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How did the U.S. House pass the payroll tax cut extension?
December 24, 2011 8:15 AM   Subscribe

How did the U.S. House of Representatives pass the payroll tax cut extension yesterday when hardly any members were present?

I've been looking online and can't seem to find the answer. I thought the House needed a quorum of a majority of its membership in order to do business. So how did they manage to pass this?
posted by Tin Man to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Through unanimous consent, which doesn't require a quorum, but does require nobody objecting.
posted by holgate at 8:31 AM on December 24, 2011


More detailed explanation of the mechanics from DKos's David Waldman.
posted by holgate at 8:35 AM on December 24, 2011


In general*, the House has a quorum until it officially notices that it doesn't.

*Actually, AFAIK this is always the case for normal business as opposed to the occasional weirdo business like electing presidents, but there's likely at least one exception buried somewhere in the Oleszek bible.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:08 AM on December 24, 2011


[answers not soapboxes please, thank you]
posted by jessamyn at 10:19 AM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh. Weird. I guess holgate's links explain how it happened, but I don't understand why it was allowed to happen that why. If a quorum isn't required, then why require a quorum for anything? Why did Boehner feel a need to cave to the tea partiers in the first place if their votes weren't even necessary for the extension to pass?
posted by Tin Man at 12:50 PM on December 24, 2011


I don't understand why it was allowed to happen that why. If a quorum isn't required, then why require a quorum for anything?

A quorum is required. The procedures holgate linked to don't, strictly speaking, get around the requirement for a quorum -- they can't, because while you can suspend the rules, you can only suspend the rules, not the Constitution. Your witty objection that we suspend the Constitution all the time can be considered read, and it was very droll indeed.

But. A quorum is assumed until someone raises the point of order that there is no quorum, and a quorum count is held and fails. This does mean that, in practice, less than a quorum can do business so long as nobody raises that point of order. In more or less normal practice, this is not a big deal since by definition it could only happen for massively consensual business.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:14 PM on December 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


All it takes is a single objection to call for a quorum, so it's pretty unlikely it would be abused to pass something which didn't really have close to unanimous consent.
posted by empath at 3:07 PM on December 24, 2011


And the reason it's allowed to happen is that sometimes it's convenient to pass a bill without anyone being on record as voting for it or against it.
posted by empath at 3:08 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, they can do that with other things too (like just not taking the ayes and nays), though casting it as a unanimous consent motion does prevent some jerk from requesting them. Usually they'd ignore quorum requirements for stuff that's consensual and / or low salience -- IIRC, a lot of debate in Committee of the Whole can have very few people in it.

In this case, it looks like they ignored it so that more people could go home.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:11 PM on December 24, 2011


The Senate also uses unanimous consent to pass temporary/emergency/uncontroversial measures during a "recess." The Senate will be holding two pro-forma sessions next week for this purpose, and to avoid calling a "real" recess (which hasn't been done in quite a while if I remember correctly) to avoid the legal ramifications which grant considerable extra power to the President.

This formal (and expensive) process has been the de-facto norm for so long that we should really consider amending the constitution to eliminate the need to hold Pro Forma sessions. Sadly, many Americans consider the Constitution as scripture, and we'll probably never fix this, or other obviously-broken portions (ie. the 12th Amendment)
posted by schmod at 8:29 PM on December 25, 2011


Why did Boehner feel a need to cave to the tea partiers in the first place if their votes weren't even necessary for the extension to pass?

There votes were necessary. I think you're getting confused between what essentially amounts to the difference between a "positive" vote, and a "negative" vote; or, to put it another way, the difference between voting for something and not voting against it.

In a roll call vote, which requires a quorum, Boehner would have said: "We're voting on an extension of the payroll tax credit. Who's for it? Who's against it?" If the ayes trump the nays, the bill passes. In this case, the tea partiers had said they would vote no, so the vote was not held.

In the case of unanimous consent, a quorum is assumed, and the question becomes, "Who objects to this bill?" If anyone objects, the bill does not pass.

Phrased this way, you should be able to see that the unanimous consent process actually provides more power to the objectors, since a minority of one can stop the bill. No matter which way the bill is brought, you have to have enough votes to pass it. In the roll call way that means having a majority, in the unanimous consent way, that means having everyone on board (or at least willing not to object).
posted by OmieWise at 9:14 AM on December 27, 2011


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