Providing for the consideration of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act (H. Res. 317)/On ordering the previous question (end debate and prohibit amendment)
house Roll Call 228 Apr 19, 2007
This motion was offered to force a vote on a resolution outlining the rules for debate for a bill to grant full voting rights to residents of the District of Columbia. The 572,000 residents of Washington, D.C., do not have a voting representative in Congress and instead have only a delegate to the House of Representatives who doesn't have full voting privileges on the House floor.
Known as the "rules package," this resolution determined how much time each side would be given for debate, what amendments would be considered in order and what procedural motions would be allowed.
This vote was a motion ordering the previous question, which is a parliamentary maneuver that effectively ends debate, prohibits amendment and moves the House to a vote for an up-or-down of the resolution under consideration.
In addition to granting a voting representative to the residents of the District of Columbia, the underlying bill would give Utah an additional at-large House seat until 2012, when House seats are to be reapportioned among the states based on the decennial census.
The rule also outlined the consideration for a separate but related tax measure that would increase the quarterly estimated tax payments for people with gross adjusted incomes of more than $5 million. The tax increase was designed to offset the cost of the two new lawmakers' offices and staff. The 1974 Budget Act requires that new spending be offset by either spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere in the federal budget (unless the House specifically votes to waive the act).
The Democratic leadership chose to bring the tax package up as a separate measure rather than rolling it into one bill because of a failed effort to pass two similar measures together as one bill in March. By including a tax provision, Democrats expanded what is known as the "germaneness" of the bill, meaning the scope of amendments that are considered sufficiently relevant to attach. This served as an opportunity for Republicans to seek to include an amendment on gun rights in the District, which included language aimed at killing the bill. This move created a parliamentary nightmare for Democrats, who ended up postponing a vote on the bill for a month. (See Roll Call 180.)
In order to avoid that problem again, Democrats separated the voting-rights bill and the tax legislation into two individual measures that would be immediately attached after the tax portion was passed. To do this, Democrats needed to waive the Budget Act for the passage of the voting-rights legislation, a proviso that was incorporated into the rules package under consideration in this vote.
So, in effect, this vote reflected the polarity between the parties on the underlying legislation to provide a full, voting Representative for the citizens of D.C. and an additional at-large seat for Utah. The motion to order the previous question, if passed, would have the effect of forcing a vote on the rules package, itself a parliamentary maneuver for the Democrats to sidetrack Republican opposition to the underlying bill.
Many Republicans opposed giving the District of Colombia the same representational rights as states on grounds that it would be unconstitutional. Democrats and some Republican supporters argued that it was high time the more than half million residents of D.C. had the same rights as everyone else.
Procedural votes such as this one often draw near or total unanimity within each party, even if individual lawmakers later decide to break ranks and vote against the party line on the underlying legislation. Republicans were unanimous in their opposition to the rules package, and every Republican present voted against the motion ordering the previous question. All Democrats present but three voted for the motion, and the resolution passed 219 to 196. Thus, the House moved to force an up-or-down vote on the rules for debate for a bill to give the citizens of D.C. full voting representation in Congress.
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