Suspension Silliness

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For all the hoopla over the Patriot Act extension failing the House last night, it really isn’t that big a deal. The majority often brings items up under suspension – meaning the bills are so innocuous that the regular rules are waived because they’ll likely easily pass, mostly post office namings and resolutions congratulating Ghandi on his 142nd birthday. Under suspension a two-thirds majority is needed to pass a bill versus a simple 51%. Sometimes, the leaders overestimate the bipartisan nature of the bill – this happens with greater frequency with a new majority and, especially, a new whip who is still learning how to count votes – and the bill fails.

For all the Dem press releases last night blaring “GOP in Disarray!” in a brief search of the congressional calendars I found this happening 23 times in the 111th Congress and 15 times in the 110th – both were Democratically-controlled. Last year, the first vote on the 9/11 health responders bill went down under suspension. In the 110th, a lame duck extension of unemployment benefits, the Consumer Energy Supply Act and the Drill Responsibility in Leased Lands Act all failed under suspension.

The Patriot Act extension will still pass – a clear majority of the House voted for it. And yes, it comes on the heels of the GOP yanking a trade bill off the floor before it failed (and, perhaps, having to do so again with this week’s YouCut). But it’s more a symptom of the new chief vote counter, Kevin McCarthy, getting his bearings than anything else. There is no freshmen insurrection – only eight of the 26 GOP Nay votes last night were freshmen. And, embarrassing as it is, the only reason it’s news is because it’s a slow week in DC and this is the first time it’s happened under the new GOP-controlled Congress. That said, if this becomes a weekly event the GOP might considering getting McCarthy some tutoring.

Update: I’m told that the GOP doesn’t whip suspension votes — though given this week, they might want to rethink that policy — and McCarthy’s not in charge of what gets scheduled on the floor as suspension or regular order. So, the culprit would seem to be the scheduler: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.