Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Parliamentary Observations on the Bailout Bill

By cooincidence, I tuned in to CSPAN while eating breakfast. (Yes, I know it was way too late in the morning, but I'd been immersed in other things and lost track of time.) As some of you know, the House rejected the Bailout Bill. I, like solarbird am amazed that the leadership let the vote go off without knowing they had the votes to pass it. I note that a majority of the Republicans voted against it, rejecting a plan from their own President's administration.

Here's some of the things that interested me, as a parliamentarian, in how the vote went:

1. They held the vote open a long time -- about thirty minutes. I assume that the hubub in the chamber was attempts at last-minute arm-twisting to get people to change their votes, and I may be wrong, but I think I saw a few votes switch near the end, although at least one of them might have been a tactical switch, because of #3 below.

2. There were a lot of shouts of "order!" and "Madame Speaker!" coming from the House floor, as members tried to prod the Chair into finishing the vote (which had certainly been completed) and declaring the results. I don't watch enough CSPAN to know how common this is. It seems to me like a little bit of the customary stuffiness decorum might have broken down.

3. When a bill gets a final result in the House, there is this bit of parliamentary magic that almost always happens, which is "without objection, the motion to Reconsider is laid on the table." Reconsider is an American motion that allows a member of the prevailing side to reopen the original question. Under House rules, it takes a 2/3 vote to pull something off the table once it is laid there. (Remember that this is American usage of "table" in the sense of "set aside," not the British usage of "place before the assembly for consideration.") Because a House session lasts for a full year (as opposed to "ordinary" assemblies, where every meeting is a stand-alone session), if you didn't set Reconsider aside like that, anyone on the prevailing side could reopen the matter pretty easily.

What surprised me was that one of the members -- I missed who it was, it came quickly -- posed a parliamentary inquiry asking "I was on the prevailing side; if I were to move to Reconsider, when would the vote be taken on it?"

The Chair said that she would put the question immediately.

"Isn't that at the Chair's discretion?" was the reply.

What I liked was that a momentarily open mic on the floor caught these two bits:

-- "Are you sure you want to do that?"

-- "At least it would give us a little more ti--" [microphone cut off]

The Chair insisted that if someone moved to Reconsider, she would put it to a vote immediately.

The person on the floor withdrew his potential motion, and the Chair send the Reconsider to the table where it will stick. I assume that representative had changed his vote at the last minute in a tactical move so that he could move reconsideration if it looked like it would delay final action and give them a chance to hammer something out.

I may not know the House rules sufficiently well, but if I were one of the people pushing this proposal and if I thought I had a chance of getting it passed, I might have objected to the Reconsider being laid on the table, without actually moving it, with the idea that sometime later today or tomorrow moving reconsideration once I'd rounded up another fifteen or so votes to swing it my way.

Update, 12:30: Added a bit in #3 explaining a bit about tactically voting on the other side when you're going down in order to preserve the possibility of moving to Reconsider.
Tags: parliamentary procedure, politics

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