Congress-ese: MTR — The "Hail Mary" of Congress

Our legislative term of the day is motion to recommit. Just what exactly is it you ask? Well, to put it simply, the motion to recommit is a representative or senator’s last, best hope to change or kill a bill.

A motion to recommit is made on the floor of either the House or Senate after a bill has been debated, but before a final vote, to return the bill to the committee that it came from. If approved, motions to recommit usually spell the end of the bill. It is typically used by the minority party to either seek changes to or prevent the underlying legislation from passing. Think of it as a “Hail Mary” pass in football. Sometimes it works, but not usually.

Just like every other legislative term we have explored, motions to recommit can used for both good and not-so-good purposes. Last year for example, the ACLU added a vote on a motion to recommit to our congressional scorecard. The issue dealt with the desire of some lawmakers to allow providers of Head Start to discriminate in their hiring on the basis of religion. Had the motion to recommit been adopted, language would have been inserted into the Head Start legislation to allow such discrimination to take place. As is typically the case, however, this “Hail Mary” for religious discrimination failed.

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Jon

How does a motion to recommit differ from a motion to table? Clearly, they are not the same, but how?

Ian Thompson, ACLU

Jon,

Thanks for the question and a good one it is. I can tell you are a loyal C-SPAN viewer.

Motions to recommit and motions to table are not the same thing, but there are similarities. Motions to recommit don’t necessarily have to be a deal killer, though they can be used for that purpose. If a motion to recommit is approved that seeks to simply change the language of the bill under consideration, it will be brought back to the floor immediately with that language added to it. This is what would have happened if we had lost the Head Start motion to recommit vote.

Motions to table on the other hand are used primarily to block or kill amendments or a bill. If a motion to table is approved, that’s it. End of story. Those bad boys can be really lethal. Here’s the scary part, they aren’t debatable and require a simple, majority vote for adoption.

Jon

That sounds like a motion to adjourn, which is another hail mary tactic that is typically employed in the House by the minority party. But once the House adjourns, or recommits a bill, why can't the House come back into session, or why can't the committee report out the bill?

I think I know the answer, but I like to at least pretend to believe that there can be a distinction between politics and policy.

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