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Announcement By The Speaker Pro Tempore

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COOPER. Madam Speaker, I will vote against the Previous Question Motion today because I think the American people deserve a clear, up-or-down vote on health reform. They deserve to know how their elected representative voted, without any parliamentary confusion or obfuscation. In addition to being a transparency and fairness issue, this may also be a constitutional issue because of the consensus that the House and Senate must pass identical bills before they can be sent to the President for signature.

With all the publicity surrounding the so-called ``self-executing'' rule, this procedure will not fool anyone back home, nor should it. It is, however, apparently designed to fool enough members of the House into believing that they did not support the Senate bill, even though, if they support the health reform package, they voted for it as the major component of the health reform.

Unless we return to regular House procedure, we will never know how members would have voted on the Senate bill, by itself, and/or the reconciliation amendment, by itself. Since the President is apparently planning on signing the Senate bill before the Senate can take up the reconciliation amendment (as the Senate parliamentarian insists), no one will know who in the House of Representatives, in fact, supported the Senate bill. In simplistic terms, the White House will not know whom to invite to the signing ceremony.

All this might be a parliamentary dispute if the possibility did not exist that a constitutional challenge would be brought against health care reform legislation. All it would take is one or two federal judges to void this law because of a procedural failing. Supporters of reform will then regret taking this procedural shortcut, while opponents will welcome the opportunity to overturn the law and reopen the debate.

I realize that both political parties have used self-executing rules dozens, even hundreds, of times. But, to my knowledge, these rules have never been used on an issue larger than banning smoking on airplanes, a $40 billion deficit-reduction measure, or raising the debt ceiling of the United States. None of these issues compares with the scope of health care reform. To my knowledge, no serious constitutional challenge has been mounted against these rules, but one is certain to be lodged against the passage of health reform.

Voting is the most important part of our job. We must vote honestly and openly on the separate issues that come before us.

The material previously referred to by Ms. Foxx is as follows:

Amendment to H. Res. 1190 Offered by Ms. Foxx of North Carolina

At the end of the resolution, add the following new section:

Sec. 2. Immediately upon the adoption of this resolution the House shall, without intervention of any point of order, consider in the House the resolution (H. Res. 1188) ensuring an up or down vote on certain health care legislation. The resolution shall be considered as read. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the resolution to final adoption without intervening motion or demand for division of the question except: (1) one hour of debate equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Rules; and (2) one motion to recommit which may not contain instructions. Clause 1(c) of rule XIX shall not apply to the consideration of House Resolution 1188.

(The information contained herein was provided by Democratic Minority on multiple occasions throughout the 109th Congress)

The Vote on the Previous Question: What It Really Means

This vote, the vote on whether to order the previous question on a special rule, is not merely a procedural vote. A vote against ordering the previous question is a vote against the Democratic majority agenda and a vote to allow the opposition, at least for the moment, to offer an alternative plan. It is a vote about what the House should be debating.

Mr. Clarence Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives, (VI, 308-311) describes the vote on the previous question on the rule as ``a motion to direct or control the consideration of the subject before the House being made by the Member in charge.'' To defeat the previous question is to give the opposition a chance to decide the subject before the House. Cannon cites the Speaker's ruling of January 13, 1920, to the effect that ``the refusal of the House to sustain the demand for the previous question passes the control of the resolution to the opposition'' in order to offer an amendment. On March 15, 1909, a member of the majority party offered a rule resolution. The House defeated the previous question and a member of the opposition rose to a parliamentary inquiry, asking who was entitled to recognition. Speaker Joseph G. Cannon (R-Illinois) said: ``The previous question having been refused, the gentleman from New York, Mr. Fitzgerald, who had asked the gentleman to yield to him for an amendment, is entitled to the first recognition.''

Because the vote today may look bad for the Democratic majority they will say ``the vote on the previous question is simply a vote on whether to proceed to an immediate vote on adopting the resolution . . . [and] has no substantive legislative or policy implications whatsoever.'' But that is not what they have always said. Listen to the definition of the previous question used in the Floor Procedures Manual published by the Rules Committee in the 109th Congress, (page 56). Here's how the Rules Committee described the rule using information foci Congressional Quarterly's ``American Congressional Dictionary'': ``If the previous question is defeated, control of debate shifts to the leading opposition member (usually the minority Floor Manager) who then manages an hour of debate and may offer a germane amendment to the pending business.''

Deschler's Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, the subchapter titled ``Amending Special Rules'' states: a refusal to order the previous question on such a rule [a special rule reported from the Committee on Rules] opens the resolution to amendment and further debate.'' (Chapter 21, section 21.2) Section 21.3 continues: Upon rejection of the motion for the previous question on a resolution reported from the Committee on Rules, control shifts to the Member leading the opposition to the previous question, who may offer a proper amendment or motion and who controls the time for debate thereon.''

Clearly, the vote on the previous question on a rule does have substantive policy implications. It is one of the only available tools

for those who oppose the Democratic majority's agenda and allows those with alternative views the opportunity to offer an alternative plan.

Mr. McGOVERN. I yield back the balance of my time, and I move the previous question on the resolution.


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