This was on the resolution or “rule” setting the terms for debating H.R. 3791. That legislation authorized funding for programs that support local firefighters. The bill included grant programs designed to keep local fire departments prepared, to provide funding for the purchase of equipment by the local departments, and to help the departments maintain and hire firefighters. As with most significant bills the House considers, the House had to approve a rule setting the terms for its debate before the bill could be formally taken up. Those terms are set by the House Rules Committee. The rule for this bill limited the amendments that could be offered on the House floor to specific ones that had been designated by the Democratic majority on the Rules Committee. In the case of the rule for this bill, all five of the amendments that had previously been requested to be offered were permitted.
Rep. Pingree (D-ME) was leading the support for the rule and for the motion to move to an immediate vote on the rule. She called the programs reauthorized by H.R. 3791 “vital (to) . . . our local firefighters and our communities.” the unmet needs of our local departments remain staggering. She referenced the facts that: “In fiscal year 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Agency received over 20,000 applications from fire departments requesting over $3 billion . . . .” Pingree added that: “The safety of our homes and our neighborhoods has never been a partisan issue . . . .”
Rep. Sutton (D-OH) also expressed support for the motion. She related the legislation to the difficult economic conditions and high unemployment the country was experiencing. Sutton said: “We need to be able to keep our firefighters on the job . . . I'm pleased . . . that we are including economic hardship waiver language in this bill. This language will, for the first time, work to address some of the devastating effects we have seen in this recession . . . This bill makes it clear that our intent is to allow grants to be used to retain firefighters . . . during the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
Rep. Dreier (R-CA) was leading the Republican opposition to the rule and the motion to bring it to an immediate vote. He first agreed that H.R. 3791 “is a bipartisan measure.” Dreier then went on to argue that, “as important as this issue is . . . (and while all) five amendments . . . were made in order . . . it's very sad that we have gone through this entire Congress without a single open rule (allowing any amendment to be offered) . . . but why not consider it under an open amendment process which would allow any rank-and-file Member to stand up and offer an amendment to this legislation?” Dreier said that defeating the rule “will not in any way impinge on our ability to move ahead and pass this very important legislation dealing with firefighting. At the same time, it will do something else that the American people have been asking us, and that is to read, review, and consider legislation in a very deliberative manner . . . .”
Dreier added that having rules that permit any amendment to be offered on the House floor is a “very important part of the transparency message which should be coming through.” He argued that voting against a restrictive rule “is one of the only available tools for those who oppose the Democratic majority's agenda and allows those with alternative views the opportunity to offer an alternative plan.”
The resolution setting the terms for debating the bill passed by a vote of 245-173 along almost straight party lines. All two hundred and forty-five “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Two other Democrats joined all one hundred and seventy-one Republicans present and voted “nay”. As a result, the House was able to begin debating the legislation authorizing funding for programs that support local firefighters.