House GOP Uses "Martial Law" Rule In Debt Ceiling Fight

July 29, 2011 5:13 pm ET — Walid Zafar

In 2009, as Congress was mulling over details of what eventually became the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans expressed frustration about how the Rules Committee was allowing the legislation to be written, as they termed it, "privately behind closed doors." Health care was far too important to be passed this way, they argued. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), a member of the committee, complained that "taxpayers deserve to see the whole legislative sausage machine, not just the shiny, shrink-wrapped package that gets sent to the president for his signature."

Last September, Republicans on the committee even released a report detailing how terrible the rule-making process had become under the Democrats. In particular, Republicans took exception to what is known as "martial law," the ability to bring forth any bill without much prior notice:

The Democratic Majority's excessive use of extra suspension and unrestricted 'martial law' authority, executed by the Rules Committee, was designed to stifle debate, rush legislation through with little or no scrutiny, and keep the American people out of the loop.

In response, the GOP Pledge to America made a series of promises about the legislative process in a GOP-controlled House. When Republicans took over, it would be nothing but sunshine and transparency. They promised ample opportunity to deliberate and to cite the relevant section of the Constitution authorizing each and every bill.

But almost immediately, the promises were broken. The repeal of health care didn't go through a single committee and was passed through a closed rules process by which no Democratic amendments were allowed. Now, with the government default looming and all sides scrambling to find a quick solution, Republicans are using the Rules Committee to prevent the Democrats from being able to change Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) faulty plan.

After it became clear to Boehner that he wouldn't be able to pass his debt limit legislation last night, the Rules Committee convened to make some changes to the legislation. Among other things, they waived clause 6(a) of Rule XIII, which stipulates a two-thirds vote to bring legislation to the floor on the day of the rule change. During the committee hearing, Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) noted the obvious discrepancy:

"We've gone from embracing an open rule, to a closed rule now a Martial law rule. You're shutting down the process. I would suggest to you that the problem is not within the House of Representatives here," he said. "The problem is your leadership needs to be more flexible on working with a deal with the president and the Senate.

Earlier today, the House passed the legislation waiving the provision on a straight party-line vote. During the health care debate, Republicans complained that such tactics were wrong when the legislation impacted one-sixth of the economy. They've now used some of the same tactics with the entire economy on the line.

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