The House Democratic caucus ended its four-day organizing session yesterday after adopting a proposal that would make it more difficult to get a roll call vote on the House floor.
The change was one of a series the leadership put through the caucus to hamper what they consider dilatory tactics by Republicans. Other changes would cluster votes, defer votes for a day, cut down the time on certain votes from 15 minutes to five minutes and eliminate several opportunities for votes on procedural motions.
In another move, the caucus deferred until January action on a controversial proposal by Rep. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) that would instruct the House Ways and Means Committee to decrease Social Security taxes in 1980.
Under current rules, 20 members must request a record vote for a roll call to be taken on an amendment to a bill. Under the change, proposed by Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), 25 members would have to request the vote.
Udall said the change would make it more difficult for Republicans to use roll calls as a delaying tactic, by getting votes on amendments that have no chance of passage.
A Republican leadership aide blasted the changes, saying they would permit more members to be absent from the floor during debates and would lead to an "absentee Congress."
Mike Johnson, an aide to minority whip Robert Michael (R-Ill.), said the changes would make it easier for special interests to prevail since members would know even less than they normally do about what they were voting on, particularly if they had only five minutes to vote on a series of bills and if they were not required to be present for any of the debate.
"Under these changes, all the special interests have to do is get a provision adopted in subcommittee, and they can be pretty well assured it won't be caught on the floor," Johnson said.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) accused the Democratic leadership of a "plain and naked grab for power" by setting ratios on key committees that "woefully underrepresent Republican strengths in the House."
Democrats lost 12 seats in the House, making the ratio of Democrats to Republicans less than two to one, but the Democrats are insisting on a two-to-one edge on the key committees of Rules, Budget, Appropriations, and Ways and Means.
Rhodes said if the Democrats were to follow a precise mathematical formula for ratios as they did last session, Republicans would be entitled to six additional seats on the four key committees.
"Now that the Democrats' margin has been reduced, they find the principle of precise representation a bit expedient," Rhodes said.
He said he had no recourse except to publicly complain, however, since the Democrats have the votes to push the ratios through.
Other committee ratios will come out slightly less than two to one. Democrats were also moving to reduce slightly the size of some committees, such as Interior and Banking, as a means of making them less unwieldy.