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House GOP Uses Procedural Tactic To Frustrate Democratic Majority

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and GOP leaders have reached a temporary truce.
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and GOP leaders have reached a temporary truce. (By Brendan Smialowski -- Getty Images)

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By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 19, 2007

House Republicans, fighting to remain relevant in a chamber ruled by Democrats, have increasingly seized on a parliamentary technique to alter or delay nearly a dozen pieces of legislation pushed by the majority this year.

And an election-year promise by Democrats to pay for any new programs they created has made it easier for Republicans to trip them up.

Tensions over the maneuvers reached a boil this week. Republicans used procedural tactics to stall floor debate for four hours Wednesday, and they are threatening to tie up future legislative action.

The stalling tactics prompted Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) to leave the floor and meet privately in his office with Republican Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his whip, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The men emerged with an uneasy detente that they said would last at least until Congress breaks for the Memorial Day recess, but the matter is far from settled.

Since January, GOP leaders have relied on a maneuver known as the "motion to recommit" to stymie Democrats and score political points for Republicans still adjusting to life in the minority.

The motion to recommit allows the minority a chance to amend a bill on the floor or send it back to committee, effectively killing it. In a legislative body in which the party in power controls nearly everything, it is one of the few tools the minority has to effect change.

In the 12 years of Republican control that ended in January, Democrats passed 11 motions to recommit. Republicans have racked up the same number in just five months of this Congress.

Democrats say any comparison is unfair because when Republicans controlled Congress, they directed their members to vote against all Democratic motions to recommit.

Now in the majority and mindful of staying there, Democrats have given no such instruction to their members, allowing them to break with the party if they choose. Many freshmen Democrats from GOP-leaning districts find themselves voting with Republicans as a matter of survival -- a reality Republicans have seized upon.

"Sometimes we offer motions to recommit to improve legislation -- sometimes it's to force Democrats in marginal districts to make tough choices," Boehner said. "Every time the Republicans win, it boosts morale. We're able to show unity, which is good for the overall team. Members feel good about winning on the House floor. And when you're in the minority, it doesn't happen that often."

Democrats dismiss the Republican maneuvers as largely symbolic and so arcane as to be irrelevant to the public.

"From a public policy standpoint, it's not very significant," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), regarded as an expert in parliamentary combat. "It's almost a Capture the Flag game. The number of people in America who say, 'Oh my gosh, the Republicans won another motion to recommit' is very small."


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