Given the billions of dollars in new spending and tax cuts Congress approved Friday morning, it is surprising just how few lawmakers had a hand in the final denouement.
All told, with such momentous issues at stake, only a dozen lawmakers were present for the action, which happened in an amazing 2½ minutes of total floor time.
The Senate went first, gaveling into session at 9:30 with just Majority Leader Harry Reid on the floor and Sen. Mark Warner presiding.
Mr. Reid read out a preapproved agreement that automatically gave Senate approval to a two-month payroll tax cut once the bill made it over from the House later in the morning. Mr. Warner then gaveled closed the session just 70 seconds after he opened it.
Across the Capitol a half-hour later the House acted. In the space of 90 seconds Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Missouri Republican, asked that a bill be introduced, it be excused from going through the regular committee process, the required reading of the legislation be waived and the measure be considered to have passed. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat who came to see the proceedings, took a moment to praise the agreement, and then House Speaker John A. Boehner announced the deal’s passage. Total time was 90 seconds.
Those three House members were joined by another Republican and six other Democrats who were mere spectators to the proceedings.
In both chambers, the bill was passed through unanimous consent — a tool frequently used in the Senate, but which is more rare in the House, and is usually used for housekeeping such as revising statements — not to pass major legislation.
If a single member of either chamber had objected, the deal would have been scuttled. But some members didn’t even get that chance — given the time difference between the final agreement Thursday and Friday morning’s action, it’s unlikely West Coast lawmakers could have made it even if they’d wanted to object.
Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican, told CNN he had considered objecting but said the timing of the deal left him no time to make it back to Washington.
“By the time we were notified that the unanimous consent agreement would be offered, where I come from in Kansas, I can’t get to Washington quick enough on this short notice,” he told the network on Friday.
He said the GOP’s leaders broke their own pledge to give all members three days to read legislation before putting bills on the floor for action.
The bill passed and signed into law Friday didn’t even exist until 10:30 Friday morning when it was officially introduced — half an hour after the Senate had deemed it to have passed.
In order to head off potential mischief in that time gap, Mr. Reid wrote into the Senate’s agreement that the language must exactly match that of the bill the Senate passed last weekend, or else the prearranged consent of senators would be withdrawn and the bill would not have passed the upper chamber.