Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has a New Year’s resolution: no more half-hour roll call votes.
The low-key Republican leader, known for his tolerance, has lost his patience when it comes to tardy voters.
This week he put lawmakers on notice that 15-minute roll call votes are just that: 15 minutes and not a minute longer.
In the past few years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have taken their time getting to the floor, dawdling to chat up their colleagues and reporters along the way. But if they don’t watch the clock in the 108th Congress, they just might miss the vote entirely.
Hastert warned colleagues that an announcement at the 13-minute mark will alert lawmakers that there are only two minutes remaining to register their votes electronically. If they fail to do so in the time allowed, the gavel will slam down anyway.
“This is an effort to be more time-efficient,” said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. “He’s going to enforce it by bringing down the gavel.”
Of course, the leadership will use its discretion when it comes to tight votes that resemble the razor-thin victory Republicans achieved last year on the bill to grant the president fast-track trade negotiating authority, when Hastert held the vote open far after the 15-minute limit had expired to round up the votes necessary for victory.
Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) said so far he appreciated the extra time in the day the tighter votes have provided.
“I like being able to get to a meeting that’s scheduled for 1 at 1,” he said.
The move follows a “Dear Colleague” letter the Speaker sent Monday reminding lawmakers about other House rules pertaining to the number of staff allowed on the floor and other decorum matters. He told Members that he has asked the Sergeant-at-Arms to vigorously enforce the rules.
Like most New Year’s resolutions, efforts to make Congress operate more efficiently in the first days of the new Congress often fall by the wayside. But Sweeney predicts that, with no-nonsense Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in an elevated position, this one is more likely to stick.
One GOP leadership aide said most Members have welcomed Hastert’s strict definition of a 15-minute roll call so far.
“Everyone’s for it until they miss their first vote,” the aide said.