts.”
Slaughter went on to note: (T)here was not a single amendment to this bill in fiscal year 2003, but this year we had 127 amendments filed on the bill as of the Tuesday deadline. That suggested to us that we were in for what potentially could have been a repetitive chain of deleterious and ill-considered amendments, none of which would have allowed us to get any closer to our goal of getting these bills completed and signed into law by the President. When it became clear this week that the minority was not ready to agree to a clear and firm schedule for finishing the work on the appropriations bills, we decided we had no alternative but to go ahead with a clear and concise plan.”
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), who was leading the opposition to the rule for the Republicans, said the terms of the rule broke House precedent. He argued that, in response to the first Republican amendment that was offered during debate of this funding bill under a previously-passed rule, “the (Democratic) majority is now bringing forth this (revised) rule that will block consideration of most of the amendments that were made in order under the previous rule . . . So all those Members who followed the rule previously passed and filed their amendments by the deadline (it gave) will be left without the chance to represent the interests of their constituents. I think this rule is unjust.”
The Democrats had argued that if the House had to consider the large number of amendments the Republicans wanted to offer it would unduly delay the process of passing funding bills for all government departments in a timely manner. Diaz-Balart responded to that argument by saying he understood their concern: “(B)ut the reason, precisely, for the high number of amendments that were filed . . . was because the majority had abandoned the use of the traditional open appropriations rule, and they had . . . forced Members to submit all of the amendments that they conceivably thought they might wish to introduce . . . even if they eventually did not plan to offer them.” He added “(M)embers have an obligation to their constituents to represent them on appropriations bills and to represent the interests of their communities.”
Diaz-Balart also suggested that the Democrats should have just allowed consideration of the amendments to go on into the night, rather than use a “heavy hand” and proposed a new rule “to close down the deliberative process.” Rep. McCaul (R-TX), supporting Diaz-Balart’s remarks, quoted from an article previously written by House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) in which she said “bills should generally come to the floor under a procedure that allows open, full and fair debate, consisting of a full amendment process that grants the minority the right offer its alternatives. McCaul then added: “(T)his right has been denied.”
The resolution passed by a vote of 239-183. All 239 “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Eleven other Democrats joined one hundred and seventy-two Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the House moved to an immediate vote on the rule that would allow it to continue debating the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funds for the Departments of Commerce and Justice.