This was a procedural vote on a resolution allowing the House to bring up and vote on legislation under a procedure known as a "motion to suspend the rules."
If passed, this particular procedural motion -- known as the “previous question" -- effectively ends debate and brings the pending legislation to an immediate vote.
Motions to suspend the rules limit time allowed for debate, and prohibit members from offering amendments. A two-thirds majority vote is required to approve the motion and pass a bill, rather than the usual majority. House rules, however, only allow the chamber to use this procedure to consider to legislation on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. In order bring up bills under suspension of the rules on any other day, the House must first pass a resolution allowing it to do so. The Democratic majority had tentatively scheduled a vote of major health care legislation on Sunday. This resolution enabled the House to carry out legislative business until that vote occurred.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) argued the resolution would allow the House to move forward with noncontroversial legislation until the vote on health care legislation could take place: "I want to remind my colleagues that any legislation passed under suspension of the rules still must receive at least a two-thirds vote. This rule will help us move important bipartisan legislation before we recess for the upcoming district work period [Easter recess]….We expect a number of important bills to be considered. Additionally, we expect the Rules Committee to meet again to make several other rules in order. Before I reserve my time, let me just state the obvious. We are waiting for the health care bill to ripen and be ready for floor consideration. While we wait, there is business that this House must attend to, and this rule helps us do that."
Republicans did not address the resolution directly, but rather used the opportunity to criticize the proposed health care overhaul. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said: "This insurance should be a state issue; it should not be a Federal issue. Maybe changes need to be made in the State of North Carolina, but that is up to the State of North Carolina. This is a federal government takeover, which is inappropriate."
Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) urged the House to defeat the previous question motion so that the House could consider a GOP proposal addressing the procedure in which the House debated and voted on the health care reform bill. Under the process to which Dreier referred, the House would vote on a resolution setting the terms for floor debate on a bill making changes to the Senate-passed health care measure. When the House passed that resolution, the Senate health care bill would be "deemed passed" by the House. The House would then vote on the bill making the changes to the Senate health care reform legislation. Republicans sharply criticized this procedure as undemocratic, although both parties have used the tactic to pass major bills.
Dreier said: "When we defeat the previous question--I hope, Madam Speaker, we will be able to do that--we will take the initiative that has been launched by our newest Republican colleague, Parker Griffith [R-AL], who has come forward and offered a proposal to say that if we're going to debate this health care bill, we should have an up-or-down vote and we should have extended debate, because the process that's being contemplated right now, Madam Speaker, would not allow one single minute of debate on the floor of the people's House to debate the health care bill."
The House agreed to the motion ordering the previous question by a vote of 222-203. 222 Democrats voted "yea." All 175 Republicans present and 28 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House proceed to a final vote on a resolution allowing the House to bring up legislation on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday under a procedure that limits debate time and prohibits amendments.