Thursday, April 19, 2007

He Who Makes the Rules, Rules the Game

If you ever find yourself elected to a legislative body, and are in the majority party, try to get yourself on the Rules Committee. And you are a staffer, and are also ruthless and creative, Rules is the place for you to be.

The Salt Lake Tribune provides a great example why:
Republicans who used gun rights to derail a plan to give the District of Columbia its first full-voting House member and a fourth congressional seat for Utah won't be able to repeat their tactic today when the bill returns to the floor.
Several Republicans in late March tried to attach language that would have eliminated the district's long-standing handgun ban. Democrats, fearing many of their pro-gun rights members would side with the GOP, pulled the measure from consideration.
The legislation, mainly designed to give the nearly 600,000 residents of the district representation in Congress, will be brought up separately from a provision to pay for the new Utah seat, a move aimed at keeping Republicans from hindering passage with parliamentary procedures.
A spokeswoman for Rep. LaMar Smith, R-Texas, who pushed the handgun ban removal says the GOP won't be able to try the same move again because the Democrats are putting procedural roadblocks in the way of such an attempt.
"That is not going to be germane, so right now we're still weighing our options," said Beth McGinn, a spokeswoman for Smith, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

The article also mentions that given the massacre at Virginia Tech earlier in the week, Rep. Smith's amendment might not seem as attractive as it once was. It might even be a liability to vote for such an amendment so soon after the mass killings. In a weird way, Democratic leadership might be doing pro-gun folks a favor.

As for the Utah-DC bill itself, DC Vote predicts it will pass with 20 Republicans voting in favor.
Even if that happens, the bill still faces hurdles. Many senators fear it could lead to the district pressing for a Senate seat as well. And several members have expressed concerns about the bill's constitutionality.
White House advisers have also said they could counsel President Bush to veto the bill should it pass Congress.
Republicans will attempt another approach today that is not expected to get much support: giving back most of the District of Columbia to Maryland, making residents there part of that state. The Capitol, National Mall, White House and other federal buildings would remain part of the district but the first family would be the only residents.

That too is a fall back poison pill amendment. Maryland does not want to deal with DC, those Marylanders living along the Chesapeake, or in the western regions, don't want Maryland's power base to shift to Washington and the burbs. Aside from the political problems, there is also the issue of DC's crime, prisons, drinking water, schools, city maintenance, that makes Maryland weary of taking ownership of the city.

Getting the bill past the House is the easy part (thanks to the new rule), but the Senate doesn't have the ability to make such rules since pretty much anything is germane in the world of senate amendments. Unanimous consent agreements also make closed rules difficult to get through.

So ends today's parliamentary lesson.

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