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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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But Republicans argue they have been able to make significant changes. They point to Thursday, when they successfully used a motion to recommit to restore millions of dollars for missile defense to a defense bill. It remains to be seen if that money will survive a conference committee.

"It's kind of a 'Rashomon' world," said Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, referring to the movie in which participants in an event all recount it differently. "The two parties see it in very different terms."

The Democrats' own rules have made it easier for Republicans to offer motions to recommit. In January, the party promised to observe "pay-go" -- finding a way to pay for any new spending rather than adding to the federal deficit. The unintended consequence is that tax proposals open legislation to modifications by the minority that would not otherwise be allowed.

Such was the case in March, when Democrats tried to pass a bill to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House. The bill included an additional seat for Utah and a minuscule tax increase to pay for two more House seats -- it called for expanding a provision of federal tax withholding law by .003 percent.

Republicans seized on the opening and moved to recommit the bill to committee, attaching new language that would have thrown out the District's strict anti-gun laws.

Worried that conservative, pro-gun Democrats would feel compelled to vote with GOP and kill the bill, Democratic leaders yanked it from the floor. They regrouped and split the bill into two tightly written measures, both of which passed and are pending in the Senate.

But the problem for Democrats was apparent. "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 at the time.

This week, Democratic staffers privately discussed a rule change to limit the Republicans' ability to make motions to recommit. GOP leaders were incensed and threatened to use all available procedural techniques to block every bill except war spending legislation. But Democrats are hampered by their promise to run the chamber in a more open fashion than Republicans did when in the majority.

Hoyer agreed to hold off on further rule changes until Memorial Day and consult Boehner and Blunt on possible changes.

"The bottom line is, the war goes on," Mann said. "The majority uses the rules to structure debates and limit amendments on matters where Republicans have a chance to either break up the Democrats' winning coalition or embarrass them."


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