The House yesterday chopped up a bill to make Martin Luther King's birthday a legal holiday by voting to celebrate the holiday on a Sunday, and refusing to give federal workers an extra day off or extra pay.
The bill's sponsors promptly pulled it off the floor.
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.), floor manager, said, "We're pulling the bill. We're not going to go with a commemorative day."
Garcia said that would put King's day on a par with Stephen Foster day, Leif Erickson day and a national peanut day.
"We're not going to place Martin Lurther King into the situation," he said.
He said the decision was made by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, chief supporters of the bill.
The vote to move the holiday to Sunday and make it payless was 207 to 191.
The vote then to pull the bill was 231 to 164. When the bill is off the floor, its supporters will work to switch the eight or so votes they need to make King's birthday a full legal holiday.
It was the second time the King holiday bill had failed. The first was two weeks ago, when the bill fell four votes short of two-thirds it needed to pass under a special procedure.
The bill's opponents cited cost. Rep. Robin Beard (R-Tenn.), who offered the amendment to celebrate King's Jan. 15 birthday on the third Sunday in January, said the holiday for federal workers would cost $194 million in federal pay, and up to $3 billion if the private sector followed suit and also declared it a holiday for workers.
The bill would have bestowed the holiday only on federal workers, but state and local governments and private industry often follow the government's lead in this area.
Beard said, "One more day of closed doors for federal employes is absolutely unacceptable. It's time to be sensitive to the feeling of the taxpayers."
But Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), Black Caucus chairman, said, "We make this a holiday in name only if the holiday falls on a day of rest. That's no holiday at all.
"The contributions to the nation of Dr. Martin Luther King can't be measured in dollars. He caused the greatest peaceful social revolution since the founding of the country."
Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said, "If we honor Dr. King, then relegate him to Saturday or a Sunday, it sends a message to people." But Gene Taylor (R-Mo.) said, "We celebrate Easter on Sunday. How can you rise higher than that."
Rep. Harold E. Ford (D-Tenn.), a member of the Black Caucus from Memphis, where King was killed, said, "We're lying to our constitutents if we tell them we established a new holiday. A holiday ought to be special."
But Beard, whose district also takes in parts of Memphis, said, "There's no other place more legitimate to reflect on Dr. King than in the churches."
King was a Baptist Minister.
The bill originally proposed to make Jan. 15 the legal holiday. That was amended on the floor to make it the third Monday in January.
However, after that the House voted to change the day to Sunday. Garcia said the bill would not be brought back until sponsors were sure of enough votes for the Monday version.
All area representatives, Joseph Fisher and Herbert Harris of Virginia and Gladys Spellman and Michael Barnes of Maryland, voted against the Beard amendment to put the holiday on a Sunday.
Federal employes have nine paid holidays: New Year's Day, Washington's birthday, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.