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Republicans' attempts to limit debate and block amendments is causing them to lose

February 9, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

House Republicans have now lost three straight attempts to pass bills in the past 24 hours.

As you’ve probably heard already, last night the Republican leadership was caught off guard when 26 of their rank-an-file members joined the Democrats to reject an attempt to extend the PATRIOT Act provisions under an expedited procedure, known as “suspension of the rules,” that limits debate and does not allow amendments to be offered. Before that vote, the leadership was forced to pull another bill from the floor that would have provided job training to people who have lost their jobs due to trade issues when it became clear that they didn’t have the votes to pass it under the same procedure they tried for the PATRIOT Act bill.

This afternoon, they tried again to use the expedited suspension of the rules process and, for the third time in a row, failed. This most recent attempt was on a bill that would have rescinded $179 million of U.S. funds form the United Nations. It was rejected on a roll call vote of 259-169, which is short of the 2/3rds majority needed under the suspension of the rules procedure. This time only 2 Republicans split off and voted “no,” but they didn’t pick up enough Democrats.

The Republicans’ preference for a closed process is coming to a head with the ideological diversity of the House. The leadership clearly doesn’t have a good handle on its own caucus, having watched 26 Republicans vote against the PATRIOT Act provisions despite their last-minute attempt attempt at arm twisting. They’re also overestimating how many Democrats they can win over, with only 23 moving to their side on the UN vote. The House Democratic caucus is smaller this session, but it has become a bit more progressive since most of the losses last year were in competitive districts who had elected conservative Democrats to the House anyways. There aren’t nearly as many Blue Dogs around this session to pad the Republicans’ efforts.

The Republicans now have no choice but to revisit to their “Pledge to America” and use a more open floor process for more bills, one that at least allows more than 40 minutes of debate and a motion to recommit from the minority. Of the 15 bills that have been bought to the floor so far this year, only one was done under an open rule, and it was a “modified open” rule, not a truly open rule. Obviously, there’s some irony in the Republicans following a campaign pledge only because they have failed repeatedly in their attempts to go back on it. But, hey, debate and amendments are good. They let the House operate a little more closer to the will of the majority, and that’s something we should take however we can get it.

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