Rep. Hill Votes No on Rules, but Quietly

Posted October 30, 2007 at 6:28pm

Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) has been leading a one-man protest against his leadership’s recent practice of considering legislation under a closed rule, though few people seem to have noticed.

Since late September, Hill has routinely voted no on most Rules Committee resolutions, which define the parameters of debate on the floor. Votes on such resolutions are largely decided along party lines. Hill has been one of a handful of Democrats to vote no, sometimes the lone Democrat dissenting.

“I think it should be an open rule,” Hill said Tuesday when asked about his recent votes.

Closed rules are generally used by the majority when it does not want to allow the minority to make political hay or upset a delicately negotiated bill by offering amendments. Republicans have complained this year about how often Democrats have used closed rules on key bills.

Hill has not yet raised the issue of open versus closed rules with Democratic leaders, but he will, he said. “I plan on doing it at some point, but I want it to be at the right time,” Hill said.

Democratic leaders confirmed they had no knowledge of Hill’s concerns.

“We’ve passed our rules with pretty good votes,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, adding that he had not talked to Hill.

Hill faces a difficult re-election race against former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.) in what will be the fourth contest pitting the two men against each other.

It is regular practice for vulnerable Democrats to vote for certain motions to recommit offered by Republicans, or against potentially controversial bills backed by their own party, as a way of garnering political cover. But those Members regularly vote with their party on rules motions, which are usually considered “loyalty votes” by both parties.

Beyond the issue of procedural fairness, there may be some political motivation for Hill’s votes.

One Democratic source suggested that Hill may be using the rules motions to increase the overall percentage of votes he casts in opposition to his own party — something that would be beneficial in his conservative, Republican-leaning district.

In large part, Hill has voted against the rule but then in favor of the underlying bill it governs on final passage.

On Oct. 18, Hill also was one of 12 Democrats to vote no on a recorded vote approving the previous day’s journal, another largely party-line procedural vote. Among the other Democrats who voted no on approving the journal that day were several vulnerable Members who represent GOP-friendly territory such as Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Jason Altmire (Pa.) and Brad Ellsworth (Ind.).

Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said she was unaware of Hill’s recent votes or his thoughts on closed rules, while Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the No. 2 Democrat on the Rules panel, said he planned to ask Hill about it on the floor.

“You want to do a protest, I guess you ought to let people know,” he said.