This was a vote on a motion to suspend the rules and pass legislation to provide seniors with a one-time $250 payment. Proponents of the bill argued such a payment was necessary because Social Security beneficiaries were not scheduled to receive a cost-of-living increase in their Social Security checks in 2011.
Motions to suspend the rules limit time allowed for debate, and prohibit members from offering amendments. A two-thirds vote is required to approve the motion and pass a bill, rather than the usual majority.
Cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security beneficiaries are determined by a formula that increases payments when the cost of everyday expenses rises. According to this formula, the cost of living did not increase in 2010. Therefore, Social Security beneficiaries were not scheduled to receive a COLA in 2011. Democrats brought this bill up for a vote, arguing that denying seniors increased financial assistance during a deep recession could harm their quality of life.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) urged support for the bill: “…They [seniors] have their benefit levels flatlined at a time when they are encountering higher costs, reducing their quality of life experience, and disappointing them greatly about Social Security. The bill before us would provide 54 million Americans with a $250 payment in lieu of COLA. Now, for those at the very bottom, this means a lot--about a $20 a month cost-of-living adjustment to help them with those higher costs.”
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) urged opposition to the bill: “The COLA formula is designed to achieve a simple goal. Increases in consumer prices trigger an increase in Social Security benefits….Since prices have remained short of the peak they reached back in 2008, the Social Security Administration announced there will not be a COLA in 2011...Though seniors are understandably disappointed, the COLA formula is working as intended.”
The vote on the bill was 254-153. 228 Democrats and 26 Republicans voted “yea.” 141 Republicans and 12 Democrats voted “nay.” While a majority of members voted in favor of this bill, a two-thirds majority vote is required for passage under suspension of the rules. Since the bill did not receive the required two-thirds majority, the measure failed. As a result, the House rejected legislation to provide seniors with a one-time $250 payment in lieu of a Social Security COLA. Democratic leaders, however, remained free to bring the bill up again under a different process requiring only a simple majority vote for passage.