The Right to Object

The Right to Object

In the United States House of Representatives, much of what takes place does not require a vote. That fact may surprise people who believe the House votes on everything imaginable. But in reality much of the work of legislating involves the use of a procedure called unanimous consent.

Unanimous consent requests constitute a considerable part of the congressional activity. They are used for everything from routine procedural matters to passage of legislative proposals. The procedure involves one Member of Congress asking unanimous consent that something be done. “Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that I be permitted to address the House for one minute.” Or, “Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that H.R. 1234 be considered as read and approved by the House.” And the Speaker’s response is, “Without objection, so ordered.” Neat. Clean. Very efficient. Unanimous consent is a good way to get things done quickly in what is normally a pretty contentious atmosphere.

But, any other Member of Congress can stop unanimous consent dead in it’s tracks. All that Representative has to say is, “I object.” The Speaker then says, “Objection is heard” and whatever was being asked is rejected. So, for the most part, unanimous consent requests are only used for matters considered noncontroversial.

But, there is another reaction that a Member can use to ask questions about the proposed action or legislative proposal. He or she can say, “Reserving the right to object” and then begin to ask questions about the request. If satisfied by the responses, the questioner can say, “I withdraw my reservation” and the matter moves forward. Or if unhappy with the response, the questioner can then register the objection stopping the action.

Years ago, I was the designated “floor manager” for the Republican Party when we were in the minority. My job was to be on the Floor of the House and keep track of what the majority Democrats were doing. In those days and very often now, the minority party had and has little say in what transpires on the House Floor and even little knowledge about what is taking place. So often I would use my right to object as a way of seeking information. I got a reputation for detailed parliamentary skills by knowing how to say, “Reserving the right to object.” I would then proceed to ask questions about many things, sometimes even including the proposed unanimous consent request.

What I found back then was that reserving the right to object allowed me to debate the important issues of that day. It is in that spirit that I am introducing this blog. So much of what is happening in this nation and around the world deserves serious debate. From time to time we need to ask some questions and get some real answers before proceeding. We are in a complex world dealing with complicated matters. We are in the midst of economic, political, cultural and technological revolutions that will shape this century. Yet our institutions, public and private, seem incapable of understanding the nature of the change around them. And to often they have become such highly sophisticated bureaucracies that they are impervious to the questions being asked by those living with that change. And for that reason, more and more people are unwilling to give those institutions their trust or their consent. They are in many ways reserving the right to object.

Here I hope to give voice to some of the questions and perhaps even suggest that there are some answers. And I will look forward to the debate that ensues.

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