110th Congress Eclipses Voting Pace

By Paul Kane
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007

The 110th Congress under Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been called lots of things: Historic, do-nothing, ethical, overbearing and much more, based on one's political views. But now Pelosi can add one more moniker to the list: record-setting.

On a bill dealing with reorganizing Hawaiian governments yesterday, the House conducted its 1,000th roll-call vote this year, something never before achieved in a single year in the history of recorded House votes.

Democratic leaders and aides, many of whom initially confessed to not even being aware of the achievement, spun the matter as if it were akin to the Dow Jones Industrial Average crossing the 10,000 barrier. They claimed the 1,000th vote as a sign that the chamber is busy passing the agenda they vowed to pass a year ago when they won the majority for the first time in a dozen years.

"I'll do 1,000 roll-call votes if we raise the minimum wage; I'll do 1,000 roll-call votes if it increases veterans' benefits. I'll do 2,000," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic caucus.

But Republicans, who were just as unaware of the record-breaking pace, saw it as the perfect symbol for a lack of achievement almost 10 months into Pelosi's reign. They said it's something more akin to Congress on voting steroids, leading to popularity ratings that are in line with baseball slugger Barry Bonds.

"This notion that we are so hard at work in Washington is a joke," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), chief deputy whip, pointing to his watch to show that the chamber's work for yesterday wrapped up at 2:30 pm. "It's like make-work here. We're engaging in make-work like in grade school."

"They're measuring quantity, not quality," said Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), chairman of the Republican Conference.

Although the quality of the House's first session of the 110th is open for debate, the quantity is not.

On Oct. 4, the 943rd recorded vote was conducted -- a procedural roll call on a bill related to the mortgage crisis -- surpassing the 942 recorded votes in 1978, the previous record. Not since 1995, when the Newt Gingrich-led revolution propelled Republicans to the majority, has the chamber held nearly this many votes. In Gingrich's first year as speaker, the House held 884 votes, the third-highest total in recorded history.

But in the last 10 years of Republican rule, the House had not once cracked 700 votes in a year, leading to charges that the chamber floor was a Tuesday-night-through-Thursday-morning operation.

Taking a cue from Gingrich's busy first year, Pelosi's leadership team proudly declared a Monday-to-Friday workweek in Washington. Along the way, the chamber has passed a bounty of new laws but also seen a critical part of the Democratic agenda -- ending the Iraq war and expanding stem cell research and health insurance to children -- killed off by Senate filibusters or presidential vetoes.

"This has probably been the biggest letdown for their supporters to see how little they can get done," Cantor said.

Not so, said Emanuel, who cites as legislative hallmarks the increased minimum wage and veterans' benefits as well as legislation making student loans more affordable. "I don't care how many votes we have to take, as long as it improves people's lives," he said.

But the pace has slowed down lately, as Democrats have canceled Friday voting sessions this month amid growing complaints from their own caucus about not being home to see constituents. "We've adapted the schedule to accommodate some concerns," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the chief Democratic campaign strategist who wants party incumbents home campaigning. "Whether or not we continue at exactly the same pace next year is an open question."

That kind of talk puts in doubt the record for number of votes over the two-year life of an individual congressional term, which is held by the post-Watergate House in the 94th Congress. In 1975 and 1976, the House held 1,692 recorded votes.

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