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Protecting the PATRIOT Act

February 10, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The House Rules Committee met for about 10 minutes yesterday afternoon to decide how to handle the PATRIOT Act extension bill that was defeated earlier this week when the Republicans tried to bring it to the floor under an expedited process with only 40 minutes of debate and no amendments. Their decision, which does not come as too much of a surprise, is to bring the bill back to the floor under a closed rule that will still not allow any amendments and will still keep the debate very brief. The rule, however, will allow for the bill to pass by a simple majority, so unless dozens more members turn against the extension at the last minute, it will pass easily.

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The House Republican majority gets started in earnest today on their push to repeal the Affordable Care Act. On the schedule for today in the House is the rule that will set the procedural framework for next week's votes on H.R.2, the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Act" and its counterpart H.Res.9, "instructing certain committees to report legislation replacing the job-killing health care law." This is the first rule on significant legislation that the new Republican majority is bringing to a vote, but, contrary to their pledge to be more open about committee action and amendments, they are using a closed rule that is more restrictive than most and skipping committee action entirely.

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Congressional committees are where the most important legislating happens. It's where the big decisions about the scope of bills are made and it's the only step in the legislative process where senators and representatives engage in genuine back-and-forth discussion of issues. The mark-up process is also where activists and members of Congress have the best shot at influencing legislation. Despite all this, the committee process has long lagged far behind the rest of congressional activity in matters of openness and transparency.

Fortunately, the Republican House rules package that will be voted on on Wednesday will make some changes to how committees operate that, if implemented properly, could help open up this critical step of the legislative process.

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