Senate to Take Up Continuity Bill Quickly

Posted July 21, 2004 at 6:49pm

Senate leaders plan to bring up legislation as early as Thursday or Friday that would expedite special elections in the event that more than 100 House Members were killed.

“We are going to try to move that quickly, but if we can’t move it by [unanimous consent], it will have to wait until after the recess,” said Amy Call, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

However, to overcome a possible objection by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the majority may have to agree to limit unrelated amendments that are unacceptable to the House, perhaps by tackling the bill in wrap-up. A Democratic leadership aide indicated late Wednesday that such discussions were ongoing.

“We are not aware of any [terrorist] targets at the conventions, … but the fact of the matter is we are going to be gone for seven weeks,” the aide said, adding that since this is likely to be the only fully amendable “must-pass” measure brought up before the recess, Senators will be tempted to add political-agenda items to the continuity measure.

Although the bill is not Dodd’s preferred approach to the continuity dilemma, he believes it is an important stopgap measure as other approaches, including constitutional amendments, are considered, the aide said.

“We’re trying to work with the majority to get this up, to get this passed and signed by the president” before the conventions, the aide said. Extraneous riders would prevent such an expedited course. “People are going to have to put their politics and their election-year agenda aside and get this done,” the aide said.

The bill, H.R. 2844, was drafted by House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and would require states to ensure that elections occurred within 45 days of a declaration by the Speaker that more than 100 Members had been killed.

Sensenbrenner, along with many House Members, opposes any constitutional amendment to address the dilemma Congress would find itself in if large numbers of Members were killed or incapacitated. In the latter scenario, both chambers might be unable to reach a quorum to do business.

In addition to Sensenbrenner’s bill to expedite special elections, the House leadership plans to bring up a rules change that would allow the chamber to reduce the quorum requirement if large numbers of Members were incapacitated, a proposal that constitutional scholars near unanimously believe would run counter to the Constitution.

Many Senators, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), believe the only way to ensure that Congress could fulfill its constitutional function under such scenarios would be to pass an amendment of some kind.