The leadership of the House Republican majority got off to a rough start in their new stewardship of the lower chamber. They lost two floor votes this past week, an unusual occurrence in a chamber where any significant majority rarely loses once a bill hits the floor. In this case, though, dozens of freshman have delivered a power lesson of their own by refusing to play along with steamrolling tactics:
Republican leadership stumbled this week with two bills going down in defeat on the House floor, a highly unusual occurrence in a chamber where the majority rules nearly absolutely and leadership rarely calls votes without knowing in advance they will win.
A key reason one bill went down – a reauthorization of the Patriot Act – was that GOP leaders allowed only 45 minutes of debate on the measure and scheduled the vote under suspension of the rules, usually reserved for non-controversial proposals.
Bobby Schilling (R-IL) told the Daily Caller that he voted against the bill primarily because it got rushed to a vote with no committee hearings, and that members were given just 45 minutes for floor debate:
When I was running during the campaign, I even stated you know we need to increase national security, but not without a thorough and complete look at the Patriot Act. One of the things I look at is how much intrusion is enough.
But the big problem I have, is that we had 45 minutes of debate on that thing and I wasn’t comfortable going with just the party-line vote. The people of the 17th district that I represent – I get a lot of people that sent letters to me saying, “hey, do not vote for this, this an infringement of the Fourth Amendment.”
The bill was rushed to the floor with limited debate. … But as for last night, I don’t think 45 minutes of debate for something that major, to just go out there and pound it through isn’t the right thing to do.
That was one of the chief complaints about Nancy Pelosi’s management of the House (although hardly the only complaint). After Barack Obama promised five days of online access on every bill, Pelosi and Harry Reid wrote most of their high-profile legislation in secret and jammed it down the throats of the House and Senate with just hours to review legislation thousands of pages long. The Tea Party made this a big issue in the midterm elections, and Republicans promised to do better.
In this case, the Patriot Act is not new legislation — and it was first passed by a Republican Congress, later extended by a Democratic Congress and President. In that sense, this isn’t the same thing as ObamaCare. However, the Patriot Act remains controversial, and nine years after its initial passage, people across the political spectrum still worry about the power it hands to government. Curtailing debate to 45 minutes under special orders (which bypasses the committee process and then requires a two-thirds vote for passage) is exactly what Republicans promised not to do in the midterms, and hardly gives a fair hearing to the concerns of many Americans.
Fortunately, the GOP has plenty of time to correct its efforts, but leadership should pay heed to the freshmen that gave it the majority. We really were serious about “read the bills”: