Just to set the record straight, let’s take a look at the Constitution and committees, rules and voting in the Congress. Also, another thing to take a look at is the powers granted to the “Super Committee” and is it really all that super?
Little known fact: the Rules committee was established in 1789 – not by the Constitution, but by the Congress.
This is important as there are some misconceptions going on around this committee, known as an ad hoc joint committee.
Ad hoc, in layman’s terms? Not permanent, made up for a certain purpose and then it goes away. Joint committee simply means that there are members from both chambers as a part of this committee. There are actually at least two PERMANENT joint committees in place today – the Joint Economic Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
How do committees work, and does this committee actually marginalize any more or less the power of either chamber?
First, let’s take a look at a sub committee. These are formed or disassembled from Congress to Congress. The 111th Congress may have had more or less subcommittees than the 112th.
Your average subcommittee may have as many as 15-21 Representatives or less Senators. Without the joint committees – there are at least 19 permanent committees in the 112th House and Senate (each) with many subcommittees under each committee (5-10 usually).
So – if a bill is introduced by a Congressperson or Senator, they will often introduce it in the subcommittee they are in and that relates to the bill. That means that the people giving the “due consideration” will be only the people in the subcommittee.
If they pass the bill, they will proceed with the mark up – putting it in the final language to send it up to the next level with amendments and then report it out to their committee. The top level committee may have 35 people on it, so really, the people who are possibly giving a bill “due consideration” is 35.
If it passes the vote in the main level committee – it will move to the next level.
This is where it can change a bit from House to Senate.
The committee in the House will report it out to the main body of the chamber, but it must go through the Rules committee and leadership first. The leadership will decide if they want to have debate or amendments (and in the 112th, most of the bills HAVE had both, unlike the 111th). If the House doesn’t allow amendments or debate, they must pass the bill with 2/3 of the vote. One note – there is an hour of debate for the debt committee’s legislation to be considered on the floor.
In the Senate, the Rules committee and the leadership are similar, but in many cases it must survive a cloture vote – it must have 60 people willing to vote on it to survive a filibuster. However, in budgetary matters, and the debt cutting would be considered so, the Senate according to their rules must have an up or down vote – no filibusters are allowed.
If committees “marginalize” the “due consideration” of everyone in the House and Senate, then most every bill going to the floor would be doing the same as a great majority of the Congress doesn’t consider all of the thousands of bills going out of those halls (we aren’t supporting this – just reporting this). And some of the people who are touting this “marginalization” actually are part and parcel of that “marginalization” due to being committee or subcommittee chairs.
A few other things to consider:
- The Constitution has nothing to do with the formation of committees
- The Constitution has nothing to do with the rules of either chamber – that is the purview of each session of Congress
- The Constitution has nothing to do with the rules for bills – the bills, as noted above, have Rules placed on them prior to a vote, and some or many (depending on the leadership) do not have amendments or debate allowed at all.
- The Constitution has nothing to do with the rules of the filibuster – as this last Senate session proves due to the fact that the Senate CHANGED the rules.
- The committee formation and dissolution has been happening for 222 years – and it is normal – there is nothing odd about forming a new committee or getting rid of one that doesn’t pertain any longer.
- There are ad hoc committees formed to perform a study or report out a piece of legislation and they have done so throughout history
- The committee was likely formed due to the fact that 535 people couldn’t obviously figure out how to pull their heads out and come up with a doable number in over 8 months – pretty sure they couldn’t do it by Thanksgiving. 12 MIGHT have the slightest chance, though we don’t think so.
This is a committee designed to report out one piece of legislation BEFORE Thanksgiving and the House and Senate must vote on pass or not before 12/23/2011. The Balanced Budget Amendment must be voted on before the end of 2011. Once this committee reports out their legislation, or if they do, that is it for them. This is not a permanent committee.
One thing to remember: The House and Senate put these rules on themselves. The House and Senate as a whole normally doesn’t have the ability to do this – it is up to the chamber leadership and the Rules committee – but in this case, the rules and the “punishment” phase (ALL cuts by the way) have been predefined by the Congress and signed into law. The House and Senate as a whole voted up or down on the ability to debate and offer amendments.
Another fact – the teeth that were put into this bill were due to the people not feeling like this committee would do anything but dance around and accomplish nothing. The amendment limitation was due to the fact that many people, seeing the history of the amendments in the Congress and how Congress in the past has ruined good bills with tons of amendments, didn’t want there to be an opportunity to slip a mickey into the drink at the last second.
The committee doesn’t have the power to take away your guns, your rights, steal your children or rape your dogs. This is not a fundamental reconstruction of how government as a whole works, nor will it be able to pass this bill right to the President even if the House and/or Senate vote no.
Now – as to the cuts that are the teeth:
- Defense isn’t being cut 50%. That is a fallacy. There will be 1.5 trillion in total cuts from the automatic punishment clause. 50% OF those cuts or 750 billion will come from defense spending, 750 will come from non-defense spending. These cuts will not happen until 2014. This is important.
- Defense, according to all numbers out there – will be saving 1 trillion over ten years in pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan by – you got it right in one – 2014. Using Harry Reid’s numbers, defense will be saving 100 billion a year for 10 years. Goal met.
- Social security isn’t affected at all
- Vets benefits aren’t affected at all
- Medicare can be cut 2% of the overall budget
- The rest of the cuts are across the board cuts.
One final thing to note, and realizing that this is a pipe dream: 1.1-1.5 trillion in cuts from this committee, as Kent Conrad notes, is a FLOOR, not a ceiling.
IF the Democrats realize how bad it could have been if cuts hadn’t been made and that the ratings agencies like S & P and Egan Jones are still eyeing us for future downgrades – they may decide that it would behoove them to save their comrades up for reelection in 2012. (ok – you can stop laughing now)
Most likely not, however. What it looks like, from the 3 that Reid put on the committee is that we’ll have the automatic cuts and everyone will have some political cover for not budging from their base. You will note that not one of the Senators, for example, is up for reelection in ’12 so as to give the American people time to forget.
As Michael Barone pointed out – it will take two elections for us to actually accomplish what we want to see happen in debt reduction. 2010 was one – now it’s up to the country to decide if they were serious enough about debt reduction to do it again in 2012.
Please note – this isn’t saying that what happens on a day to day basis is right, moral, just or any other phraseology used to justify calling this UnConstitutional when in fact it isn’t. History and facts I have learned over time do not back any justification of this other than conspiratorial surmises that have no facts stated in evidence. Editorial comments such as “I believe this could change the way government works” or “I feel this threatens or diminishes the power of the people or their representatives” doesn’t qualify as Constitutional scholarly work. It is opinion.
This article is just about correcting a lot of real misnomers and misinformation that started from a tabloid in London and was picked up by questionable news sources. If I have any of the information wrong – please cite your source and back up your argument with fact that is verifiable – and I will issue a correction with no hard feelings. Saying “so and so says this or that” doesn’t qualify as a sourcing of a fact.
I would challenge you to write to Congresspeople (plural) that you trust and ask them if this article is correct though some of the language may be off due to my trying to keep it simple, or I may be forgetting a minor step or two – let me know. I’ll correct those too.
This is simply to quash the fears that seems to be grabbing the hearts of people when they need not. Education, not support or backing of anything, is my goal here.