H.R. 3183 provided fiscal 2010 year energy and water development funding. This was a vote on a motion to bring to an immediate vote the resolution or “rule” setting the terms for debating the bill. The rule permitted very few amendments to be offered during consideration of the measure. The Republican minority had expressed its strong opposition to the fact that the rules for a series of spending 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 raised a point of order against the rule and argued that “(T)raditionally, appropriations bills have been (debated under) open rules . . . Members are allowed to offer as many amendments as they wish--striking funding, moving funding around, making a policy point.” Flake added that permitting unlimited amendments to be offered is particularly important to overcome a relatively recent practice of loading up and larding up these appropriations bills with all kinds of congressionally directed spending.”
Flake also said “(O)ne would like to think that the Appropriations Committee would vet these earmarks (or legislatively mandated funding of special projects), would actually check them out to see if they're meeting Federal purpose, if money is being wasted . . . but they don't.” He then noted that “for this bill, there were 103 amendments submitted. Now, because you have to pre-file your amendments, a lot of Members will submit more amendments than they intend to offer on the floor just to protect their place. So the majority party knows that we would never have offered 103 amendments on the floor. We won't have time to do it . . . (but) 78 Republican amendments were submitted, and only 14 were made in order.”
Rep. Gingrey (R-GA), another of the Republicans who had been objecting to restrictions on amendments, said that the Democratic leadership has “taken away so many opportunities . . . for the minority to represent their constituencies . . . on these 12 spending bills--which, after all, are probably one of the two most important things that we as Members of the legislative branch are charged constitutionally to do . . ..”
The rationale that Democrats had been expressing for the series of rules limiting amendments on spending bills was that that the House needed to adhere to its schedule of completing those bills in a timely manner. In recent years, Congress had been well behind schedule in completing spending bills, and had sometimes failed to pass all of them before the beginning of the fiscal year they covered. Referring to that reasoning, Gingrey said “I commend the majority for wanting to get the work done and for wanting to have all of that done by the end of the fiscal year. It's insanity not to do that, but we can do it in an open way.”
Rep. Matsui (D-CA) was leading the effort on behalf of the rule. She referred to the point of order that Rep. Flake had raised and said: “(T)echnically, this point of order is about whether or not to consider this rule and, ultimately, the underlying bill. In reality, it is about trying to block this bill without any opportunity for debate and without any opportunity for an up-or-down vote on the legislation, itself. I think that is wrong, and I hope my colleagues will vote to consider this important legislation on its merits and not stop it on a procedural motion. Those who oppose the bill can vote against it on final passage. We must consider this rule, and we must pass this legislation today.”
The motion passed on a vote of 237-177 along almost straight party lines. Two hundred and thirty-six Democrats and one Republican voted “aye”. Five other Democrats joined with all one hundred and seventy-two Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the House was able to move to an immediate vote on the resolution setting the terms for debating the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for energy and water development.