The House adopted a rule Tuesday to allow Democratic leaders to regain control of floor time that’s been taken up by Republicans forcing roll call votes on noncontroversial, bipartisan bills.
“I expect that rule to be adopted today,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said on his weekly press call Tuesday about the move that would give him the authority to make a motion to adopt those measures, known as suspension bills, en bloc. The chamber adopted the rule later in the afternoon, 214-207.
“And I expect to make a motion prior to us voting on any of the suspension bills that they be considered en bloc … which I think will save us somewhere in the neighborhood of seven and a half hours of time without undermining anybody’s right to express opposition to bills,” the Maryland Democrat said.
Democrats control the floor schedule in the majority-run chamber, but some Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus have been using procedural tactics to gum up the works. A common tactic of the caucus this Congress has been to ask for roll call votes for suspension bills that would normally pass via voice vote.
Bills on the suspension calendar are bipartisan and typically noncontroversial, as they require two-thirds support to pass. The suspension calendar is supposed to be a fast-track process for advancing bills through the House since the measures do not need to go through the Rules Committee or require a rule for debate.
The House starts its legislative weeks debating bills on the suspension calendar, which often has more than a dozen measures to be considered each week.
When members allow suspension measures to pass by voice vote, dispensing with bills on the suspension calendar often takes very little time, allowing the chamber to spend most of its week debating and voting on more controversial bills that are brought to the floor under a rule.
But lately the House has been spending significant time voting on suspension bills because Freedom Caucus members continue to ask for roll call votes. Social distancing procedures for COVID-19 lengthened the duration of each individual vote from a pre-pandemic normal of roughly 15 minutes to 45 minutes, which last week House leaders dropped down to 30 minutes.
Even with the shortened voting time, the House spent roughly three hours Wednesday and six and a half hours Thursday voting on suspension bills. House members of both parties complained about the late vote series Thursday, which lasted until almost 10 p.m.
“The suspension bills that we’ve been voting on have essentially passed overwhelmingly with 400 votes or more on almost every one,” Hoyer said.
This week, 23 bills were put on the suspension calendar. Republicans requested roll call votes on 18 of the 20 debated Monday, two of which the House passed that night. The other 16 were rolled into Tuesday.
If the House had to vote individually on all 16 of those bills, it would take around eight hours. Hoyer said the en bloc authority will allow him to move to pass all 16 of those bills with a single vote, saving about seven and a half hours of voting time.
“By adopting through one vote, the en bloc, maybe 16 bills, those bills would still go to the Senate individually, but they would be simply voted upon with one vote,” the majority leader said.
Three other bills that were put on the suspension calendar this week have not yet been debated, although one was scheduled to be later Tuesday. Those measures are more controversial and will not be part of the en bloc vote, Hoyer said.
“People have differences of opinion, and therefore want votes on those,” he said.
The en bloc authority is part of the rule the House adopted Tuesday governing debate on two immigration bills and a D.C. statehood measure the chamber is taking up this week. The authority is temporary, lasting only through April 22.
The House could provide for en bloc suspension authority in future weeks, if needed, but Hoyer signaled that he is hoping not to have to rely on that as a long-term solution.
“That’s a rule for today,” he said. “I continue to discuss with the minority the opportunity to proceed on bills that are designed to be bipartisan, nonpartisan … that they can be considered, as they have been historically, in a fashion which will not take the kind of time that we’ve been taking over the last two weeks.”