- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

House Democrats — sent scrambling when Republicans blocked their bills and caught them in a political trap — were forced to adjust their rules yesterday in order to bring up a measure allowing voting rights for the District.

The House will consider the bill today, four weeks after Republicans derailed the measure by proposing a “motion to recommit” that called for overturning the District’s handgun ban.

The parliamentary weapon, which Republicans have successfully wielded several times this year, sends a bill back to its originating committee with instructions. It caught Democrats off guard, forcing them to pull the bill from the floor.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland applauded the Rules Committee, which on a 9-4 party-line vote yesterday split the bill into two parts. One part provides that the delegate from the District would receive a vote in the House. The other deals with tax changes for District residents.

Because the tax changes were included in the D.C. voting rights bill last month, Republicans were able to attach the gun language to it under the pay-as-you-go rule, which allows a broader platform for amendments. By splitting the bill into two pieces of legislation, Republicans will have a smaller window of “germaneness” to propose any political or policy changes in a motion to recommit.

“The rule to govern debate on the D.C. vote legislation fulfills our pledge to follow the pay-as-you-go principle, as well as move forward a bill to provide Washington, D.C., taxpayers with representation in Congress,” Mr. Hoyer said.

“What it doesn’t do is allow Republicans an opportunity to play procedural word games in an effort to deny D.C. taxpayers representation.”

If the two bills pass today, the House clerk will merge the tax language into the voting rights bill before it is sent to the Senate for consideration.

Motions to recommit are a tactic minority parties are allowed to deploy on the House floor. But since taking over power in January for the first time in 12 years, Democrats have allowed their members to vote freely on the Republican motions.

Republicans credit former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for insisting that his members vote no on all motions to recommit in the years their party was in power.

“It was much easier for members to defend them as a procedural vote,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Mr. Cole said Republicans could dismiss the votes as “not important.” He added Democrats mistakenly voted for one, and “now they are all important.”

The Rules Committee move leaves open future motions to recommit from Republicans, who warned that any broad changes would do the majority party political harm.

“Their majority is too narrow to start stripping away the rights of the minority,” Mr. Cole said.

In the D.C. vote debate, Republicans charged the tax bill violates the “Paygo” rules, and some argue giving the District a vote is unconstitutional.

The D.C. vote measure, strongly supported by Republican Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, is expected to pass the House but faces a tougher path in the Senate, where Democrats hold a one-seat majority.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, which would also give Utah another seat in Congress, increasing the number of lawmakers from 435 to 437.

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