- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Congress yesterday passed a continuing budget resolution to keep federal agencies solvent after Democrats rejected a deal to rescind a tax provision mistakenly written into the $388 billion omnibus spending bill.

Reps. Thomas M. Davis III and Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republicans — “the local boys” as Democratic staffers called them — were the only members of the majority present, listening to three men chide the Republican leadership’s handling of the situation.

“There was not enough time to review the bill. It is 3,000 pages long, the IRS provision is six lines in the middle of it all and it was not filed until 1 a.m. on Saturday morning. It was only through the frank and immediate coverage by Senator [Kent] Conrad [North Dakota Democrat] and his staff that the provision was discovered,” said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, his party’s ranking member on the Appropriations Committee.

The language in question, submitted by Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, would give congressional appropriators and their staff access to Internal Revenue Service offices and taxpayer records.

Still, the Democrats say, the Republicans paved the way for error by pushing the bill through the chamber.

“Seven of the 13 measures in this omnibus bill were never opened up to floor debate. … Even the people in charge of producing the bill are not sure what is actually in it because of the rush,” Mr. Obey said.

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Rep. Robert T. Matsui, California Democrat, also weighed in during the half-hour pro forma session.

Mr. Matsui said the due diligence of “the other body saved us from a great embarrassment.”

“The real problem I see is as long as we are not given notice and as long as there is not a sufficient give and take, this type of stuff is going to happen more and more,” he said.

John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said the Democrats were “playing politics.”

“There was a colloquy on the floor about this very provision, which they now claim they knew nothing about,” he said. “The other thing is the seven appropriations bills that they claim were not addressed were held up so long because of Democratic obstruction in the Senate.”

Democratic leaders demanded this week that Republicans promise to never again force legislation through Congress, rushing to get massive bills written in a matter of days without debate or even a thorough reading of the bill by their party.

Despite acknowledgment of the error, Republican leaders refused to make any promises to the Democrats. At that point, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, used the tax provision as a catalyst to embarrass the majority by forcing a roll-call vote on the resolution to remove the tax measure from the omnibus bill.

The Senate passed a resolution to remove the tax provision Saturday, the day it was discovered, and passed a continuing budget resolution last night.

Congress will return on Dec. 6 to vote on the budget bill and try to finalize the intelligence overhaul bill, which has stalled in the House because of disagreements over immigration reforms.

“As a result of what we do today, we will come back to this House on the 6th or 7th of December to act on the tax provision, but it will also give us a chance to pass the 9/11 report. So because of this mistake, happenstance … we will be advantaged,” Mr. Hoyer said.

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