The House on Tuesday could have approved nearly three dozen mostly noncontroversial bills by voice vote, but Rep. Tim Huelskamp was not going to let that happen.
The Kansas Republican sat on the floor for hours Tuesday afternoon and evening to request roll call votes on 19 of 34 scheduled suspension bills. He is considering doing the same for the six on the suspension calendar for Wednesday.
“[It] just happened to be, we think, the biggest day in the last four years. I'm not sure what the numbers are, but certainly the biggest day in the last two years," Huelskamp told reporters Tuesday night, referring to the lengthy lineup of bills that leadership hoped to expedite.
Around this time in 2014, there was a week when 30 bills were voted on under suspension of the rules, he said. Huelskamp cited 49 as the number of suspension bills that were on the weekly schedule House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent out Friday, but it appears some were dropped off the schedule.
Bills placed on the suspension calendar are typically noncontroversial, bipartisan measures, since voting on the bills under the procedure requires a two-thirds majority for passage. The expedited process allows legislation to skip the Rules Committee and go straight to the floor, where each measure is granted an hour of debate.
The vast majority of suspension bills are noncontroversial, taking up matters such as the renaming of U.S. post offices. Though they come up for voice votes, they can still make significant policy changes.
“How do they get on there?” Huelskamp said. “Who knows. It's not a transparent, open process."
Huelskamp is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus but he said his decision to force the roll call votes was not made in conjunction with other caucus members.
Still, some lawmakers applauded his decision. Freedom Caucus member Justin Amash of Michigan thanked Huelskamp on Twitter “for remaining on the House floor to request yeas/nays on bills that congressional leaders had hoped to pass [without] roll call.”
While Huelskamp has never been afraid to buck Republican leadership, he's been even less reserved since he lost his primary in August to a challenger supported by the establishment wing of the party.
Last week, Huelskamp said he might force a floor vote on a resolution to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, even after Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio and Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia cut a deal to hold a hearing with Koskinen and push a floor vote off until after the election.
Huelskamp appeared to back off that stance Tuesday, saying he would wait to decide what to do until after the Koskinen hearing on Wednesday. He noted that he has more time to call up a vote now that the House is expected to be in session next week; when he first contemplated the move last week, it looked like the House might leave early at the end of this week.
The move to force votes on the suspension bills is not related to the IRS matter, Huelskamp said.
The congressman said he believes leadership’s process for putting together the suspension calendar centers around asking committee chairmen and ranking members what bills they want to see. “But what about everybody else who is not part of that establishment?” he said.
During his time sitting on the floor Tuesday, Huelskamp said he asked one of the Democrats who had a bill on the suspension calendar how it got there and the member said, “I don’t know.”
William Wolfe, deputy director of Government Relations at the conservative Heritage Action for America, panned the suspension process in a blog post Tuesday as one that “obscures transparency and grows government with little to no accountability.”
“Legislation considered under suspension should not make any substantial policy changes or incur significant costs to the taxpayers,” Wolfe wrote. “Unfortunately, many of the bills on the suspension calendar regularly violate these principles, and this week is no exception; in fact, it is worse than most.”
In asking for recorded votes, Huelskamp said he focused on bills that made policy changes. He likely missed some when he stepped off the floor for a time.
“A number of these bills — under an open rule — should be considered,” he said, citing a bill that makes changes to Medicaid as an example.
Wolfe also cited that bill, the so-called Special Needs Trust Fairness Act, introduced by Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Glenn Thompson, as one it found objectionable. “The bill expands Medicaid, uses budgetary gimmicks, and provides $24 million for a slush fund at HHS,” he wrote.
Huelskamp argued that the American people deserve to see how members vote on these bills.
While that might not seem objectionable, Huelskamp said he did hear from members who were not happy to see him forcing roll call votes.
“Actually a lot of folks came up to me — I did learn the names of some members I hadn't met before — [and said], 'Please don't put this up for a vote.' … One gentleman came up and said, 'Well I already have a deal in the Senate.' This was introduced a week ago,” he said.
Huelskamp pointed to a bill from Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington that would include disabled veteran leave in the personnel management system of the Federal Aviation Administration and was introduced on Sept. 8 as an example of how some of the measures were being rushed through without time for debate. The measure has four co-sponsors.
Huelskamp said there are thousands of other bills from members that have not received votes and that members complain about their bills not moving. He noted he had no bills of his own that he was upset about not getting a vote.
“I know of bills with 218 plus sponsors,” Huelskamp said. “[Leadership] won't even let them come up for a debate."