October 8, 2006
Suspend the Rules and Pass
By James Wilson
“Suspend the rules and pass.” That means, let's vote on a bill without debate. In the House of Representatives, a two-thirds vote is required for the bill to pass without debate. If the motion fails, that means the bill must be considered with time for debate. To suspend the rules and pass isn't always a bad thing. Some bills are so uncontroversial that debating them would just waste everyone's time. But this should not be used to rush through bills that Congress wants to get passed before adjournment. In practice, “suspend the rules and pass” really means, “let's not even read the bill, let's just be done with it.” In the last week of the 109th Congress, said Congress suspended the rules and passed the following bills: H. 5092, the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) Modernization and Reform Act of 2006.” 18 pages. HR 6164, the “National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006.” 60 pages. HR 5637, the “Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act of 2006.” 20 pages. HR 6115, the “Mark-to-Market Extension Act of 2006,” the purpose of which is “to extend the authority of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to restructure mortgages and rental assistance for certain assisted multifamily housing.” 6 pages. S. 2856, the “Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act” which is “an original bill to provide regulatory relief and improve productivity for insured depository institutions, and for other purposes.” 117 pages HR 6143, the “Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act” which will “amend title XXVI of the Public Health Service Act to revise and extend the program for providing life-saving care for those with HIV/AIDS.” 146 pages S. 3661. the “Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006.” This will “amend section 29 of the International Air Transportation Competition Act of 1979 relating to air transportation to and from Love Field, Texas.” 10 pages I have a confession to make. I don't really know what's in these bills. There are simply too many pages to read in order to make informed comments about them. But who cares what I think - the real scandal is that most members of Congress don't know what's in these bills either. But they pass them anyway. No wonder government gets bigger. Of course, not all bills fly by without debate. Then again, just because they're debated doesn't mean they're actually read by most Representatives. By and large, they're not. Among the other bills the House passed: S. 403, the “Child Custody Protection Act,” a “bill to amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit taking minors across State lines in circumvention of laws requiring the involvement of parents in abortion decisions.” 14 pages. HR 2679, the “Veterans' Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals, and Other Public Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2006.” This odd measure would “amend the Revised Statutes of the United States to prevent the use of the legal system in a manner that extorts money from State and local governments, and the Federal Government, and inhibits such governments' constitutional actions under the first, tenth, and fourteenth amendments.” 6 pages HR 6166, the “Military Commissions Act” (the infamous torture bill). 98 pages HR 5825, the “Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act” (the infamous warrantless spying bill). 42 pages S. 3930, the “Military Commissions Act” (Senate's final version of the torture bill). 38 pages. HR 4772, the “Private Property Rights Implementation Act of 2006,” which will supposedly ”simplify and expedite access to the Federal courts for injured parties whose rights and privileges under the United States Constitution have been deprived by final actions of Federal agencies or other government officials or entities acting under color of State law.” 13 pages. HR 4954, the SAFE Port Act, “to improve maritime and cargo security through enhanced layered defenses, and for other purposes.” Also bans internet gambling. LOL 79 pages Lastly, there were motions to “approve the Conference Report.” That's the final version of a bill after a committee of both House and Senate members work out differences between similar bills they passed. Passing this means the House approved sending the bill to the President for his signature. These bills were: HR 5631, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2007.” 60 pages HR 5441, the “Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007.” 109 pages HR 5122, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007” (another defense spending bill) 885 pages. In contrast, the Senate passed just three bills: S. 3930, the “Military Commissions Act” (Senate version of the torture bill). 38 pages. HR 5631, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2007 (approving the Conference Report) . 60 pages. HR 6061 “Secure Fence Act of 2006.” 8 pages. In sum, the House passed 17 bills containing an astonishing 1691 pages, and the Senate passed three bills with 106 pages. Let's hope many of the bills the House passed stall in the Senate. To see the specific bills and resolutions mentioned above, or to see how specific members of Congress voted, click here for the House and here for the Senate. Roll calls are listed in reverse chronological order. To find the number of pages of a bill, we use the GPO PDF Display of the bill’s text.
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