Friday, July 24, 2009

How Will 1018 Move to the Senate?

I have been asked to explain the process that a bill takes once it passes the House and moves to the Senate. Specifically, HR 1018, the ROAM Act. Hopefully this will be helpful for those who want to follow the bills, but find the process confusing.

Once a bill passes in the House it is sent to the Senate. Once it arrives in the Senate (the paperwork usually take a day or two) it is read into the record. For a bill to become law it must be read into the record three times. HR 1018 was read into the record twice. The bill will then be assigned to a committee.

The committee HR 1018 was assigned to is the Energy and Natural Resources Committee chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman. Then it will be assigned to a sub-committee. HR 1018 will be assigned to if it isn't already is the Public Lands and Forest chaired by Senator Ron Wyden. The sub-committee will debate, hold hearings, vote on the bill to return it to the committee or table it (kill it). Once it passes the sub-committee, the full committee will debate it, hold hearings (if not already held) and then they will decide to pass it to the Senate floor or return it to the sub-committee for further action (kill it).

Since Congress has so many bills introduced each year they depend on the committees to determine if a bill is worty of passage. If a bill has the weight of a committee behind it is given more credence. However, since there are so many bills pending and because of resrictions on committee meetings few bills go to the floor. In fact, only one in six bills ever make it out of committee. The committees also have the authority to fully rewrite the bill, or "clean" it. Amendments can also be attached, even if they have nothing to do with the bill. If the bill is substantially different from the bill passed by the House it will then go to another committee, but I am getting ahead of myself.

If a bill passes committee they will send it to the floor with a report. It would then be scheduled for a vote. However, nothing in Congress is that easy. The bill then becomes vulnerable to a filibuster. In the old days a filibuster was when a Senator stood up and talked for hours and hours to block the vote on a bill. Today the rules of the Senate allow filibusters that can last days and even months if renewed and the bill cannot come up for a vote during that time. They are also virtually invisible because the Senator can block the bill without being seen doing so. Officially it takes 14 Senators' signatures to filibuster. However, it has happened with as few as 5. To over-ride a filibuster opposing Senators need to obtain cloture. Cloture ends a filibuster and takes the signatures of 60 Senators. Filibusters and cloture are "freedoms" that no other legislature in the world possesses except in the United States.

If a bill does manage to come up for a vote it is vulnerable to unlimited amendments and debate. (Remember that amendments do not have to be related to the bill to be considered.) That is unless a Senator calls for Unanimous Consent. This limits debate and the offering of amendments and must be brokered in advance with leadership. If it passes then it either goes to the President or to Conference Committee.

A bill is sent to Conference Committee if the wording is different in the Senate and House version of the bill. The committee is charged with resolving the difference, but they can also do more. This is where Senator Conrad Burns added the infamous Burns Amendment. It was done without most of the committe's being aware of it. The Omnibus bill it was attached to was very large with over 1000 pages and the need for a quick vote prevented most members from reading it fully. Once the committee resolves the wording the bill then goes to the House and Senate for a vote. In the case of the Burns Amendment the vote was rushed there too as it contained the budget for the entire government, so it is doubtful that they could have or would have rejected it.

Once the full language of the bill passes both Senate and House it goes to the President to sign or veto. If signed it becomes law. If vetoed it goes back to Congress to see if they can over-ride the veto.

As anyone can see man things can go wrong on the Senate side. This is why it is important to focus all of our attention and efforts there, especially with HR 1018. This is why events like the recent Horses on the Hill and our Month of the Horse in DC are so important. Letters and calls are great, but one has to remember that the opposition has professional lobbyists on the Hill every day. These lobbyists have face to face meetings, make personal connections with lawmakers and aides and can take lawmakers out to eat, they can throw them parties, they can donate to their campaigns and influence them. We can't do any of these things, but we can show that we are there, that we are united and that we aren't going away. We can also make those personal connections and have face to face meetings.

The opposition always claims that we are more influential, funded and organized. That is untrue. They have had decades to organize and they are far more well funded than our side. That is why we MUST understand that we need to fund legislative efforts as much as hands on rescue. Without the pending laws we face issues that can and should be resolved with their passage.

I hope this helps someone. If anyone has any further questions let me know and I will do my best to answer them.


kas0859 said...

Unbelievable. Why do these processes have to be so complicated? On a similar note, addressing the 'issue' of the Mustang. The Bureau of Land Management (the government entity in charge of the Mustangs) holds Internet Auctions to adopt the surplus horses. They have these on-line adoptions several times a year. My question is why isn't the on-line auction held continually? Why aren't the horses on ebay, or even Petfinder? The more exposure the Mustangs get the better, right?

AHDF President said...

One of the issues MANY groups have an issue with is the wild horse and burro adoption program. They don't devote enough resources, time or effort to it. You can provide comments to the BLM about your suggestions by going to

kas0859 said...

Are many groups in favor of expanding the wild horse & burro adoption program? Maybe with enough influence from the public and notable advocates
(Sheryl Crow, Viggo Mortenson,Mrs.Pickens)the internet auction might become an ongoing event. I am compelled to mention the majority of the horses online for adoption are 'plain'. Not there is anything wrong with that, but... the prices the pintos, appys, and buckskins bring are usually higher.

kas0859 said...

I just had a revelation... why not suspend all future wild horse round-ups? Wait until all of the current "Surplus" horses and burros have been adopted or moved to permanent BLM ranches/facilities? Then the round-ups could resume. Just think how many horses and how much money could be saved!

Anonymous said...

You've got a great site going here Hooflinks, If you have no objections, I would like to add to to my list of horse-related websites on my Amazon Author page.

One state representative characterized the present situation at BLM as "the wild horse version of Gitmo". Those of you who are interested in tracking this situation and finding out how your state representatives voted on HR 1018 might want to check out --they've got all the goods on all these guys. Mustangs have always been a symbol of freedom in this country, and right now we need all the symbols we can get.

J. R. Wise, author of "Give a Horse a Second Chance: Adopting and Caring for Rescue Horses."