This was a vote on a motion to recommit that would have prohibited members of Congress from being paid retroactively following a federal government shutdown. A motion to recommit with instructions is the minority's opportunity to torpedo or significantly change a bill before a final up-or-down vote on the measure. This motion to recommit was offered to legislation which provided that if the Senate failed to pass a bill funding the federal government through September 2011, a House-passed government funding bill would be “deemed” current law.
The underlying bill, however, only barred members of Congress from being paid during a government shutdown. That bill would not have altered member’s annual salaries because they would still have been compensated retroactively once the government commenced normal operations. This motion to recommit, however, would have barred members of Congress from receiving any compensation whatsoever for the work period spanning the government shutdown.
Republicans argued that the Democratic motion was unconstitutional because the 27th amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from altering members’ pay in the middle of a congressional session. Under the 27th amendment, no laws “varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” The Obama administration had released a statement concurring with this position—that the Democratic motion was unconstitutional.
Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) urged support for this motion to recommit: “…If we don't get our work done--and I will do everything in my power to ensure we do not shut this government down--the repercussions are catastrophic for Americans, and not just macroeconomically. Our seniors aren't going to get their checks. We're going to see medical care slowed down to our veterans. We're going to hear from and we have heard from our military commanders that it stresses the readiness of this nation. Our federal workers and even the hardworking staff here will not receive a paycheck.”
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) opposed the motion to recommit: “…They come to the floor and give us something which the White House says in its email to me is `patently unconstitutional,' not may be unconstitutional, not perhaps unconstitutional, not arguably unconstitutional, but `patently unconstitutional.'… Now, I may have disagreements with the president, but I have no evidence whatsoever that the president is waiting with bated breath over at the White House for us to send something to him so that he can do an unconstitutional act. Perhaps the gentleman believes that is the position he wants to put the President in. And even though I have great disagreement with this president, frankly, I don't think that is an appropriate thing to do.”
The House rejected this motion to recommit by a vote of 188-237. Voting “yea” were 187 Democrats and 1 Republican. 236 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected a motion to recommit that would have prohibited members of Congress from being paid retroactively following a federal government shutdown.