A Call to Order
The U.S. House of Representatives today will debate and vote on their fiscal year 2016 Budget for the federal government. The top issue for the majority Republicans pits defense and deficit hawks against each other and should provide for animated and worthy debate. In the meantime, it offers boards and private association some wisdom in dealing with resolutions and strong opinions in debate.
The Congress has one of the most refined set of procedural rules, parliamentary rules, of any legislative body in the world. When a significant piece of legislation comes to the floor, a resolution that establishes the procedural rules for debate, amendment and passage comes with it. The House Rules Committee offers the resolution, which is the first thing that gets voted on. In the case of the 2016 Budget, House Resolution (HR) 163 offers these rules.
Among many things, most prominent in HR 163 are four amendments which are substitutes for the Budget offered by the Budget Committee. The final two substitutes offer the competing budgets in the defense-deficit debate. The deficit hawks support the first of the final two and the defense hawks support the second. The order is critical as HR 163 states:
“[House Resolution 163] provides that if more than one such amendment is adopted, then only the one receiving the greater number of affirmative votes shall be considered as finally adopted. In the case of a tie for the greater number of affirmative votes, then only the last amendment to receive that number of affirmative votes shall be considered as finally adopted.”
That is, whichever receives the plurality wins and if it’s tie, the final amendment voted on wins the day. The lobbyists have their day cut out for them!
HR 163 echoes Robert’s Rules of Order when considering amendments to bylaws that seek to amend the same provision in the bylaws or that offer differing amendments that deal with the same problem. Each version or resolution must come to the floor for debate and Robert’s lays out procedures for dealing with this generally ordering the amendments from least inclusive to most inclusive, so that the last one winning adoption is the effective amendment.
Similarly, HR 163 first provides that a plurality vote adopts, and when a tie, the last one voted on is adopted. The difference is that the Congress is dealing with a budget resolution and the procedure in Robert’s can only be applied to bylaws amendments. The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure defines a motion to Adopt in-lieu-of which allows a resolutions committee the ability to review competing resolutions, and synthesize them into one resolution which is moved in lieu of the others.
Boards and associations may find it useful to adopt a set of annual meeting rules that deal with competing resolutions in a similar manner that the U.S. House has done in dealing with the 2016 Budget.
Yes, I'm sure there are parliamentarians in Great Britain, but a parliamentarian is considerably different from a member of the British Parliament! A parliamentarian attempts to help meetings go better by applying procedural rules that meeting members agree to ahead time to make decisions.
One of the best rules is to limit the number of times and the amount of time each member can speak to, say, two times for two minutes. Have you ever been in a meeting where one member goes on and on and on? You sure could have used a rule this to prevent this from happening. This rule is generally called a limit to debate.
Many similar rules exist and have been compiled in various manuals of parliamentary procedure. The most famous is Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised. Arguabley the most famous person to have ever compiled such a manual is Thomas Jefferson who, in 1801, published the first uniquely American Manual of Parliamentary Practice.
He wrote and published this manual after years of serving in various legislative bodies including the Continental Congress. Many of these bodies had developed their own rules out of necessity to reach decisions in an organized and efficient manner. Our Founding Fathers saw the need to establish rules for the efficient and organized conduct of meetings.
Parliamentarians are indeed a critical element to successful meetings.