Statement by Robert Greenstein
The House Republican Leadership has announced its intention to have the House vote, before adjourning on Friday or Saturday, on several major pieces of legislation that are not yet available to House members in final form because behind-closed-door negotiations on the proposals are still going on. The Leadership apparently intends to use a process known as “martial law” to allow these bills to be brought to the floor very shortly after negotiations are completed, with the result that Members of the House are likely to have virtually no time to examine and consider the details of the legislation before they will be required to vote on it.
Among the matters the House may be asked to vote on under martial law are a major conference report on pension legislation, a costly bill that would permanently reduce the estate tax and extend certain expiring tax provisions, and a bill that could combine a controversial health insurance proposal with an increase in the minimum wage (there also are reports that the estate tax, minimum wage, and expiring tax provisions may be combined into a single bill). The House Rules Committee on Thursday afternoon reported a resolution that would provide martial law authority in relation to all of these bills.
Under the martial law procedure, longstanding House rules that require at least one day between the unveiling of significant legislation and the House floor vote on that legislation — so that Members can learn what they are being asked to vote on — are swept away. Instead, under “martial law,” the Leadership can file legislation with tens or hundreds of pages of fine print and move immediately to debate and votes on it, before Members of Congress, the media, or the public have an opportunity to understand fully what provisions have been altered or inserted into the legislation behind closed doors. This is the procedure that the Leadership intends to use to muscle through important bills in the next two days.
This procedure diminishes democracy. When major legislation is being considered that would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt or affect millions of Americans in other ways, Members of Congress should have an opportunity to study the legislation for more than a couple of hours and to know what they are voting on.
The Bills in Question…………..