On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., joined his fellow House conservative Chip Roy, R-Texas, in blocking a house leadership effort to send a disaster spending bill to the president’s desk without scheduled debate or a regular roll call vote.
The objections got the two criticized by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as “heartless,” to which Massie responded by pointing out that Pelosi showed her real level of concern for the bill by sending a House freshman to take her place behind the gavel that day.
So what’s actually going on here?
Massie and Roy objected to requests to move the bill forward by “unanimous consent.” Despite all the procedural requirements that typically exist for a bill to become law, Congress can get a considerable amount of business done as long as nobody in the chamber objects. The way the unanimous consent process works in the House is fairly straightforward: After getting clearance from leadership, a member requests unanimous consent of the chamber to do something like consider a bill or change debate time. If there’s no objection, the motion goes through.
If the vast majority of the chamber’s members aren’t in town to object (like on post-Memorial Day recess), it’s a lot easier for the requests to go through.
If just one member objects to the request, then the consent is no longer unanimous, which usually means whatever you’re trying to do is going to need a vote. But because we’re talking about Washington, D.C., here, one of the things that can usually get across the finish line with little to no objection in Congress is unbudgeted disaster spending without spending offsets elsewhere.
In this case, congressional leadership’s plan was to shuttle billions of dollars in federal disaster spending through a nearly empty House chamber during a ten-day recess at a House session that’s supposed to be held “pro forma,” or merely as a matter of form.
That’s what Massie and Roy objected to. Even though the bill could have been passed months ago and despite the fact that FEMA currently has around $30 billion in unobligated funds it can use for the time being, it was apparently imperative to leadership that this bill not wait an extra few days to be debated and voted on like other important business that comes before “the people’s House.”
Finally, despite all the clamoring about how this is just a means to help areas ravaged by natural disasters, the bill covers considerably more than disaster relief, as Conservative Partnership Institute’s Rachel Bovard points out:
The bill also contains $55 million for the Head Start program, $1 million for worker training programs, extends the insolvent National Flood Insurance Program without making any reforms for the 11th time, and modifies the federally subsidized crop insurance program to cover the production of industrial hemp. About $900 million is provided for Puerto Rico, even though the territory is already on track to receive up to $91 billion once the 2017 hurricane response cycle is through.
Isn’t this exact sort of procedural hocus-pocus with the public purse thing just one big example of why the public’s opinion of Congress’ job performance is so low that a 26 percent approval rating earlier this year was actually a two-year high?
Seeing as this country is over $22 trillion in debt and looking at future of trillion-dollar annual deficits, shepherding important spending measures through without floor debate or regular roll call votes is not the kind of thing that’s going to make that number go anywhere but down.