City Desk

D.C. Voting Rights: It’s All About Conference Now

OK, so you're worried about that gun amendment the Senate attached today to the D.C. House Voting Rights Act?

According to LL's game-planning here, you probably shouldn't be that worried. Civics lesson time, people:

First off, there's very little chance that the House version of the bill will be similarly amended. The DCHVRA will almost certainly be brought to the House floor with terms of debate and amendment set in advance. It's likely that the Democratic leadership will make sure that the voting-rights legislation is considered under a "closed rule," which would allow debate but no amendments.

When the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill, a "conference committee" is typically appointed to sit down and hash out the differences. Compromise language is determined, which is sent back to each House for a final vote.

Once the House bill is passed, conferees would be appointed by each house. They usually include the senior members of the standing committees that reported the original bill—in this case, the House judiciary committee and the Senate homeland security and governmental affairs committee.

This is good news for the DCHVRA, especially on the Senate side, where the chair and ranking member of the reporting committee typically have broad latitude in appointing conferees. The ranking member of Senate homeland security and governmental affairs is Maine's Susan Collins, who, while a supporter of the pro-gun Ensign amendment (likely for reasons discussed below), has been a relatively resolute supporter of the DCHVRA. Sometimes dozens of conferees can be appointed—especially on big spending bills—but the DCHVRA will probably see a relatively small committee.

It's very difficult to predict what would happen at a congressional conference, but barring the appointment of a John McCain or John Ensign or Tom Coburn—unlikely to happen on this bill with a Democratic majority—it seems unlikely the gun language would survive.

And final passage, where a simple majority is required in both chambers, would probably not be a huge problem in either chamber—even without the gun language. Make no mistake, a big reason that the gun language got 62 votes is because the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups are likely to use such that vote in candidate ratings and as a campaign litmus test generally. A vote for the deamended bill would carry no such political consequences.

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  • Dave McKenna

    Don't believe the hype, MdB. Take it from an old timer: DC will have baseball before you get to vote here.

  • cminus

    Well, we have a minor-league team -- shouldn't that give us a House rep but, ahem, no Senators?

  • DC Dude

    It's obvious that the author is clueless and didn't bother to research the article. Bills are rarely brought out in an entirely closed rule. Yes, amendments are blocked, but the minority usually gets at least one. But that is not even the main mistake. If the author had researched House procedure he would have discovered that the minority has the right to call for a motion to recommit which they always use and will use on this bill. Guess what they'll call for on the motion??? That's right, they'll have the bill recommitted to committee with instructions to include the gun language... As guess who'll vote with the minority? Right again, the Blue Dog dems... Do your homework next.

  • Skipper

    Oh snap!