This was a vote on an amendment that would have required that institutions of higher education serving large numbers of disabled veterans receive “special consideration” for federal funding provided by the underlying bill.The proposal would essentially put schools that serve disabled veterans in the same category (with respect to eligibility for federal funding) as institutions such as Gallaudet, a university for the blind. The amendment was offered to a bill intended to make the U.S. more competitive in the world.
The House first debated H.R. 5116 (which was a bill intended to make the U.S. more competitive in the world) on May 13. Republicans offered a motion to recommit that eliminated all new programs established by the bill (including a loan guarantee program for small manufacturers seeking to improve their competitiveness through technological innovation), and froze spending on existing programs at 2010 levels. (A motion to recommit with instructions is the minority's last chance to make substantive changes to a bill before a final up-or-down vote on the measure. If successful, the motion sends the legislation back to committee with instructions to amend the legislation as specified. ) The motion to recommit also would have required colleges and universities receiving funds provided by the bill to allow military recruiters on their campuses. In addition, the motion to recommit prohibited federal funds from being used to view, download, or exchange pornography.
The motion to recommit effectively put Democrats in a difficult political position. In order to preserve programs they supported – such as the loan guarantee program described above – they would have to oppose a ban on federal funds from being used to view and disseminate pornography.
The GOP motion to recommit passed 292-126, with 121 Democrats voting “yea” (with Republicans). Since Republicans had succeeded in making such drastic changes to the bill, Democratic leaders then withdrew the legislation from the House floor without holding a vote on final passage. The Democratic leadership then brought a scaled-down version of the bill (designed to attract Republican support) to the floor under suspension of the rules; this procedure prohibits the minority party from offering any amendments or a motion to recommit. It also requires, however, that bills receive a two-thirds majority vote for passage. Although the scaled-down version bill included a number of the proposals from the GOP motion to recommit – including the anti-pornography language – most Republicans still voted against the measure, denying it the two-thirds majority required for passage.
Since the House had never voted on passage of H.R. 5116 on May 13 following the successful motion to recommit, House rules allowed Democratic leaders to bring the bill up again as “unfinished business.” Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) then demanded that the motion to recommit be divided into different sections (this rarely used procedure is known as “dividing the question”). Thus, the motion to recommit was split into nine separate parts. Roll call votes were held on six of the nine sections. (No roll call vote was requested on the remaining three sections.) This vote was on the sixth section, which dealt with disabled veterans.
No debate occurred on any sections of the GOP motion to recommit. During debate on the motion to recommit on May 13, however, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) urged support for this component of the GOP proposal: “I cannot for the life of me understand why there's a resistance to assisting the Nation's disabled veterans. Of the 3.1 million disabled veterans in this country, over 50,000 are currently training to receive undergraduate degrees and an additional 2,800 participate in graduate school programs. The schools serving these men and women deserve the same consideration as those assisting other underrepresented populations.”
Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), the chairman of the committee that drafted the bill, argued that H.R. 5116 already guaranteed that disabled veterans receive special consideration: “…Language was put in the bill both for scholarships for individual veterans and also for those institutions. Let me read this to you, ‘For the purposes of the activities and programs supported by this Act and the amendments made in this Act, institutions of higher education offering…research education activities and programs that serve veterans with disabilities shall receive special consideration and review’….So we have taken care of that.”
When the Science and Technology Committee had drafted the bill, Gordon had made an additional argument against Hall’s specific proposed language. Gordon contended that, since nearly all universities enroll veterans, Hall’s proposal would open a limited funding source for schools serving the disabled to an unsustainable number of schools. As a result, he contended, schools like Gallaudet would lose funding: “The concern that I have here is…this is such an expansion that it covers everywhere where it makes nobody special in this regard.…which really reduces the benefits to Gallaudet and to those other schools. So I think your intention is good, but I am afraid that the expense is too large.”
Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) articulated this point somewhat more succinctly: “…Insofar as every college and university in America ought to be serving veterans with disabilities, by opening it [special consideration for federal funding] up to every college and institution, we are not targeting anybody.”
Gordon argued the language included in the bill (quoted above from May 13 floor debate) accomplished Hall’s stated objective in a manner which was realistic and feasible.
The House rejected this section of the GOP motion to recommit by a vote of 197-215. 171 Republicans and 26 Democrats voted “yea.” 215 Democrats – including all of the most progressive members – voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected the section of the GOP motion to recommit that would have required that institutions of higher education that serve large numbers of disabled veterans receive “special consideration” for funding provided by all programs in H.R. 5116 – language which Democrats argued was duplicative of what was already in the bill.