This was a vote on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and prohibiting amendments to legislation which provided that if the Senate failed to pass a bill (by April 6, 2011) funding the federal government through September 2011, a House-passed government funding bill would be “deemed” current law.
In February, the House of Representatives passed legislation funding the federal government through September 2011 and cutting $61 billion from federal programs. The Democratic-controlled Senate had rejected that legislation. In addition, President Obama had threatened to veto it. In response, the Republican-controlled House drafted a bill—known as H.R. 1255—that would “deem” the House government-funding bill to have been enacted if the Senate failed to pass a government funding measure. In addition, H.R. 1255 barred members of Congress from receiving paychecks during a government shutdown.
Democrats argued that legislation in which the House “deemed” a bill that had never passed the Senate to be the law of the land was blatantly unconstitutional. Republicans contended that, since the underlying bill (H.R. 1255) would have to be passed by the Senate in order for the government-funding bill (H.R. 1) to become law, the H.R. 1255 was constitutional. The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez explained:
… If the Senate were to pass H.R. 1255 (and if the president were to sign it), the Senate would be determining its own rules for how H.R. 1 would become law (i.e., by the Senate not passing its own funding bill by April 6). So, that would be in accordance with the Constitution, the House Republicans’ argument goes.
In order for H.R. 1255 -- the measure stating that H.R. 1 can become law through only a vote of the House -- to become law, H.R. 1255 would have to pass both the House and the Senate and be signed by the president.
Nothing will happen if H.R. 1255 is only taken up by the House and not the Senate.
What it all boils down to is that the provision calling for H.R. 1 to become the “law of the land” (as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) termed it Wednesday) is moot unless the new measure is approved by both the Senate and the president — an unlikely prospect.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) urged support for the resolution and the underlying bill: “We have a crisis on our hands: unsustainable deficits as far as the eye can see, a national debt nearing statutory limitation, and overreaching government bureaucracy intruding into the lives and businesses of every sector of society, people struggling to find work so they can pursue the American Dream. And… they've [the American public] elected this Congress to face our nation's toughest issues head-on, and that's what House Republicans have been doing [in passing this bill].”
Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) argued: “I encourage my colleagues to vote in favor of this rule and in favor of the underlying legislation so that we will be able to take an unpleasant situation, ensure that the government doesn't shut down a week from today, and ensure that we can get back to the work that we're supposed to be doing this year…”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) opposed the resolution and the underlying bill: “This bill would not only have no practical effect, it's not even remotely constitutional. If my friends on the other side of the aisle want to put out a press release or issue a series of talking points, hey, it's a free country. But to waste the time of the House on something this ridiculous is an insult to the American people. We should be talking about jobs and the economy, not debating silliness that is supposed to appeal to the GOP's right-wing base….what this bill says is that if the Senate hasn't passed a continuing resolution by April 6, then H.R. 1 would be deemed as passed by the Senate, signed by the President, and enacted into law. You have got to be kidding me…If this is the new standard that the Republicans are going to use, I have a few ideas of my own. I would like to introduce a bill that says that the House deems the Red Sox to have won the 2011 World Series. It wouldn't mean anything. It wouldn't be constitutional. But it sure would be popular in Massachusetts.”
The House agreed to this resolution by a vote of 229-187. Voting “yea” were 229 Republicans. All 186 Democrats present and 1 Republican voted “nay.” As a result, the House proceeded to formal floor debate on 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.