This was a vote on “ordering the previous question” and bringing to an immediate vote the “rule” setting the terms for House consideration of the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funds for the State Department and its foreign operations. The rule for H.R. 3081 permitted only certain designated amendments to be offered during consideration of the measure. The Republican minority had been expressing its strong opposition to the limitations on amendments that had been imposed on a series of appropriation bills the House had considered. Under House procedures, before a bill can be considered, the House must first approve a resolution or rule setting the terms under which the legislation will be debated.
Rep. Lowey (D-NY), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that developed H.R. 3081, acknowledged in her statement on behalf of the rule that “my colleagues on the other side would have preferred an open rule.” She then stated the argument against a completely open rule that the Democratic majority had been making to explain the reason they had been placing limitations on the rules for all appropriation bills: That argument was based on the idea that the House was scheduled to complete work on a large number of appropriation bills by the end of July, and that permitting unlimited amendments on each of those bills would prevent adherence to that schedule. In recent years, it was not unusual for several appropriation bills not to be completed before the before the beginning of the fiscal year to which they applied.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart was managing the rule for the Republican minority. He said that, while he supported the State Department appropriation, he “opposed the rule by which the majority is bringing this bill to the floor. Last month, the majority set a dangerous precedent to limit debate on appropriations bills, debate that historically was almost always considered under open rules, open debate process. Today we are set to consider the sixth of 12 appropriations bills, and every bill considered so far has been considered under a structured rule that severely limits the ability of all Members of this House to introduce amendments and have them debated.”
Diaz-Balart argued that the limitations on the offering of amendments violated “historical order (and) . . . the tradition of an open debate process on appropriations bills. He said that the Republicans had “even offered . . . to persuade Members to not offer dilatory amendments which would hamper the ability of Congress to complete its appropriations work on time . . . if an open debate process was returned to. However, the majority once again blocked Members from both sides of the aisle from offering amendments. “He concluded by claiming that “closing debate on appropriations bills . . . (is) breaking two centuries of precedence.”
The effect of ordering the previous question is to bring the matter pending before the House, in this case the rule for H.R. 3081, to an immediate vote. The House Rules Committee parliamentary web site suggests that ordering the previous question is analogous to asking: “Is the House ready to vote on the bill or amendment before it?” The web site also notes that, “in order to amend a rule . . . the House must vote against ordering the previous question.”
The vote on ordering the previous question on the rule for the State Department appropriation bill was 217-187. All 217 “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Sixteen other Democrats joined with one hundred and seventy-one Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the previous question was ordered and the House moved immediately to a vote on the rule for debating the bill.