- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Democrats said yesterday they would block quick congressional withdrawal of a provision that would give more lawmakers access to income-tax returns, demanding that majority Republicans first promise to stop rushing bills through Congress.

Members of both parties object to the provision, saying it is an infringement of taxpayers’ privacy.

But it has become caught up in a larger fight over Congress’ habit of passing massive bills with lightning speed, giving lawmakers little time to study legislation.

“This extraordinary invasion of privacy did not have the majority support of either chamber,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, in announcing her plans to block House passage today. “It was a ‘Saturday night massacre’ on Americans’ privacy, made possible only by the Republicans’ willingness to abuse the rules of the people’s House.”

Mrs. Pelosi’s decision means the House probably won’t be able to vote to repeal the tax-return provision today, as planned. Unless something changes, the full House will have to return to vote on it Dec. 6.

When Congress approved a giant $388 billion spending bill on Saturday, it included a little-noticed sentence giving top lawmakers on the House and Senate Appropriations committees access to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) facilities or “any tax returns or return information contained therein.”

Republican leaders have blamed sloppy drafting by congressional aides and the IRS for the provision. They say that they wanted to ensure that lawmakers and aides could enter IRS offices for oversight purposes and that the special waiver is needed for them to enter areas where tax returns are processed.

Congressional leaders agreed not to send the overall spending bill to President Bush for his signature until lawmakers had repealed the tax-return provision.

With nearly all its members scattered for the Thanksgiving holiday, House leaders — using just a handful of lawmakers — planned to use a voice vote today to approve the tax-return bill.

But Mrs. Pelosi said her party will object to voice-vote approval of that bill unless Republicans agree to start heeding an often-ignored rule requiring that the House not vote on bills until at least three days after they are approved by committees. Republican leadership aides said yesterday they will not agree to that demand.

John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said Mrs. Pelosi’s decision was “blatantly political.” He said when Democrats had the House majority a decade ago, they routinely used procedures that accelerated votes on bills.

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