Republican 'Pledge' Depends on What the Meaning of ‘3 Days’ Is

Terence P. Jeffrey | December 12, 2013 | 5:58pm EST
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When the House Republican leadership scheduled the Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 to come up for a vote on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, it violated a campaign pledge it made in the fall of 2010.

However, it complied with the House rule it put in place in January 2011—purportedly to fulfill that pledge.

You see, it depends on what the meaning of “three days” is.

On Sept. 23, 2010, the Republican House leaders, then in the minority, held a press conference at a lumber yard in Virginia to unveil their Pledge to America, a campaign document intended to inform voters what the Republicans would do if they won control of the House.

One promise in this document was headlined: “Read the Bill.” It said: “We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives.”

At the press conference, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R.-Utah) explained what this meant—with then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R.-Ohio) standing directly behind him. (See the video embedded above.)

“We are taking a pledge today to do a number of things,” said Chaffetz. “It starts with requiring that all pieces of legislation be available online for 72 hours—at least 72 hours—so that the public has a chance to review the legislation and members of Congress can actually read the bill.”

Appearing on Fox News that day to promote the pledge, then-Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R.-Calif.) echoed Chaffetz’s understanding that the pledge meant posting bills online for “72 hours” before voting on them.

“I would love to have the debate with any Democrat on what they disagree,” said McCarthy. “Do they disagree that small business creates jobs? Do they disagree with the idea that government spends too much? Do they disagree that a bill should be put online for 72 hours and actually read before its voted on?”

Giving the Republican's weekly address on Oct. 30, 2010, shortly before the midterm election, then-Minority Leader Boehner indicated that the reason the Republicans were pledging to post all bills online for three days before voting on them was so the American people could read them.

“The American people are in charge of this country,” said Boehner, “and they deserve a Congress that acts like it. Americans should have three days to read all bills before Congress votes on them, something they didn’t get when the stimulus was rushed into law.”

At 6:13 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10, as recorded by C-SPAN, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R.-Wisc.) and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) walked into a briefing room on Capitol Hill and announced they had agreed to a very important piece of legislation.

“I am happy to report that Senator Murray and I have reached an agreement,” said Ryan. “We've been talking all year, and this week that hard work of the two of us sitting down and talking to each other all year has paid off.”

“The reason we're here tonight is to explain what we've agreed to,” said Ryan.

But where was the actual bill?

“All the summary documents in the legislation will be texted--or will be placed upon our budget websites by the end of the night,” said Ryan.

The House Budget Committee says it was told by the House leadership to post the bill online before midnight Tuesday. The committee succeeded, posting the bill at 11:25 p.m. on Tuesday—thirty five minutes before Wednesday. The actual 77-page PDF text of the legislation posted by the Budget Committee is time-stamped: “December 10, 2013 (11:25 p.m.)”

At a press briefing that, according to the Federal News Service, convened at 10:32 a.m on Wednesday, Speaker Boehner complained that conservative groups opposed the Ryan-Murray budget deal “before they ever saw it.”

“Mr. Speaker, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you worried that--,” a reporter asked.

“You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?’ said Boehner.

“Yes, those groups,” said the reporter. “Are you worried that there are—.”

“They're using our members, and they're using the American people for their own goals,” said Boehner. “This is ridiculous. Listen, if you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement.”

The House Budget Committee has posted an online question-and-answer sheet "Setting the Record Straight" on the Ryan-Murray deal. It says the deal increases spending in the next two years in return for longer-term cuts--the net result being a long-term reduction of $23 billion in the deficit.

“This agreement provides for $63 billion in additional discretionary spending in 2014 and 2015—in return for a permanent deficit reduction of $85 billion,” said the Budget Committee document. “On net, this bill reduces the deficit by $23 billion.”

The full-impact of these longer-term cuts that would result in a longer-term net reduction in the deficit, however, depend on future Congresses keeping those cuts in place—after the short-term spending increases have been made.

The House Republican leaders scheduled a vote on the Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act for Thursday, less than 48 hours after the House Budget Committee posted it online at 11:25 p.m. on Tuesday.

Today, sent spokespersons for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.-Va.), House Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy and House Speaker John Boehner a link to the video embedded in this story. This video includes tape of the statements quoted from Rep. Chaffetz and Rep. McCarthy above that characterize the Republican pledge to post bills online for “at least three days” as meaning “72 hours.” asked: “Given that the Budget Committee first posted the Bipartisan Budget Reconciliation Act at 11:25 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 (getting it posted before midnight at the request of the Republican leadership), how would it not violate the Pledge to America to vote on it before Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 at 11:25 p.m.--which is when 72 hours will have passed from its initial posting?”

Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker Boehner, responded: “The timing of the vote is consistent with the House 3-day rule.” then contacted the House Rules Committee, asking for the text of this “3-day rule.”

A spokesman for the committee emailed the text of Rule XIII, Clause 4 of the House rules that were approved on Jan. 5, 2011--the same day the newly elected Republican majority elected John Boehner as its new speaker.

The rule says: “Three-day layover. 4. (a)(1) Except as specified in subparagraph (2), it shall not be in order to consider in the House a measure or matter reported by a committee until the third calendar day (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays except when the House is in session on such a day) on which each report of a committee on that measure or matter has been available to Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner.”

On—“The Website for the House Republican Majority"--there is an explanation for how the Republican majority fulfilled the provisions of The Pledge to America, including the pledge that the text of a bill be published “online for at least three days before coming up for a vote.” This explanation cites the day in 2011 when the House rules were passed as the day the Republicans fulfilled this pledge.

“This promise was fulfilled on January 5, 2011,” it says. “All legislative text must be posted online for 3 days prior to voting.”

So, in the rule that the House Republicans passed once they had won a majority, the words “until the third calendar day,” replaced the “72 hours” of online posting of all bills that Rep. Chaffetz and Rep. McCarthy insisted to the nation the Republican were pledging--when they were still seeking to win a majority.

Under the “third calendar day" rule, the 35 minutes left of Tuesday after the House Budget Committee posted the bill at 11:25 p.m. counted as calendar day one. Wednesday--when Speaker Boehner was complaining about conservatives opposing the bill before they had even seen it--counted as calendar day two. The hours before the Republican leaders brought the bill up for a vote early Thursday evening counted as calendar day three.

Tomorrow night at 11:25 p.m. 72 hours will have elapsed from the time the Budget Committee first posted the bill online.

By that time, the House Republican leaders will be on their Christmas vacations, having left as a gift for the Obama administration "$63 billion in additional discretionary spending in 2014 and 2015."

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