What happened on C-Span earlier this afternoon re: health care?
March 21, 2010 11:48 AM   Subscribe

What just happened on C-Span? There was some health care related vote. What exactly did that vote decide?

Apparently, there are at least a couple more hours of debate left and then three more votes: a vote on the rule to govern the debate (or the voting?), a vote on the Senate bill and a vote on the House reconciliation bill. That's not counting the voting they're doing right now on a procedural objection(?) from a Rep Ryan.

So what was all the buzz on twitter about an hour ago? I picked up C-Span after the clerk read the title of the bill(resolution?) they were considering but my impression was that they were voting on something related to health care. The c-span chyron said something about agreeing to suspend and something else. Maybe. And the votes were unanimously in the yea column. The speaker ('s proxy? - the guy banging the gavel) then said something about the yea's and nay's and something about 2/3's in the affirmative.

What were they voting on?

Why were all of the votes in the yea column?

Is that the same as the speaker's "affirmative?"

Why 2/3's?

And while I have the attention of MeFi's congressional scholars... The next(?) vote on the parameters of the debate? How much latitude is there in that rule? Are they just setting time limits or can other weirdness happen? They seem to have more than enough rules governing debate as it is. I understand that these rules are not unusual, even customary. Why are they necessary?
posted by stuart_s to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Response by poster: How recently? Are you referring to the objection that Rep Ryan raised? This vote was more than an hour before that.
posted by stuart_s at 12:13 PM on March 21, 2010

Best answer: Speaking generally. I didn't see the vote earlier and haven't been following procedure on this bill to avoid heartache.

The next(?) vote on the parameters of the debate? How much latitude is there in that rule?

Almost complete. They can do just about anything in the rule that does not itself violate the Constitution, so long as a majority of those present approve it.

Are they just setting time limits or can other weirdness happen?

"Other weirdness" almost always happens. The most common form of "other weirdness" is limitations on Representative's ability to offer amendments (propose changes) to the bill. At the extreme, an "open rule" allows any member to offer any germane amendment, and a closed rule allows no amendments at all. In between almost anything can happen, including some Weird Shit (look up "king of the hill" and "queen of the hill" rules).

They seem to have more than enough rules governing debate as it is. I understand that these rules are not unusual, even customary. Why are they necessary?

There are several reasons why they're necessary.

(1) Timing. Left to its own rules, the House uses a system of calendars to schedule bills. First onto the calendar is first voted on. But if they keep to the calendars, it means they have to vote a 100 bills that most legislators don't give a damn about (often broadly consensual, technical changes to existing programs) before they can vote on the health care bill or some other bill that matters. Special rules allow the House to bypass the calendars and say that they're going to vote on this bill on the following date and time.

(2) Limits on chaos. I don't have time now to get into it, and it can get technical, but suffice to say that when bodies of people vote on things and allow unlimited amendments, weird, bad things can happen. A group of people can suddenly find that they've approved something that everyone dislikes. The real-world analog is when you and ten friends go to the video store together and come out an hour later with a headache and a movie nobody wants to see. Look up "mckelvey chaos theorem" for more, and probably examples. Or "plott conditions."

(3) Partisan or other coalitional concerns. The majority limits the ability of the minority to offer amendments whose real purpose is to split the majority party (hoping to induce more splits), or otherwise fracture whatever the "yes" coalition is. Also it keeps the deals that had already been brokered together, so there's no worrying about "you vote for mine and then I might vote for yours..."

(4) To try to drive a wedge between the policies being made and the votes that have taken place. While rare, KOTH rules work that way; you can cast votes that have the effect of voting against several amendments, even though you voted for each of them and never voted against anything.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:28 PM on March 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For a primer on today's shift at the sausage factory, David Waldman's 'Today in Congress' and OpenCongress's play by play.

The rules are there because the House is best seen as an elementary school with 435 egotistical, attention-seeking children.
posted by holgate at 12:38 PM on March 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If this was between 1 and 2pm ET, it was probably the several suspension bills that were debated yesterday and whose votes were "rolled" until today. "Suspensions" being non-controversial bills--the naming of a post office, for example--that are considered "under suspension of the rules," meaning they by-pass the usual rule-writing and rule-passing process. On days like this, they're used to summon members to the floor, which is why the original 15-minute vote was held open for 25 minutes.

Soon after that there was a vote on accepting yesterday's "Journal," essentially the "minutes" of yesterday's House session.

Oh, and thanks for watching.
posted by MimeticHaHa at 12:46 PM on March 21, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, I remember someone complaining about those extra ten minutes. So, I'm guessing I was simply mistaken about the purpose of the vote I was watching. I picked it up in the middle, as I said. It's hard to imagine anything related to the health care legislation, no matter how peripherally, being uncontroversial enough to be considered as a suspension bill.

Maybe if I get a minute, I'll scan through the C-SPAN video and figure out what the subject of that specific bill was. Does anyone know of the top or their head? Or can someone point me to an easier way to figure it out given that the only thing I know about it was that it was that someone complained about the length?

Thanks everyone. Great answers. I haven't had time to carefully review the links or do the recommended searches but they're all very intriguing.
posted by stuart_s at 1:08 PM on March 21, 2010

It was the first suspension vote.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) complained about the length of the first suspension vote of the day, on (what else?) the renaming of a post office. This was about 1:35p or so. It was held open longer to gather the caucus; Kingston complained despite the fact that such held-open non-controversial votes are routine. As in, several times a week routine. He was complaining for the sake of complaining--the first of many GOP Points of Parliamentary Inquiry today, likely signaling that more are/were to come.
posted by MimeticHaHa at 1:14 PM on March 21, 2010

Suspensions were over at about 2:10 and House Resolution 1203 was brought to the floor. The voting you were seeing at 2:45 was after Ryan objected on the grounds that he is a total tool that it violated the Congressional Budget Act.

Here is the House Clerk's Floor Summary for today with the play-by-play.
posted by nicwolff at 1:58 PM on March 21, 2010

Oh, so what's H.R. 1203? Well it's
Providing for consideration of the Senate amendments to the bill (H.R. 3590) to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the first-time homebuyers credit in the case of members of the Armed Forces and certain other Federal employees, and for other purposes, and providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 4872) to provide for reconciliation pursuant to section 202 of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2010.
and H.R. 4872 is the Reconciliation Act of 2010 which has all our excellent Obamacare in it.
posted by nicwolff at 2:05 PM on March 21, 2010

Given all the OP's evidence, I'm much more than 2/3rds sure it's the moment at 44 minutes into this video (not yet embeddable, as the House is still in session). It's Rep. Kingston's opposition to the "15 Minute" vote being held open for 25.
posted by MimeticHaHa at 2:16 PM on March 21, 2010

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