This was a procedural 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 for the remainder of its fiscal year, a House-passed government funding bill would be “deemed” current law. If passed, this particular procedural motion--known as the “previous question"--effectively ends debate and brings the pending legislation to an immediate vote.
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. Rob Woodall (R-GA) urged support for the resolution and the underlying bill: “The only two things the underlying legislation does, it forces the government to stay open with funding levels, those funding levels provided in H.R. 1 if the Senate passes this bill, and it insists that no work in Congress receives no pay. Forty days we have waited on the Senate to act…but they have passed nothing…If you want to talk about jobs, if you want to talk about certainty, you have to bring a proposal to the table.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) opposed the resolution and the underlying bill: “Despite the urgent and dire issues facing our constituents, here we are, the U.S. House of Representatives, considering legislation that has no chance of becoming law. Today's legislation would `deem' a bill that the Senate has already voted down as passed by that very Senate. It would take a remarkable mind to even come up with such an idea….The Republican majority claims this bill is a solution to a government shutdown. I hope that discussions regarding the solution to a government shutdown are taking place in offices between Senate and House members and representatives of the [Obama] administration as we speak… The majority claims this bill is a solution, as I said. If this is their only solution, America is in big trouble.”
The House agreed to the previous question motion by a vote of 230-187. All 230 Republicans present voted “yea.” All 187 Democrats present voted “nay.” As a result, the House proceeded to a final 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 funding the federal government through September 2011, a House-passed government funding bill would be “deemed” current law.