US House of Representatives rules were strictly enforced Tuesday to prevent a full House vote on a pro-gun rights amendment offered by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) despite the earlier incorporation into the bill of a pro-drug war amendment that would also appear to be barred by a strict application of the procedural rule.
Massie’s attempt on the US House of Representatives floor to protect gun rights in the District of Columbia through offering an amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (HR 5016) was ruled out of order by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), the floor debate chairman, who ruled:
The Chair finds that this amendment includes language requiring a new determination by the District of Columbia as to the state of Federal firearms law. The gentleman has not shown that this determination is already required.
The amendment, therefore, constitutes legislation in violation of clause 2 of rule XXI.
While supporters of Massie’s amendment may shrug their shoulders and declare “oh well, rules are rules,” in the US House the rules appear to be quite flexible depending on what type of legislating an amendment proposes.
Just 21 days earlier, the House Committee on Appropriations added to the bill a pro-drug war amendment via a nearly party-line vote, with Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas the only Democrat to join all 27 voting Republican committee members in voting “yes” on the amendment.
The drug war amendment — now part of the House passed bill — would prevent the DC government from spending money to enact or carry out any reductions of penalties related to possessing, using, or distributing for recreational purposes drugs, including marijuana, listed in schedule one of the US government’s Controlled Substances Act. The restriction appears to be largely intended to oppose the DC government’s recently passed marijuana decriminalization legislation though the broad restriction reaches farther.
The procedurally blocked gun rights amendment would prevent the DC government from spending money to enforce DC’s legislative restrictions related to guns that go beyond US government restrictions.
Why is legislating in favor of the drug war in DC through the appropriations bill acceptable while legislating for gun rights in DC is not?
That is essentially the question Massie posed just before Wenstrup’s ruling and in answer to the assertion of Rep. José E. Serrano (D-NY) on the House floor that the gun amendment is out of order because it “constitutes legislation in an appropriation bill” and imposes additional duties on DC by “requiring law enforcement or the DC council to determine what is prohibited by federal law.”
[T]he underlying bill already contains language that is virtually identical in form to the amendment that I have offered. For instance, section 809 states that “none of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act.”
There are multiple examples in the underlying bill where the structure of those portions of the bill are identical to my amendment and require knowledge of law.
Maybe more revealing of how the House operates is what happened right after Massie’s appeal of Wenstrup’s ruling and someone’s immediately following motion to table the appeal. Within a few seconds you can hear someone say “This forces a vote right now that we don’t have” with anything else said inaudible due to a microphone being turned off. Then we have an over seven minutes pause in all legislative activity. During this extended pause, Wenstrup stands at the podium, twice punctuating the silence by starting to resume consideration of the appeal and motion presented to him, only to stop mid-sentence.
The long pause ends right after we see a woman who had been standing in a group of people near Wenstrup rush offscreen for a moment and then back onscreen and up some steps to next to Wenstrup’s podium where she says something to a man with whom Wenstrup has been speaking for much of the pause. That man waves his hand and Wenstrup finally speaks a full sentence, quickly calling a vote on the appeal of his procedural ruling, which is then upheld on a voice vote. Nothing more is said about the motion to table the appeal, and its existence is not even recorded in the Congressional Record.
Watch the complete House floor debate on Massie’s amendment here:
Read here the pro-drug war amendment that has been incorporated into the appropriations legislation:
Sec. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for any purpose.
(b) None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.
Read here the pro-gun rights amendment that was procedurally denied a vote on the House floor:
Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act, including amounts made available under titles IV or VIII, may be used by any authority of the government of the District of Columbia to prohibit the ability of any person to possess, acquire, use, sell, or transport a firearm except to the extent such activity is prohibited by Federal law.
Read here House Rule XXI, clause 2 that was used to rule that the full House could not vote on Massie’s amendment:
(b) A provision changing existing law may not be reported in a general appropriation bill, including a provision making the availability of funds contingent on the receipt or possession of information not required by existing law for the period of the appropriation, except germane provisions that retrench expenditures by the reduction of amounts of money covered by the bill (which may include those recommended to the Committee on Appropriations by direction of a legislative committee having jurisdiction over the subject matter) and except rescissions of appropriations contained in appropriation Acts.