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Follow the Bouncing Bill

Congress has lots of ways to hide what it’s doing. (Did you ask for transparency yet?)

One of the most diabolical is taking the text of one bill and putting it into another just before debating and passing it. (There are some technical reasons for doing this. It’s not actually—or only—for making things obscure.)

But that’s what Congress did last week with the “continuing resolution” that it must pass by the end of this week unless there’s going to be a government shutdown. Once again, Congress hasn’t passed the spending bills that are due every year at the end of September.

The continuing resolution started its life as H. J. Res. 79. But when it came time to debate the bill, the House of Representatives put it into a different bill—H.R. 2608, which was originally a bill about small business. It’s now called the “Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012.”

The House passed that small business bill back in July, but the Senate had sent it back with an amendment. So it sat in the House until leadership there decided to use that bill, put in the continuing appropriations language, and started debate on it last Wednesday.

But it didn’t go that simply.

You see a combination of conservative Republicans and Democrats (each for their own reasons) voted not to pass the bill as House leadership had hoped they would. (Here’s the vote.)

So late the next day, House leaders brought the bill back up again.

Whatever magic they needed to do to sweeten the bill, they had done, so it passed—after midnight Thursday/early Friday. Here’s that vote. (Did your representative change his or her vote?)

Now, in all this the House had made some clerical mistakes in putting the bill together, so next they passed a resolution to fix them.

The fixed-up bill went to the Senate, which quickly … rejected it! The Senate voted to table the bill, meaning that it would be put aside indefinitely. Here’s that vote.

That’s where it stands today. The Congress has a lot of negotiating to do if it’s going to get a bill that can pass both houses and go to the president.

They should have negotiated over the actual appropriations bills all summer long, of course, but we’re just sticklers around for, oh, not running the government irresponsibly. Please forgive us if we’re being excessive in hoping that the United States government would operate at a higher level than some banana republic. That’s just our hang-up.

Very likely, H.R. 2608 will be the bill that gets debated late this week, but maybe the House or Senate will use some other bill to pass a continuing appropriation at week’s end, making it hard once again for us to follow along…

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