Yesterday, congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee stated (see video below):
“We have martial law…and my colleagues know what it means…"This is the procedure that the leadership uses to muscle through important bills.
Under “martial law,” the leadership can file legislation with tens or hundreds of pages of fine print, and move immediately to debate and votes on it before members of Congress, the media, or the public have an opportunity to understand fully what provisions have been altered or inserted into the legislation behind closed doors.
What is “Martial Law”?
“The House leadership is using a parliamentary gambit to evade a longstanding House rule that is supposed to ensure that this kind of obfuscation does not occur. That House rule (Rule XIII(6)(a)) provides that a resolution (called a rule) reported by the Rules Committee cannot be considered by the House on the same legislative day that the rule is reported (except by a two-thirds vote of the House). This is supposed to ensure that Members of the House and the public have at least one day to examine and analyze what is in legislation before they have to debate and vote on it.
To maneuver around this House rule and rush the three proposals discussed above to a vote before they have been fully examined, the Rules Committee reported a rule late Thursday afternoon (H.Res. 958) that would waive the application of Rule XIII(6)(a). Instead, it would allow the Rules Committee to wait until the last minute and not to report the rules governing the consideration of these bills or to release the text of the bills themselves until immediately before debate and votes on the bills, and on the rules governing their consideration, commences.
This extraordinary procedure is known as a “martial law” rule because it suspends the normal procedures and safeguards and allows the House Leadership to operate in a more authoritarian fashion. It enables the Leadership to seek to ram a bill or conference report through before the Members have the opportunity to fully understand what they are voting on.
Legislation that has far-reaching implications for millions of Americans deserves to be considered under a more democratic process. Waiting until the last minute to reveal what is in these bills, and then “spinning” or potentially mischaracterizing changes in the bills without Members of the House or the public having an opportunity to obtain a more objective review of what the legislation does, is unfair to Members of the House. It also is unfair to the millions of Americans whose lives could be affected by this legislation. It represents a further step in reducing the degree of transparency and democracy in how this country is governed and how decisions are made. At a time when our leaders preach the goal of promoting democracy abroad, they should not be reducing it at home.