About an hour before the government shut down on Oct. 1, Rep. Louise Slaughter had a largely overlooked, but heated exchange with House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions about a tiny rule change that kept House Democrats from keeping the government open.
The exchange occurred shortly after House Republicans rejected the Senate’s clean version of the continuing resolution. In response, they passed H.J. Res. 59, which included the controversial anti-Obamacare amendment Senate Democrats had previously rejected, and a request for conference with the Senate.
There was also a rules change in the fine print of that bill, sent over by the Rules Committee, which stripped House members of their “privilege” to bring up a passed Senate bill for a vote. The rule in question, Clause 4 of Rule XXII of the House of Representatives, states that “when the stage of disagreement has been reached on a bill or resolution with House or Senate amendments, a motion to dispose of any amendments shall be privileged.”
In other words, any member of the House could have brought H.J. Res. 59 up for a vote without its amendments, effectively letting the chamber vote on a clean funding bill—which, based on the 20 or so Republicans who said they would vote for such a bill, likely has the numbers to pass.
The architects of H.J. Res. 59, however, removed that possibility by granting the “privilege” power only to the House Majority Leader "or his designee." So even if the votes existed to pass the Senate’s clean bill, Eric Cantor had to be the one to bring it to a vote.
A recently surfaced video shows ranking member of the House Rules committee Louise Slaughter seemingly becoming aware of this rule change within two hours of a government shutdown.
“It was just pointed out to me that under regular order of the House any member can call for a vote on the Senate proposal,” Slaughter told Chairman Pete Sessions, “but you’ve changed that regular order under the resolution that only the majority leader can do it. Can you tell us why you did that?”
“The reason why,” responded Sessions, “is because we’re attempting to get the four groups of people together: Senate Republicans and Democrats, House Republicans and Democrats. Under the rules that you know you were in reference to, there could be a motion as early as tonight and it could be—conference would be avoided. We want a conference.”
“Oh, mercy,” said Slaughter.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen tried to bring attention to this rule change on the House Floor Saturday. A video posted on Van Hollen’s Youtube channel, which had over 1 millions views by Monday evening, shows the Maryland congressman taking presiding speaker Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to task on the rules change.
"Why were the rules rigged to keep the government shut down?" asks Van Hollen.
"The gentleman will suspend," says Chaffetz.
"Democracy has been suspended," said Van Hollen.