After Patriot Act vote fails, House Republicans make another procedural fumble

GOP leaders and the White House say the lunch Wednesday with President Barack Obama was productive. They say everyone agrees on the need to cut spending, but differ on the details. (Feb. 9)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 11:00 PM

It turns out that running the United States House of Representatives is harder than it looks.

Not once but twice in the past two days, the new Republican team in charge has fumbled on what should have been easy passage of bills that had overwhelming support.

The back-to-back embarrassments - on an extension of the Patriot Act and on a bill to compel the United Nations to return $179 million to the U.S. Treasury - suggested the young and relatively inexperienced team has yet to find its groove. Or that it has yet to heed the most basic rule of legislating: Don't take a bill to the floor unless you know how many votes you have.

The new Republican majority includes 87 freshmen, many of them ready to prove their conservative tea party bona fides by standing up to the leadership.

Neither failure was fatal to the legislation in question, as both bills are almost certain to pass the next time the Republican leadership tries. And the early hiccups came before the House faces its first major test: votes next week to slice at least $32 billion from the 2011 budget.

While they publicly pointed fingers at recalcitrant Democrats, GOP leaders privately blamed one another. Rank-and-file Republicans grumbled that their leaders would not have been surprised had they kept them informed about what issues were coming up, or bothered to find out how they planned to vote.

"Nobody asked," Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said Wednesday, explaining what he told Republican leaders Tuesday evening before opposing an extension of provisions in the Patriot Act.

The bill garnered a strong majority - with 277 in favor and 148 opposed - and would have passed easily had GOP leaders brought it to the floor under normal procedures. But they chose to do it under special fast-track rules, usually reserved for non-controversial measures, that require a two-thirds vote.

They made the same mistake Wednesday on the bill to require the refund from the United Nations. Republicans support that idea, saying the U.S. government overpaid. But the bill also includes funding for security improvements at U.N. headquarters.

No one notified Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, until Tuesday afternoon, prompting him to contact New York City officials who opposed any cuts to security funding for such a high-value target.

"The fact is, this is a disaster waiting to happen," King said during the floor debate.

The bill fell more than 25 votes shy of two-thirds, as most Democrats joined King in opposing the measure.

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