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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 25, 2011

House GOP refrains from taking up purely commemorative bills

During the 2010 campaign, House Republican leaders promised to "eliminate expressions of appreciation and recognition for individuals, groups, events, and institutions."

The targets of this promise are non-binding resolutions that the House and Senate have historically taken up to commemorate someone or something. In a previous PolitiFact item, we crunched some data that gives a sense of how numerous these have been in recent years.

A July 2008 report from the Congressional Research Service -- Congress' nonpartisan research arm -- found that as of June 30, 2008, the Senate had passed 911 measures of various kinds during the 110th Congress, but found only 376 that were legally binding bills and joint resolutions. Many of the rest would fall under the heading of "expressions of appreciation and recognition for individuals, groups, events, and institutions."

As we looked through the full list provided by CRS, we found that the vast majority were ceremonial or symbolic in nature. These included a resolution "congratulating Charles County, Maryland, on the occasion of its 350th anniversary;” a resolution commending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln women's volleyball team for winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Women's Volleyball Championship, and a concurrent resolution honoring the memory of Napa Valley winemaker Robert Mondavi.

When the House Republican Conference met in December 2010, prior to officially taking control of the chamber, it passed a set of rules that included a provision governing a procedure called "suspension of the rules.” Suspending the rules is a parliamentary maneuver typically used for non-controversial bills in which the process of taking a vote is streamlined in exchange for requiring a higher threshold for passage -- a two-thirds vote rather than the usual minimum of a simple majority.

Here's the relevant portion of the rule approved by the Republican conference: "The Republican Leader shall not schedule, or request to have scheduled, any bill or resolution for consideration under suspension of the Rules which … expresses appreciation, commends, congratulates, celebrates, recognizes the accomplishments of, or celebrates the anniversary of, an entity, event, group, individual, institution, team or government program; or acknowledges or recognizes a period of time for such purposes.”

We should note that this provision appears in the House Republican Conference rules -- not in the general rules package adopted at the beginning of each new Congress after a vote by all members of the House from both parties. However, the fact that this provision wasn't included in full rules package is not significant. The way the House runs its affairs, the majority has full control over the scheduling of when and how bills are considered, meaning that the GOP conference rules effectively guide this practice.

Just to be sure, we checked to make sure that no commemorative bills had slipped by. Looking through the bills considered in the House so far this year, we didn't find any that seemed purely commemorative in nature. (Some votes on naming buildings were held, but those are binding votes, which are not held under suspension of the rules.)

Of course, the GOP majority could change course on purely commemorative bills, and the GOP conference rules didn't bar the possibility of passing a commemorative bill through regular procedures (although such an action would be unlikely, since it would likely consume more floor time than it was worth). Either way, if the House Republicans do change course, we"ll reconsider our ruling.

For now, though, they have enshrined the prohibition in their conference rules and refrained from considering such legislation on the floor during nearly three months of their majority. We rate it a Promise Kept.

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