Why rule votes are so important

As with many of the votes we care about, the CRomnibus vote consisted of two key votes: the first vote – “a rules vote” – was a procedural vote to advance the bill to the floor, and the second vote was the actual vote on the entire spending bill.  We considered both votes to be important and indicators of a Member’s commitment to cut spending and adhere to the rule of law.

Why is the vote on the “rule” as important as the vote on the underlying legislation? Because for far too long, far too many members of Congress have played tricks on their constituents by gaming the process.

No bill can go to the floor of the House of Representatives without a “rule” to govern the debate over the bill. Simply put, it’s a choke point. No rule means no debate, and no debate means no vote on final passage. Defeating (sometimes called “taking down”) the rule forces the Leadership to go back to the drawing board and try again – at which point they are usually required to make changes to a bill.

So if you’re really, really opposed to a piece of legislation, so opposed you don’t even want it to see floor action, you vote against the “rule.”

As a matter of course, votes on rules are considered “Leadership Votes” – that is, the party leaders are counting on their fellow partisans to vote straight down the party line, without objection. Challenging the leadership on a rule can be a dangerous thing to do – often, leadership will punish members who vote against rules too many times, or who vote against rules on legislation the leadership deems very important. So standing up to the party leadership on a rules vote requires real political courage.

Sometimes, members want to help advance legislation without leaving their fingerprints on it. That is, they know that for political reasons, they need to be able to tell their constituents they voted for (or against) a particular bill, even though that vote puts them on the other side of the issue from the leadership. In cases like that, they can go to the leadership and say, “Look, fellas, I need a free pass to vote against this one on final passage. But that’s okay, you’ve got more than enough votes on this one, it’ll pass without my vote. And, of course, I’ll vote for the rule.”

So, knowing there would be scores of Democratic votes for the gargantuan spending bill on Thursday night, dozens of our allies felt free to vote against the spending bill on final passage. And they’re getting credit today for standing up on principle. And they should.

But there’s a difference between standing up on principle, and fighting. Standing up on principle is nice, and we wish more members of Congress would do it. But it’s not fighting. Fighting is what we needed on Thursday.

So make no mistake – almost all of the Republicans who voted against the bill on final passage first voted to allow the bill to come to the floor under a rule that wouldn’t even allow them the chance to vote on an amendment that would have stricken the funding for the President’s executive amnesty. In fact, only 16 Republicans voted against the rule, and as a consequence, it passed by only the slimmest of margins – 214-212. If three more Republicans had been willing to fight, we could have forced the leadership to pull the bill off the floor and strengthen it – possibly even by adding language blocking funding of the President’s executive amnesty.

Since Thursday night, we have heard from several Congressional offices, as well as from many of you who have been in touch with your Representatives. We are hearing that many of them would like to be praised for voting NO on final passage, but they would prefer that we ignore their initial vote on the procedural rules to advance the bill.

With out-of-control spending in Washington, it is unacceptable for Representatives to vote to advance a bill that adds to our debt, expands the welfare state, and bolsters the President’s executive amnesty for illegal immigrants. The important vote on Thursday wasn’t the vote on final passage, it was the vote on the rule. It’s just that simple.

Do you remember in the fall of 2013 when Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee were leading the charge to defund Obamacare? There was a big deal about a cloture vote that happened in the Senate where Majority Leader Harry Reid needed 60 votes to advance the bill so that he could ultimately pass the bill with a simple majority. It was a procedural vote that paved the way for that bill to pass in the Senate. The rules vote that happened in the House on Thursday was very similar to that.

Interestingly enough, most Republicans in the House at the time who were in favor of defunding Obamacare were saying that a vote for cloture was a vote to fund Obamacare. So why wouldn’t a vote for the rule on Thursday – under the same logic – be a vote to fund the President’s executive amnesty? The fact is there were two important votes on Thursday and the vote on the rule was just as important as the vote on final passage. It’s just that simple.

We hope this clarification helps explain why we included certain Representatives on our target list. Our goal was to stop this terrible bill from passing the House and with your efforts we were very close.

We appreciate all that you do for the cause of liberty, and we look forward to your continued feedback!


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