Sept. 18, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Vote Now: Where Should Roll Call Travel for the Midterm Elections?

The Fear of Losing Can Trigger New Troubles

The other suspension bill that failed that same day was a measure to require the United Nations to pay back certain U.S. overpayments to the organization. The final vote was 27 votes short of the two-thirds necessary, with only 23 Democrats voting for it and just two Republicans voting against.

The main complaint lodged against the expedited consideration of both measures was that they had not been properly reported by any committee and Members therefore did not have sufficient time or information to cast intelligent votes.

Early glitches like these are to be expected as a new majority finds its sea legs. The Speaker chalked them up to “rookie mistakes.” The Majority Whip had not whipped either bill, assuming they were noncontroversial. The new Democratic majority in the 110th Congress lost 24 motions to recommit to the minority. In the following Congress, it lost 26 suspension bills (probably trying to avoid more recommit losses).

The larger issue worth watching closely is whether the majority leadership will react by putting more pressure on Republicans to support suspension measures as an alternative to allowing the more open amendment process on bills they had promised. Democrats have already made clear they intend to use motions to recommit to offer politically strategic amendments, and Republicans may already be reacting out of fear to that prospect by finding ways around such motions.

This could be the turning point at which majority Republicans decide either to keep their pledge of a more open process or return to the tried and abusive practices of past majorities. (So far, only two bills out of seven have been open to all amendments.) If they choose the latter path, they will soon learn, as they twice taught past Democratic majorities, that procedural chicanery carries a steep price — eventually resulting in the loss of majority status.

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.

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