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Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) raised a point of order against the special rule on grounds that it violated the requirement that the Clerk immediately enroll measures passed and send them on to the Senate or the president. His point of order was overruled on grounds that the special rule made an exception to that requirement. It is the constitutional right of either chamber, after all, to change its rules at any time. That’s precisely the purpose of special rules.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) secured a unanimous consent agreement to pave the way for this scenario. It provided that when the Senate received the papers from the House, it first consider the two concurrent resolutions, debatable for two minutes each, and with no amendments; and that it then consider the main bill, also for two minutes and no amendments. All three measures would require 60 votes for passage. This is routinely done on major bills in lieu of having to go through the 60-vote cloture process to overcome threatened filibusters. As expected, the two sidecar resolutions were rejected and the main bill passed overwhelmingly, 81-19.
Prior to that Senate vote, the leadership’s carefully choreographed dance almost unraveled in the House when a Congressional Budget Office explanation posted the day before the vote revealed dramatically less in savings than many had been led to believe: The $37.7 billion in budget authority cuts would translate into only $352 million in actual deficit reductions (outlays) this year, with the bulk of an estimated $20 billion to $25 billion in deficit reductions occurring in fiscal years 2012 to 2016.
It took 81 House Democrats to save the day when 59 Republicans voted “no.” No sooner had the moon-walkers successfully backed the fiscal 2011 bill off stage than they pivoted back on with the fiscal 2012 House budget resolution in tow —a timely partner switch to fast-dance forward.
Don Wolfensberger is director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.