John Boehner’s Failed Gambit
In case you are interested in the decisions being made on Capitol Hill and not too caught up in the Michael Jackson circus, I’d like to provide a summary of a very interesting day in the House. As you may have heard, the House passed H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This is also referred to as “ACES”, “Waxman-Markey”, or the cap and trade (cap and tax) legislation.
The short summary of the bill says that it will “create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition [the US] to a clean energy economy.” The official long summary is quite long. The GOP will tell you that it will destroy our economy.
This legislation was officially introduced on May 15, but has been long anticipated since this session began in early January. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had vowed to get the bill passed before the July 4 recess in the House. As I had mentioned on this blog a few weeks ago, the bill checked in at 932 pages at the time. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, admitted that he had not read the whole bill and hired a speed reader to read part of the bill in a committee hearing in an act of disturbing arrogance. See the link above for more details.
Over the last few weeks, the Democrats have been preparing to get the bill ready for a vote on the floor. It had been reported that the vote would be a close call. That brings us to the events last night and today. The powerful House Committee on Rules published H. Res. 587 late last night (well, early this morning) which laid out the nature of the debate which would be had today on the House Floor.
For those of you not familiar with the Rules Committee, I think it is arguably the most powerful committee in the House - more so than Ways and Means or Appropriations. The Rules Committee determines which bills will go to the floor of the House for a vote. They determine which amendments to the bill may be considered on the floor and the nature in which they may be considered. Finally, they determine the amount of time which will be given to debate for a particular bill or amendment. As you can see, they can pretty much control what gets done. Pelosi knows this (so has just about every other Speaker since the late 1800’s) and uses it to its fullest advantage. Oh, if that’s not enough, the Rules Committee is the only committee with significantly disproportionate representation from the majority party (9 D’s and 4 R’s).
So, H. Res 587 was introduced last night for consideration today. They unilaterally adopted an alternate version of H.R. 2454 in the form of H.R. 2998 with an additional amendment submitted by Waxman. They also rejected all alternate versions and amendments proposed by the Republicans except that of Randy Forbes (R-VA) in the form of H.R. 513 as an alternate version to ACES (in its new 2998/Waxman form). Did you follow that?! The full report from the committee can be read here (caution, it is 349 pages).
Why is the report 349 pages? Because it contains the text of the new Waxman amendment which was to be adopted as part of the official version of the bill for vote today. So, if you are keeping track… a few weeks back the bill was 932 pages; H.R. 2454 in its most recent form was 1092 pages; the alternate version of H.R. 2998 was 1201 pages and introduced on June 23 (three days ago); and the Waxman amendment was 310 pages of changes to the 1201 page version and was introduced last night. John Boehner (R-OH), the Minority Leader, indicated that the text became available at 3:09AM this morning.
Boehner, of course, felt this was all ridiculous. I’m not fan of Boehner, and the GOP has played the same dirty tricks in the past when they were in control, but I supported him in his frustration today. As mentioned earlier, the Rules Committee sets the amount of time allowed for debate on the floor of the House. Parliamentary procedures in the House lead to strict accordance to these time limits except when it comes to the Speaker, and the two Leaders. The three leaders are given as much time as they’d like as a matter of custom. For important bills, they usually are given the last word when each side only has one minute of time left. Boehner took full advantage today.
When Boehner began his speech in opposition to the legislation, he attempted to make it clear that voting on a 1200 page bill with a 300 page amendment made available only hours earlier was ludicrous. He made his point by speaking for over an hour reading “highlights” from the Waxman amendment which his staff no doubt had furiously gathered throughout the day. And he read a lot of “highlights” to the point where he addressed text on probably 100 of the 300 pages of the amendment. Waxman attempted to stop the virtual filibuster, but was unsuccessful (view the full 5+ hour debate on C-SPAN here or the Waxman interchange on YouTube here).
Once Boehner finally stopped talking, Pelosi gave a quick speech. The Forbes amendment was defeated, and the revised Waxman/ACES/2454/2998 bill passed narrowly (219-212). The vote details are not yet available on GovTrack - I will link them when they become available. If you can’t wait, you can scroll through the details here.
This was an interesting saga, but I have to chime in here with some opinion. I found this episode disgusting. I find it disgusting that the majority had the audacity to push forward a huge bill which could not possibly have been read by those who voted for it. In fact, I would be surprised if even one member of Congress actually read the entire 300 page amendment, let alone the 1200 page bill. Further, having attempted to read legislation like this in the past myself, it is nearly impossible to comprehend legislation like this without having a copy of the U.S. Code sitting nearby since countless references are often made to existing laws.
If you seriously think that your Congress is representing you, then you are sadly mistaken. This goes for members of both sides of the aisle because the culture in Washington is the problem. Both sides have their staff with the assistance of lobbyists and other lawyers of special interest groups draft massive legislation which is not likely read by the members of Congress. Most bills are filled with provisions which are unrelated to the core legislation. There are countless other gimmicks and tricks used to get things done. All of it is played up on a grand stage where the two sides point fingers at each other - usually accusing the other side of intolerable acts which they committed themselves when in the reverse position (i.e. the GOP accusing the Dems of abusing their power as the majority when that is precisely what they did when they had power).
Please, I urge you to reflect on this. I can’t square this circle. I can’t reconcile how one could honestly think that this legislation was passed with open eyes. This is just one example. The Sunlight Foundation is an organization which is working to fight for more transparency in Washington. One of their initiatives is “Read the Bill” which would seek to urge/require Congress to wait at least 72 hours to vote on a bill after being published. This is not enough, but it is a start. I signed the petition tonight.