Hoyer Plans Action on Bill in April

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The House will resume action on a D.C. voting rights bill in mid-April, with the majority party seeking new tactics to avoid the sort of Republican maneuvers that kept it from passing last week, a top Democrat said yesterday.

"I intend to have the D.C. bill back on the floor the first week that we return" from a two-week spring recess, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters. "And I expect it to be in a position where we will not have the procedural problems that we confronted."

House Democrats had expected last Thursday to pass the bill, which would give the District its first full-fledged vote in the chamber. But, in a surprise move, Republicans moved to send the measure back to committee, attaching new language that also would have thrown out the District's strict anti-gun laws.

Democratic leaders yanked the bill from the House floor amid worries that conservative, pro-gun Democrats would line up with the Republicans. Hoyer said his concern was that the Republican motion would have wound up "effectively killing" the D.C. vote bill because it would have had to start the legislative process all over again in a committee.

The District's congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), said yesterday she was "delighted" that Democrats will quickly take up the measure after they return to Washington on April 16.

"A short delay can't kill this strong bipartisan voting-rights bill," Norton said. The measure's co-sponsor, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), shared her sentiments.

"Davis is certain that process won't stand in the way of justice for much longer," his chief of staff, David Marin, said.

Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said, "Republicans look forward to whatever new challenge they bring us."

DC Vote, the main advocacy group backing the measure, said it has not given up trying to get action on the bill before legislators break at the end of this week.

"Now is the time to bring the bill back to the floor," the group's executive director, Ilir Zherka, said in a letter to Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "Retreat this week will be seen by many of our supporters as a significant setback."

DC Vote has been mobilizing supporters to turn out for an April 16 voting-rights march on the Capitol led by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

The D.C. delegate is permitted to vote in House committees but not on final passage of legislation. The city has no voting senators, and the legislation does not provide for any.

The D.C. vote bill is a political compromise that adds the House seat for the heavily Democratic city and another seat for the next state in line to expand its delegation -- currently, Republican-leaning Utah.

The White House and the House GOP leadership oppose the bill, saying it is unconstitutional. Its prospects in the Senate remain uncertain. Republicans derailed a vote on the bill last week by taking advantage of a parliamentary loophole.

The loophole was created when Democrats decided at the last minute to introduce a minuscule tax increase to pay the costs of adding two House seats. The change would expand a provision of federal tax withholding law by .003 percent.

Once Democrats introduced the tax code into the picture, the bill was subject to new rules allowing a variety of amendments to be attached -- such as the gun-rights language.

Hoyer acknowledged yesterday that Democrats were effectively thwarted by the budget rules they adopted after winning control of Congress last year. The party has promised to observe "pay-go" -- finding a way to pay for any new spending, rather than letting the costs swell the federal deficit.

"We find ourselves in a position where we need to address that, or we're going to be, on every bill . . . [facing] an amendment totally unrelated to the substance of the bill," Hoyer said.

He said the Democratic leadership would work in the next two weeks to figure out how to keep the pay-go issue from scuttling the D.C. vote bill.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company