What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Curbing Presidential Power : A vote on final passage of the Republican-drafted Continuity in Representation Act (HR 2844) designed to ensure the continuity of the House of Representatives in the event of a massive disaster. (2004 house Roll Call 130)
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A vote on final passage of the Republican-drafted Continuity in Representation Act (HR 2844) designed to ensure the continuity of the House of Representatives in the event of a massive disaster.
house Roll Call 130     Apr 22, 2004
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Conservatives were successful in shepherding through the House legislation (HR 2844) designed to ensure the continuity of the House of Representatives in the event of a massive disaster, but the measure invited protest from the chamber's progressive contingent. Conservatives prevailed 306-97 in passing the measure, with only seven Republicans voting against its final approval. The roll call on H.R. 2844 shows 202 Republicans and 104 Democrats voted yes; seven Republicans, 89 Democrats and one Independent voted no; and 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats did not vote. Under the Constitution, the 17th Amendment permits state governors to appoint senators to vacant seats, but there is no comparable provision for the prompt replacement of members of the House. Instead, the Constitution requires the executive authority of a state in which a vacancy occurs in the House to order a special election to fill the vacancy. But, Congress also has the power under the Constitution to "make or alter" state laws governing "the times, places and manner of holding elections" for members of the House. Pursuant to that authority, H.R. 2844 would require the states, upon announcement by the Speaker of the House that the number of vacancies exceeds 100, to conduct special elections within 45 days of the announcement. However, the only House committee to conduct hearings on H.R. 2844, the House Administration Committee, was deeply divided on the questions whether the bill adequately addresses the myriad issues concerning the continuity of Congress and whether the bill, independent of those issues, posed a workable solution, i.e., whether it would be feasible to conduct widespread special elections during a period of incalculable vacancies and national chaos. Those hearings revealed that the debate on this subject essentially divides into two camps. There are those who view a quick reconstitution of the House as the most important consideration, and, thus, support a constitutional amendment allowing for the appointment of temporary replacements to fill vacant House seats. Supporters of temporary appointments believe they would ensure that House membership would not be severely depleted in the weeks or even months that might be needed to schedule special elections. From their perspective, the appointments could also demonstrate the country's determination to continue a representative form of government, even in extraordinary times. Moreover, they argue that restricting the use of appointment authority and requiring large number of vacancies to occur before the measures could be invoked would help to safeguard against using the measures in situations other than extreme emergencies. The second camp are those who believe retaining the House's elected character is paramount and, therefore, support expedited special elections as the exclusive means for reconstituting the House of Representatives. The second camp, led by the House's conservative element, won out. Progressives argued that they would prefer amending the Constitution to permit the appointment of replacement House members after disasters, at least until the states could hold special elections. And while H.R. 2844 addressed the critical issue of how House vacancies would be filled, progressives said that is a matter of national constitutional import requiring study by the House Judiciary panel -- a duty they claimed the Republican chairman of that panel abdicated. But while Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) pledged to take up the constitutional amendment issue separately, "The issue of maintaining the people's House I think is the paramount consideration we ought to be giving on this issue," he said in advocating support for HR 2844. Moreover, House conservatives said they would oppose such a constitutional amendment, and said legislation was needed to maintain the elected nature of the House. As Sensenbrenner put it, "I believe the principle of an elected House of Representatives is one that should prevail over everything. If we end up having an appointed House of Representatives even temporarily and an appointed Senate and an appointed resident, where do the people rule?" Still, HR 2844 enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and passage would not have been possible if more than half the House Democrats had not voted with a majority of Republicans. Conservatives touted the wide margin of approval as clear indication that most members agree and intend to keep the lower chamber an elected body even in the wake of severe casualties.

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