House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer has a message for members as they enter the busy summer months: Pick up the pace on roll calls, or miss your chance to vote.
“Frankly, we have all gotten in the syndrome, when the bells ring, we watch how many voted rather than how much time is left,” Hoyer, D-Md., recently told his colleagues. “Some of you are going to be angry with me on both sides of the aisle, but I will try to work with our presiding officers so we keep to a much shorter period of time.”
The House has slipped into a routine of keeping the first vote in a series open for an average of more than 25 minutes instead of the allotted 15 minutes, he said, and chairmen have complained that the drawn-out votes are keeping people waiting in committees.
“We leave secretaries and very important witnesses,” Hoyer said. “And all of our witnesses are treated without courtesy.”
The length of House voting times has historically ebbed and flowed, often expanding until leadership has moved to cut the time, according to an official in the House parliamentarian’s office. Republicans made an effort to keep vote times under 20 minutes when they took control of the House in 1995, but they later slipped back into longer votes.
Members often wait to see how many of their colleagues have voted, because that gives them an idea of when the vote will be closed. The presiding officers usually don’t close the vote if fewer than 400 of the chamber’s 435 members have voted.
Enforcing the vote time can initially be uncomfortable for members who miss the vote, the presiding officer and the parliamentarian, the official said. But after a few times, the method gets members to hustle to the House chamber more quickly.
Staying on schedule will be key in the next two months. The House will likely hold more votes in June and July than have been held in the first five months of the 111th Congress so far, if this appropriations season is anything like those of the past.
In 2007, the House passed all 12 appropriations bills before the August recess. Representatives cast more than 350 votes in June and July, including 22 votes in one day to pass the Homeland Security Appropriations bill that year.
Hoyer made his announcement of shorter voting times just before the Memorial Day recess, and Tuesday night marked the first vote held since then. It was closed after about 23 minutes, a few minutes quicker than this year’s average. Forty-one members were left without a vote cast, but that number is not abnormal for the first day back from a recess.