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The Curious History of the 2011 Debt Ceiling Legislation

The following is a guest post by Margaret Wood, a Legal Reference Specialist in the Public Services Division.

When the House of Representatives agreed to increase the debt ceiling limit on Monday, August 1, 2011, the roll call vote posted by the Clerk of the House linked to S. 365, a bill then titled “To make a technical amendment to the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002.”  Not surprisingly, there was some confusion as to what a technical amendment for a 2002 law had to do with the debt ceiling limit, but this was simply the final twist in the complicated history of the debt ceiling legislation during the last week of July.

Roll Call Vote 690

The first bill considered during that last week of negotiations was S. 627.  This bill had originally been introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy in March as the Faster FOIA Act of 2011.  After passing the Senate by unanimous consent on May 26, 2011, the bill was forwarded to the House.  It was then used as a vehicle bill by House Speaker John Boehner for his debt ceiling proposal.  The Speaker struck out all the text of the Faster FOIA ACT of 2011 after the enacting clause and retitled it as the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The House Committee on Rules then added an additional amendment to this bill.

Typically in the House before any major piece of legislation is debated, a simple House resolution which sets the terms of the debate is introduced.  The debate on and passage of the resolution is often as important as the debate on the bill itself.  In the case of S. 627, House Resolution 375 was reported to the House on the evening of July 27.  This resolution directed that two hours of time would be devoted to the debate on S. 627 but that S. 627 was closed to amendments from the floor.  The inclusion of new text in this bill was covered by the following language in the resolution: “The amendment in the nature of a substitute printed in part A of the report of the of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution, modified by the amendments printed in part B of that report shall be considered as adopted.”  This resolution passed the House at 2:00 p.m. on July 28 and the debate on S. 627 commenced at 3 p.m., though S. 627 never passed the House.

On July 29, another resolution was introduced in the House, House Resolution 383, which provided for another amendment from the House Rules Committee to the text of S. 627.  Because H. Res. 375 had not allowed for amendments to S. 627 from the floor of the House, additional amendments had to come through committee.  Debate on S. 627 recommenced on July 29 and the bill passed the House under roll call vote 677.  This bill was then sent back to the Senate where it was tabled for reconsideration.

S. 365 - Budget Control Act of 2011

In the meantime, another version of the debt ceiling limit legislation was inserted in S. 365.  S. 365 had been introduced in the Senate in February 2011 to “make a technical amendment to the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002.”  This bill had passed the Senate on February 17, 2011 and been sent to the House for consideration.  The House again used this as a vehicle bill for the debt ceiling legislation.  House Resolution 384 set the terms for the debate and the text of the amendment, which was printed in House Report 112-190 from the House Committee on Rules.

Debate on both H. Res. 384 and S. 635 took place in the House of Representatives on August 1, 2011.  S. 635 was engrossed by the House at 7:09 p.m. under roll call vote 690.  The bill was then sent to the Senate.  However, when S. 365 was engrossed by the House, the bill’s title had still not been changed.  A separate concurrent resolution, H. Con. Res. 70 was introduced in the House after S. 365 was passed.  The text of H. Con. Res. 70 directed that the title of S. 365 should be amended upon the enrollment (the final passage of the bill by the Senate).

The Senate took up S. 365 on August 2, 2011, with a motion for the Senate to agree to the House’s amendment to S. 365.  The Senate agreed under roll call vote 123 to agree to the text of S. 365 as engrossed by the House.  Upon final passage of the bill by the Senate, the legislation was sent immediately to the President for signature on the same day.

2 Comments

  1. martha long
    September 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    It is truly a wonder how decisions are made in such a confusing system of titles and bills and how introduced for vote. I understand it that the final bill regarding the debt ceiling limit was not titled “Education Sciences
    Reform Act of 2002″. Where that title came from is beyond me.
    Could it be that in 2002 this deficit was discussed by an educator/scientist congressman and just never changed?
    Or better yet, hide the bill in a nonspecific
    way to allow for all kinds of ammendments?
    Martha Long
    Ruffin,NC

  2. morris lelyveld
    September 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

    How can contempt of Congress be a crime with this shell and pea game going on?

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