What: All Issues : Labor Rights : Providing for consideration (H. Res. 382) of legislation to authorize $40 billion for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1684)/Motion to order the previous question (end debate and prevent amendment) (2007 house Roll Call 310)
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Providing for consideration (H. Res. 382) of legislation to authorize $40 billion for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1684)/Motion to order the previous question (end debate and prevent amendment)
house Roll Call 310     May 09, 2007
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This motion was offered to force a vote on the rules for debate on a bill to authorize $39.8 billion for the Homeland Security Department for fiscal 2008.

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. This vote was a motion ordering the previous question, which is a parliamentary maneuver that effectively ends debate, prohibits amendment and moves the House to a vote for an up-or-down of the resolution under consideration.

To oppose ordering the previous question was a vote against the Democratic majority agenda and to allow the opposition to offer an alternative plan. Motions to order the previous question are about who controls the debate and represent one of the only tools available to those who oppose the majority's agenda.

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.

Many Republicans were upset over a provision in the legislation that would scrap the Homeland Security Department's current personnel system, whereby employees are effectively excluded from the civil service protections afforded to other federal workers. President Bush threatened to veto the measure over the provision, arguing that it would take away the agency's "flexibilities" in managing employees.

"This bill gets at the heart of the management problems within the Department," Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) said. "As we all know, the Department was created by combining the work of 22 separate agencies. This process of integration has had many, many challenges, poor communication between agencies, a lack of qualified management, unusually high turnover of senior personnel."

Democrats said the previous Republican-controlled Congress made the problems worse by not passing an authorization bill for fiscal 2007 (and instead funding the agency without a separate bill fine-tuning its operations).

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) responded that Democrats had manipulated the process by attempting to undo what had been a bipartisan bill to emerge out of the Homeland Security committee with what's known as a manager's amendment that Diaz-Balart said would significantly alter the bill. A manager's amendment is a package of changes to legislation by the chairman of the committee to modify the original bill before it is taken up by the full House.

"Most of the provisions stricken by the manager's amendment had become part of the bill through Republican amendments in the committee process," Diaz-Balart said. He pointed out two changes he said were most egregious. The first would strike post-employment lobbying restrictions that would have ensured that department employees could not lobby any part of the agency for a year after their departures. The second provision would strike nonbinding language calling for the implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendation to establish a single point of oversight of homeland security in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.

"Now, that is one of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and precisely it is one that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle ran on in the elections, the promise to enact the 9/11 Commission recommendations," Diaz-Balart said. "Yet here they have an opportunity to follow through on their campaign promise, but, instead, they strike the provision from the bill through the manager's amendment. And they don't even allow for the provision to be debated in the form of an amendment on the floor."

The rules of consideration automatically stipulated for the adoption of the manager's amendment, meaning that a vote for the rules package was also a vote to adopt the manager's amendment. The structured rule prevented Republicans from offering amendments to provisions they wished to see changed unless the Rules Committee had pre-approved them.

"The Rules Committee had the opportunity to allow an open rule on this bill, but the suggestion that we do so, that we come forth with an open rule, was voted down by the majority on the Rules Committee," Diaz-Balart said. "Instead, they decided to report out a restrictive rule, thereby shutting out Members who had worked diligently to prepare their amendments."

If the motion for the previous question is defeated, the House in effect turns control of the floor over to the lawmaker who led the opposition to the question at hand, usually a member of the minority party. As such, motions to order the previous question are usually party-line votes, and the majority party almost always prevails.

Such was the case for this vote, and all Republicans present voted against the measure and all but three Democrats present voted for it, and the motion passed 217-199. Thus, on a party-line vote, the House ended debate and brought to a vote the rules for consideration for legislation that would authorize $39.8 billion for the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal 2008.

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