by Janna Legg
The “food safety” bill did NOT die as it should have because House leaders used what I’ll call a “Dead Shell Bill” to trick their way past their Constitutional and procedural problems. This “Dead Shell Bill,” HR 3082, was . . .
* Dead in the sense that it was a numbered bill that was never going to reach a final vote.
* An empty Shell because the Congressional leadership removed its original contents.
In other words, the House leadership took a bill that hadn’t reached final passage, but that had already jumped through a bunch of procedural hoops, deleted all its contents, and then poured new, unrelated content into it. In this particular case . . .
The Dead Shell Bill was something called the “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.” Back in November of 2009 this defense bill was amended by the Senate and then sent back to the House. The Senate even appointed conferees to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions, but the House NEVER responded to the Senate’s action. So the bill was just laying around dead, until . . .
House leaders picked it up and emptied it of its contents. They did this because . . .
New bills must go through a committee, while a Dead Shell Bill has the virtue of already having passed out of committee. This set up the next move . . .
The House leadership created a Special Rule to pass the Dead Shell Bill immediately, instead of starting over with a normal, parliamentary review procedure. The Special Rule is H. Res. 1755. House leaders hurriedly passed this Special Rule by a single vote.
Now, with the new Special Rule in hand Congressional leaders . . .
* Took the “food safety” bill that we’ve been fighting against and combined it with other unrelated, but sure-to-pass issues.
* They then poured all of this new content into the Dead Shell Bill — the one that had once been a military appropriations bill.
* They also slapped a new title on the Dead Shell Bill, one so broad that it described none of the current contents.
Next came passage under the Special Rule. Here’s how that worked . . .
1. HR 3082 would be considered “in order” immediately. That means it wasn’t going to be assigned to a committee. It also meant that NO normal procedural measures would occur.
2. Reading was waived, of course.
3. No “points of order” would be permitted.
4. Only 40 minutes was provided for debate.
5. Amendments to the bill were not in order. The debate was strictly on final passage.
This Special Rule procedure moved race-car fast. There was no time for public comment. The Democrats had already heard enough from the likes of you, thank you very much.
* On Thursday afternoon, the Special Rule was introduced and considered read. 50 minutes later, it was passed.
* Then Congress passed the Dead Shell Bill by six votes, just 2 hours and 22 minutes after installing the Special Rule.
All of this is ironic, because outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised you back in 2006 that if you gave her party the majority they would . . .
* “Drain the swamp”
* Enact ethics reforms.
* Stop the practice of using your tax dollars to buy votes in Congress (earmarks and other forms of tax-funded bribery)
* End the Republican practice of last-second surprises — bills crammed down our throat in the last hours before every recess — the most infamous of which was the Medicare Prescription Drug bill.
Nancy Pelosi promised you, in a campaign document titled, “A New Direction for America,” that . . .
* Procedural rules would be made available no later than 10 PM the night before a vote (page 24), not 50 minutes before.
* You would get at least 24 hours notice of a scheduled vote upon the final written version of a bill (page 24)
As you can see, this week — the last month of Pelosi’s Speakership — those “Page 24” pledges were thrown out the window.
So here’s what we need to do to change things. Please contemplate the fact that . . .
* The Read the Bills Act would’ve stopped the Special Rule process
* The One Subject at a Time would’ve blocked the use of the Dead Shell Bill scheme
What happened is infuriating. Many people on “our side” will be content to whine and complain about it.
That’s all they’ll do. Others will blame it only on the Democrats while ignoring the fact that the Democratic leadership was using old Republican plays to do what they did. Still others will say that it’s all hopeless, that we always lose so what’s the point?
All of this is baloney. DownsizeDC.org has proposed a realistic strategy to stop ALL of the things Congress just did.
The Read the Bills Act would’ve required . . .
* Publication of the entire bill online for 7 days so you could read it
* A public scheduling of the vote on the online calendar 7 days in advance so you would have time to comment
* A full, verbatim reading of the bill
This last point is sooo important. Sitting through the out-loud reading of the bloated Dead Shell Bill would have been too time-consuming for this lame-duck Congress. They never would have — wait for it — sat still for it! Instead, they would have passed the buck to the next Congress, which might well have ended the matter, permanently, because the new Congress will have its own agenda.
But it gets better. Our One Subject at a Time Act would also have constrained the Congress from . . .
* Expanding the FDA with new regulatory powers, with 4,000 additional agents to swarm our farms and gardens
* Inserting broad, new FDA powers into something called the “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010”
* Changing the name of that Dead Shell Bill to something as non-descriptive as the “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011.”