No longer do Capitol Hill legislators need a quorum to do the people’s business. Now under a piece of hotly contested legislation passed without media attention on January 5th, only a few members of Congress are needed to do official business in the event of a catastrophe instead of the usual 218.
Critics claim H. Res. 5 paves the way for tyranny,
allowing "only a few to decide for so many."
The provision states: "If the House should be without a quorum due to catastrophic circumstances, then . . . until there appear in the House a sufficient number of representatives to constitute a quorum among the whole number of the House, a quorum in the House shall be determined based upon the provisional number of the House; and . . . the provisional number of the House, as of the close of the call of the House . . . shall be the number of representatives responding to that call of the House."
Supporters claim the bill, passed "under the cover of congressional darkness," is intended to allow the government to "continue operating" in the event of a catastrophic emergency or terrorist attack. However, constitutional experts say the law is blatantly unconstitutional and ripe for challenge.
Normally, 218 lawmakers out of the 435 members are needed to declare war, pass laws and validly conduct the people’s business. But under the new rule a majority is no longer needed when circumstances arise, including natural disaster, attack, contagion or terrorist attacks rendering representatives incapable of attending House proceedings.
"It’s another measure brought up by lawmakers that shows their callous disregard for democracy," said one California attorney who preferred to remain anonymous.
GOP House leaders pushed the controversial "doomsday legislation" through for passage as a part of a hefty and voluminous rules package. It drew little attention and was probably not even discovered by many who voted on it since the rules package centered on recent ethics violations.
"I think the new rule is disgusting, terrible and unconstitutional," said Norm Ornstein, of an independent, bipartisan panel called the Continuity of Government Commission which is studying the issue. "The way it was passed was deceitful and the intent behind the legislation was very foolish."
Rep. Brian Baird, (D-Wash.) agrees, arguing that the rule change violates the Constitution, which specifically states: "a majority of each Chamber shall constitute a quorum to do business." "Allowing for as few as 12 lawmakers to make vital decisions and to possibly declare war on another nation is not what this country is all about."
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