What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Lobbying Reform & Government Transparency : Providing for the consideration (H. Res. 383) of legislation to increase opportunities for participation by small business in federal contracting (H.R. 1873)/On adoption of the rule (2007 house Roll Call 312)
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Providing for the consideration (H. Res. 383) of legislation to increase opportunities for participation by small business in federal contracting (H.R. 1873)/On adoption of the rule
house Roll Call 312     May 09, 2007
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This was the final vote on the rules for debate on a bill aiming to increase participation by small businesses in federal contracting. The legislation would limit the ability of federal agencies to bundle small projects into large contracts and require the Small Business Administration (SBA) to take steps to reduce incorrect entries in the government's contractor registry.

The resolution outlined the rules for debate for the legislation, including how much floor time would be granted to each side and which amendments would be considered in order. The resolution is thus commonly known as the rules package.

Republicans opposed the rules package because of their opposition to the so-called "structured rule" proposed by the Democratic-controlled Rules Committee. Under a structured rule, only amendments pre-approved by the Rules Committee can be offered on the House floor.

Since 1953, with the enactment of the Small Business Act, Congress declared as the policy of the federal government to promote small businesses and ensure that a "fair proportion" of federal contracts go to small businesses. The almost 26 million small businesses in the United States employ over half of all private sector workers and pay approximately 45 percent of total U.S. private payroll, yet small businesses in 2006 won just over a fifth of federal contracts, and even that figure is believed to be a overestimate given accounting maneuvers by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to inflate the figure. Yet even with the dubious accounting, SBA has failed to meet its goal of 23 percent of federal contracts going to small businesses for the past six years.

The legislation aims to remedy the shortcomings by preventing SBA from "bundling," the practice of combining two or more smaller contracts into a single, larger package whose scope is out of reach for many small businesses. The bill would also require the federal government to more accurately report the number of small businesses awarded federal contracts and prevent the agency from counting contracts awarded to larger companies in its small business contracting goals.

Despite bipartisan support for the legislation, Republicans were upset at what they characterized as being shut out of the amendment process. They said not even one Republican amendment was made in order by the Rules Committee. Republicans believed that several changes to the bill included in what's known as a manager's amendment (which would be automatically adopted with the rules package) would harm small businesses. A manager's amendment is proposed by the chairman of the committee of jurisdiction and outlines both technical and substantial changes to the legislation after it is passed out of committee.

"So I think the question is begged, how can the majority claim to be fostering an open legislative process when it totally shuts out the minority?" asked Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).

Democrats said that although no Republican amendments by themselves were made in order by the Rules Committee, some bipartisan amendments were.

"So to say that no Republican suggestions were made in order was simply not totally accurate," Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) said. "We believe that this is, in fact, a very good use of the time of the Members of this House."

Diaz-Balart responded that he found it "quite interesting to see that now it is important for the minority to pair with members from the majority party in order to be considered, that pairing with someone from the other side makes the denial of amendments to all Republican amendments apparently fair."

Cardoza shot back that in the last two years under Republican control of the House, the Rules Committee reported a "grand total" of three open rules (with the exception of spending bills), meaning that only in these three cases had all amendments had been allowed. In the first four months of Democratic control, Cardoza said, the majority has already allowed seven open rules. "Say what you want, we have already had a fairer and far more open process than happened in just the last two years of the prior majority's rule, when their party ran this place," Cardoza concluded.

The partisan rhetoric was reflected in the total conformity of each party in voting on the rules package. All 197 Republicans present opposed it, and all 223 Democrats present voted for it. Thus, the House approved the rules of consideration for a bill aiming to increase the participation of small businesses in the federal contracting process, and the legislation was brought up for debate, amendment and an up-or-down vote on the House floor.

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