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Hoyer Says No Decision Made on How ‘Motion to Recommit’ Will Be Tweaked in 117th Congress

December 11, 2020 by Dan McCue
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer predicted Wednesday that the new rules package for the upcoming 117th Congress will be “pretty much” in line “with what has been,” but he said Democrats are continuing to look at the fate of a key legislative weapon afforded the chamber’s minority party.

The motion to recommit, or MTR, is, in a technical sense, one final opportunity for the House to debate and amend a bill before there’s a vote on its final passage.

Historically it has been seen as a tool with which the minority can make last-minute changes to its liking or use it as a procedural vote to kill legislation by sending it back to committee.

But for all the potential gamesmanship the motions invite, they are also important tools wielded by lawmakers to make critical last minute amendments to a bill.

“Let’s say we’re talking about passing a funding bill,” said a Capitol Hill staffer speaking on background. “Now this is just a completely hypothetical example, but let’s say you looked at this funding bill and saw you included a cost-of-living adjustment for one class of federal employees, but not another.

“By using a motion to recommit, you can include the cost-of-living adjustment for all federal employees,” the staffer said. “That’s an example where the MTR is an opportunity to really improve a bill.”

More often than not though during this current divisive era on the Hill, it’s primarily been used as a political messaging vote — a “gotcha,” Hoyer said — in which the minority tries to trap the majority into supporting controversial policies that it can use to pillory them at election time.

During a pen and pad session with reporters on Wednesday, Hoyer fielded a pair of questions about the rules package and the fate of the MTR.

In terms of the rules package itself, Hoyer said there may be some “additional items” added to it, but he hasn’t seen it yet.

“I know there has been a lot of talk about the motion to recommit, but no decision has been made yet — as far as I know — on exactly what form that will take,” he said.

Hoyer went on to say that whatever form it takes and whatever changes are made, he expects the Democratic caucus will be able to adopt the rules package on its own.

“As usual,” he added. “By which I mean, it will probably be a partisan vote. The Democrats have voted against Republican rules packages and Republicans have voted against Democratic rules packages.

“But that said, I think the rules package will essentially be what it was in the 116th Congress,” Hoyer added.

Later, when the fate of the motion to recommit was broached again, Hoyer revealed a bit more of his thinking on the matter.

“First of all, let me make a point that I think is a very important point,” he said.

“I don’t know if anybody [else] has researched it, but we have, and what we’ve found is that Republicans don’t vote on motions to recommit because their leadership tells them this is a procedural vote, simply designed to kill legislation,” Hoyer said.

“That’s why, you’ll notice, that it is only in rare, rare, rare exceptions that Republicans vote for an MTR. No matter what it is. It could be [about] motherhood and apple pie, or [something for] armed services personnel or … safety precautions for consumers,” he continued. “Whatever it is … and no matter how appealing it may appear … they don’t vote for it.

“Now, the motion to recommit is a legitimate motion if, in fact, what you want to do is refer a bill back to committee for further consideration. And that’s a legitimate motion,” Hoyer said.

“However, what we’ve had, pretty consistently, is the Republicans offering spurious motions … that are designed to be ‘gotcha’ amendments,” he continued. “Now, don’t get me wrong, we’ve done the same thing.

“And we’ve even had instances where we’ve adopted their motions, only to have them vote against the final legislation … in which case we think they are only engaging in a delay action. So we’re looking at the motion to recommit as to whether or not there ought to be a modification, but we have not yet come to a conclusion as to exactly what action we will take,” he said.

Democrats have floated a variety of ideas for changing the motion to recommit.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., for instance, has proposed raising the threshold for adopting an MTR from a simple majority to two-thirds, arguing that it would retain the minority’s right to offer a last-minute amendment while requiring it to be broadly supported to be adopted.

Other members have suggested it should once again be a procedural vote that does not amend legislation on the floor, and some have gone so far as to say it should just be chucked altogether.

House Republicans oppose changing the motion to recommit.

Late last month, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a statement, accusing Democrats of trying to “overturn centuries of precedent just to protect their own political futures.”

“These rumored changes are a disgrace and would forever tarnish the institution in which we serve,” McCarthy said.

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