The Corner

Re: Point of Parliamentary Procedure

Andy, the “House version” of the filibuster is a relatively recent innovation by which individual or groups of congressmen can halt legislation by offering rafts of amendments — sometimes hundreds. Interestingly, it was popularized by conservative Republicans fighting their own leadership on spending (Rep. Mike Pence spoke of this when he was at NR on Monday).

The problem is that, to do this, you’ve got to be under an “open rule.” Every bill is debated under a “rule” that fixes which amendments are germane, sets the debate time for both sides, etc. The all-powerful Rules Committee (always controlled by the majority) passes out a rule for each measure that is then voted on by the Committee of the Whole. These are the sorts of votes on which leadership can bank on party discipline, as they are too opaque and “inside baseball” for the general public to get worked up over (we managed to get NR readers amped about the “deem and pass” rule cooked up for Obamacare, but the MSM barely gave it a second thought).

The basic idea of debate under rules is not especially sinister: It is simply a way to control the abject chaos of the People’s House. But it used to be that lots of bills came out under “open rules” wherein any member in the chamber could move to amend at the appropriate time. Nancy Pelosi’s 111th is the first Congress in history that hasn’t brought a single bill out under an open rule.

I don’t know how much room for the “House filibuster” there would have been on a simple adjournment resolution in any event, but this is certainly not a majority that likes to air out disagreement.

Instead, House GOPers had to try and stop this the old-fashioned way: with floor speeches. Boehner et al. managed to shame 39 Democrats into voting against adjournment. Conversely, Pelosi was able to maintain a simple majority of those present and voting, securing adjournment by a single vote: 210–209.