This was a vote on the resolution or “rule” setting the terms for House consideration of the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The rule for the bill permitted very few amendments to be offered during its consideration. The Republican minority had been expressing its strong opposition to the fact that the rules for a series of appropriation bills, including this one, limited the number of amendments that could be offered.
Rep. Flake (R-AZ), had been among the leaders of those stating these objections. He claimed: “For years--and decades--appropriation bills have been brought to the floor under an open rule, allowing Members to offer amendments to various sections of the bill and not be precluded from that. But these bills are being brought to the floor all year under closed or structured rules, allowing very, very few amendments.”
Rep. Gingrey (R-GA) described the limiting of amendments to spending bills by the Democratic majority as “unconscionable”. He said “this has never happened, to my knowledge, in the history of this Congress. These should be open rules so that every Member, not just members of the Appropriations Committee, the 40 or 50 members that study these bills, but every single Member of this body who represent 675,000 people across this country and these 50 states should have an opportunity to offer amendments. I have submitted 10 amendments to (various spending) bills. Not one has been made in order, and not one of these amendments is dilatory.”
Rep. Pingree (D-ME) was leading the effort in support of the rule. She gave the rationale that the House Democratic majority had been expressing to explain the series of rules that limited the number of amendments. Pingree said that the House needed to limit the time during which spending bills could be considered in order to adhere to its schedule of completing all the 2010 spending bills before the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year. In recent years, Congress had been well behind schedule in completing spending bills, and had often failed to pass all of them before the beginning of the fiscal year they covered.
Rep. Obey (R-WI), who chairs the Appropriations Committee, argued for the rule. He first noted that the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee traditionally brings tax bills to the House floor under rules that do not permit any amendments. Obey said “there is no inherent difference between the two (committees) . . . .” Obey also noted that “the Appropriations Committee has the right to bring to the floor its appropriation bills without ever going to the Rules Committee . . . So it has been an advantage to individual House Members for the Appropriations Committee to go to the Rules Committee, whether or not there's a totally open rule . . . because at least then individual Members have some capacity to influence the results.”
Obey also claimed that “we have made quite clear to the (Republican) minority side we would like to proceed in as open a fashion as possible . . . and I went to the Republican leadership . . . and asked them if there was some way that we could work out time agreements so that we can finish these 12 (appropriation) bills before we go home for the August recess . . . And the response was, “if we did that, our (Republican) caucus would elect somebody else.” Obey concluded by saying “there is nothing radically new about this. We're simply trying to get the job done.”
The vote on the rule was 241-179. All two hundred forty-one “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Eight other Democrats joined one hundred and seventy-one Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the House was able to begin considering the fiscal year 2010 Department of Veterans Affairs funding bill.