This vote was on a motion to send a bill outlining the rules of the House and its committee structure in the 111th Congress to a select committee for a rewrite (known as a "motion to recommit"). David Dreier, R-Calif., who made the motion, wanted the bill rewritten to remove a provision that lifts a six-year cap on how long someone can serve as chairman of a committee. Dreier also wanted to remove a provision in the bill that directs that any motions to recommit made in the future must be reported back "forthwith" rather than "promptly."
In the unusual language of the House of Representatives, if a motion is to be reported “forthwith,” that means the change in question is executed on the floor of the House, and consideration resumes immediately. If it is to be reported “promptly,” the bill actually is in fact sent back to committee, where the bill can die easily. The bill under consideration would remove promptly as an option during recommittal motions; Dreier wanted that language removed, which would have kept it as an option for killing legislation. In the past year, Republicans have repeatedly attempted to use this parliamentary maneuver, much to the dismay of the Democratic leadership of the House, who argue it is just a delaying tactic.
"We’ve repeatedly had academics quoted here over the past hour about the use of “promptly” and the fact that it kills legislation. Time and time again from the Chair, the Speaker of the House has ruled that a measure that is recommitted to a committee promptly is not killing the bill. Until the Chair says that, it is not killing the bill," Dreier said.
Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said motions to recommit were not intended to be used in the manner in which Republicans have chosen.
"The motion to recommit was not designed for this purpose. It was designed to be a tool for legislating, not a political weapon. Repeatedly, the Democratic majority attempted to work with the Republican minority on their motions to recommit, but every time we offered to accept their motion in return for not killing the bill, the Republican minority refused. They chose talking points over accomplishments. They chose to be the party of obstructionism, not offering alternatives, but instead trying to derail the entire process for political gain. It’s a cynical way to do business," McGovern said.
By a vote of 174-249, the motion was defeated along party lines. Every Republican present voted for the motion, while every Democrat present voted against it. The end result is that the motion to rewrite the bill to preserve the ability to report a bill "promptly" rather than "forthwith" was defeated, and therefore made it more difficult for the minority party to kill legislation.