This was a vote on a resolution outlining the rules for floor debate on two different bills. The first would establish the Castle Nugent estate in St. Croix (in the Virgin Islands) as a "national historic site." Such sites are owned by the federal government and managed by the National Park Service. The bill was introduced by Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands). Castle Nugent is a historic plantation overseer’s estate that dates back to the 1700s. The site spans approximately 2,900 acres of land.
The second measure would extend permits granted to private landowners to repair and maintain water diversions -- or projects that alter the the natural flow of water and divert it to another location, often by using dams or pipelines -- on national forest land in Idaho. Specifically, the measure pertains to land in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
The House had previously considered both bills under a procedure known as "suspension of the rules." Motions to suspend the rules limit time allowed for debate, and prohibit members from offering amendments. A two thirds vote is required to approve the motion and pass a bill, rather than the usual majority. While a majority of members voted in favor of the bills, they did not receive the two-thirds majority required for passage. Thus, Democrats rescheduled both measures for floor debate under a closed rule prohibiting amendments.
In a speech in favor of the rule, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) praised both bills: “From the early times of Yosemite and Yellowstone to the national monuments right here in Washington, D.C., our country has had the foresight to preserve the tangible places which house our Nation's character, identity and history. Today, the Castle Nugent National Historic Site Establishment Act of 2010 does the same for the history and identity of a unique place in our country, the U.S. Virgin Islands…. H.R. 4474 would give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to issue special use authorization to owners of these water storage transport or diversion facilities to allow for their continued maintenance of their water facilities, allowing local water rights and ensuring that they continue to access their water…. Mr. Speaker, this rule and both these bills are straightforward and provide a great deal of benefit, not only to our country, but also to the communities and residents who are most directly involved and impacted. I urge passage of the rule."
Republicans opposed the rule, arguing that the Democratic majority was stifling debate by denying them the opportunity to offer amendments. They also criticized the bills as fiscally irresponsible. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said: "I rise in opposition to this closed rule, yet another closed rule before the Congress, and I object to the process by which this bill was brought to the floor. Last week, both of the bills we're discussing today under this rule failed to get the two-thirds vote in this body. Instead of working together to resolve the differences with the bills between the leadership, my friends on the other side of the aisle, the majority, simply rescheduled them for floor action today with no Republican input….Today, Mr. Speaker, we're going to debate these bills, and once again, the Democrat leadership's priorities in this Congress--let's be honest about that--it's about spending money. Spending money, Mr. Speaker, is what this Democrat leadership priority is all about."
The House agreed to the resolution by a vote of 234-174. 232 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted "yea." 166 Republicans and 8 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House proceeded to floor debate on both a bill to establish the Castle Nugent estate in the Virgin Islands as a "national historic site" to be maintained by the National Park Service -- and on a bill to extend certain private landowners' permits to maintain and repair water projects on national forest land in Idaho.