Before I start my coverage of the Senate’s efforts on this bill, I want to take one last look at some of the political oddities that occurred on the floor of the House Friday afternoon as the Committee of the Whole House dealt with the 10 amendments that the Rules Committee included in the rule for the debate.
In an earlier blog I mentioned that I noted that a “shoe-in for passage on the floor is the amendment submitted by Chairman Thompson. This will make ‘a number of technical corrections and fixes typos and verbiage issues’. These almost always pass.” I almost mentioned that they typically pass on voice votes.
At the start of this debate I was having problems with my CSPAN link so I was following the summary of the debate on the House Clerk’s website. When I saw that a voice vote was requested on this amendment I assume that it was a delaying tactic, which presaged a long afternoon. It wasn’t until this morning when I read a copy of the debate in the Congressional Record that I understood what was going on.
Now the first thing that you need to understand is that the ‘Manager’s Amendment’, which this was, is almost always an amendment that corrects grammatical errors, technical mistakes, and the like. It is done to make a piece of legislation more professional and to remove errors that might make interpretation difficult at a later date.
Substantive changes are not normally made to avoid problems in passing the legitimate changes to the bill. It is because of this that I did not closely read the Thompson Amendment, I wish I had. On page 4 (for Title 1), page 7 (for Title 2), and page 10 (for Title 3), the amendment makes a major change to the rules for protecting information about the security plans for plants.
Making a policy change in the manager’s amendment is offensive enough, but the wording of these changes makes it appear that the disclosure of security information by a third party is excluded from the information protection rules of the legislation. Here is what Mr. Barton (R, TX) said when he made the unusual move to rise in objection to the Manager’s Amendment:
“So what we are doing here, Mr. Chairman, is saying, as the distinguished chairman said, we don’t want to try to give the Department of Homeland Security the ability to prevent information that has already been publicly disclosed by somebody we regulate as part of the site security plan. But then they are creating this new loophole, that if a group that is not controlled by Homeland Security somehow gets information, they can publish it. They can put it on their Web site, and they’re not liable.” (Congressional Record, pg H12517).It is no wonder that the vote on this amendment followed straight party lines, Democrats supporting their leadership and Republicans in opposition. It was the only vote in the process that split perfectly along party lines.
The Republican Amendments
As I noted in my earlier blog about the amendments I noted that four of the Republican amendments had no chance of passing, any more than they had in both the Homeland Security Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee markup hearings. In committee the vote was a strict party line vote. The votes here were slightly less one sided.
The Barton Amendment, changing the pre-emption language in the legislation, fell the furthest from the party line. Eighteen Democrats voted ‘Aye’ in support and twenty-two Republicans voted against the amendment. The two Dent amendments, one providing for a straight extension of the §550 CFATS authority and the other striking the IST provision, garnered 17 and 22 Democratic votes respectively while loosing no Republican votes.
The McCaul Amendment striking the citizen enforcement provisions garnered the support of 28 Democrats while loosing the support of one Republican.
As I predicted, the Flake Amendment was the single Republican Amendment that passed. But even I was surprised that it passed without opposition. No one spoke against the amendment and Mr. Pascrell (D, NJ) even spoke in favor of the amendment. It was one in a series of amendments that passed on voice votes without spoken opposition.
I had predicted that the remaining four Democratic amendments would pass, but I was surprised that the Republicans did not even object to the amendments in their allocated 5 minutes of debate. Instead they used their support of the amendments as a platform for discussing what they felt were the shortcomings of the over-riding bills. In any case, the discussion and vote gave the appearance that there was genuine bi-partisan support for the amendments. That alone was worthwhile in this contentious legislative year.
Recommit with Instructions to Amend
After the final vote on the bill there was one parliamentary hurdle left; the motion to recommit to committee. In this case Mr. Dent (R, PA) took what appeared to be an easy pass at that requirement. His motion to recommit was within instructions to return the legislation to the Homeland Security Committee with instructions to return the bill ‘forthwith’ with a minor amendment. In this case, the amendment was one that was unanimously approved in the Energy and Commerce Committee. It required the Secretary to take into account job loss in determining whether to require implementation of an IST method.
The motion to recommit failed with 19 Democrats joining the Republicans in support of the motion; one Republican joined the majority in opposing the motion. The final vote was 189 to 236. HR 2868, the Chemical and Water Facility Security Act of 2009 passed in the House. Next week it will be delivered to the Senate.