At first, it kind of looked like the old way of doing things Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
House Republicans were supposed to meet at 5 p.m. to talk about a major bill to avoid tax hikes at the end of the year as well as a massive $1.1 trillion package to fund the government.
Only the bills weren’t ready. The GOP scuttled the meeting, postponing it until 9 p.m. Republican leaders hoped they would have more information available later to help lawmakers navigate the labyrinthine packages.
“I would anticipate [the bills] would go up hopefully around 10:00,” predicted House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
Finally, the GOP huddled. Many Republicans leaving the conclave seemed optimistic. But not all. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, was skeptical of the midnight oil prospect of parsing a couple-thousand pages of rigid, legislative text.
“It will be a long night. They talk in generalities. I’ve pulled a lot of all-nighters here,” said Gohmert.
Wasn’t this the same way former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, used to do things?
“Not quite,” quipped Gohmert.
At 11:57 p.m., the House posted what was believed to be text of the bills online. Only they weren’t online. Those bills were essentially placeholders. The full jot and tittle wouldn’t appear until around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. The omnibus plan was more than 2,000 pages itself.
Keep in mind: Republicans railed against Democrats for years when they held the majority, accusing them of posting thousands of pages of bills late at night and then jamming them to passage just after sunrise. Republicans aimed to do things differently if they secured the majority in 2010. One commitment was bills would appear “online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives.”
Sometimes, these things happened when the GOP won the majority. Sometimes they didn’t. And when they didn’t, various Republican members howled.
But new House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., promised a different approach. His lieutenants endured to carry out those orders.
“We are not going to skip any timeframes,” said Sessions. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., promised the GOP would take “72 hours” to consider the bills.
From a technical standpoint, there is no “three-day rule” in the House, let alone a “72-hour rule.” House rules state lawmakers can’t take up a new bill “until the third calendar day it has been available.” In other words, parts of three days. You post the bill Tuesday (just before midnight, sound familiar?), let it sit around on Wednesday and then debate and vote on it Thursday. Parts of the three days.
But the GOP supposedly missed its mark with the 1:30 a.m. business, right?
Not really. A closer inspection of the House’s “parts of three days rule” reveals that the regulation “does not apply to messages between the Houses.”
What’s that? It’s simple. The House passes a bill. The Senate approves the same bill, perhaps with changes. But that piece of legislation isn’t quite synched-up yet between the bodies. Thus, lawmakers may have to “ping pong” the bill between each chamber until there’s alignment. And, according to House rules, this type of bill doesn’t have to sit around for even parts of three days before lawmakers summon the measure for a debate and vote.
Republicans engineered the omnibus spending bill and the tax package as “messages between houses.” They extracted text from old bills sitting around and dumped in new language. As messages between houses, the legislation was exempt from the layover.
Kind-of-sort-of-three days. But not really.
This is like the fabled Pirate’s Code in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
“The code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules,” proclaims Captain Hector Barbossa in the film.
“The jury is still out,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus about the omnibus plan. It was Meadows who first called for Boehner’s ouster. But even if Meadows doesn’t back the omnibus, he’s at least satisfied with how Ryan handled the measures.
“I’ve had more meaningful conversations with the speaker and leadership in the last couple of weeks than I have had in the last few years. I would give it an A-plus trying to reach out to rank-and-file,” opined Meadows.
“We played the cards that were dealt the best we can,” said Ryan.
Sure there was legislation posted overnight. The bills didn’t precisely comport with the “parts of three day rule” -- even though they didn’t have to. And Ryan allowed for breathing space rather than ordering an immediate vote.
Some things were the same. Some things were different. And the key to passing the omnibus may be that things were just different enough.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.