What would it take to end the shutdown or, more importantly, raise the debt ceiling in time to avoid default? As polling shows that this tactic (not strategy!) has proven to be a terrible disaster for the Republican Party it would seem reasonable that there are enough votes in the House to pass a “Clean CR” or bill to fund the federal government and reopen everything. CNN has polled the membership and found that indeed if the Senate bill was introduced on the floor of the US House it would pass rather easily with bipartisan support.
So why doesn’t a vote come up? House rules normally allow any Representative to bring a bill from the Senate with differences from the House directly onto the floor for a vote. But in a highly unusual parliamentary maneuver the House simply changed the rules to take that out of the hands of any member and put it exclusively in the hands of Eric Cantor (R-VA). And so it stands that he is the only person in the US right now that can end this standoff.
Under normal operation having two houses of Congress can be tricky enough. It’s pretty common for a bill to pass the House and then go on to the Senate only to be amended – and thus be different from the House bill. Both bodies have to pass the same bill in order for it to move on to the President, so there is a little bit of a safety valve built into the House rules. Rule XXII Clause 4 allows any member of the House to put the bill without amendments onto the floor for a vote. This little tidbit is there to clear away amendments the Senate stripped out and let members vote on a clean bill, moving things along.
But late at night on September 30th, into the early hours of the government shutdown, the House Rules Committee put forward onto the floor a Resolution, or little matter pertaining only to the operation of the House. House Resolution 368 contains within it the following language:
Any motion pursuant to clause 4 of rule XXII relating to House Joint Resolution 59 may be offered only by the Majority Leader or his designee.
That gives Eric Cantor exclusive control over the current bill to fund the government – and when it can be put onto the floor of the House. Late at night the House made sure that they changed the rules. Rep. Chris van Hollen (D-MD) explained it well by asking a “Parliamentary Procedure” question:
And so, unlike any other bill that doesn’t quite match between the two houses, government funding cannot be brought onto the floor by anyone other than Cantor. It’s entirely up to him as to when the bill would even be considered. This holds despite the fact that CNN has found more than 19 Republicans who have stated publicly that they would vote for the Senate Bill and thus re-open the government – and combined with all 200 Democrats means that such a bill would indeed pass.
But it’s not allowed to come up, at least not by any normal means.
This comes as polling shows that the shutdown has been a terrible disaster for the Republican Party, polling a net favorable rating lower than anyone has ever seen for a political party. And we haven’t even started to consider the debt ceiling and possible default. The leadership apparently knew this might happen but made sure that a revolt by moderates was not possible, keeping power in their own hands.
How long will the shutdown continue? It’s impossible to say given that it’s up to one person to put an end to it. To make a prediction, we’d have to read Rep. Cantor’s mind and know just how much he’s willing to let this play out. As one of the architects of this strategy and a man not known for compromise and negotiation, we can probably assume that there isn’t going to be a vote on this bill for a while.
Meanwhile, the normal function of the Federal Government rests entirely in the hands of one man whom many people have probably never heard of. The US House has rules to prevent things from getting too bottled up, but they were changed to keep this bill from advancing.
How bad can this situation get? There’s a good chance we haven’t seen anything yet. It may go on for a while longer before a majority of the House is allowed to weigh in and put a stop to it.
Our government is not only dysfunctional, it’s dysfunctional entirely by design, with the shutdown carefully planned for months. And this is still all about the Republican Party desperately falling into something like a murder-suicide action – with the gun pointed straight at the entire nation.