Saturday, August 4, 2007

House Republicans yesterday accused Democrats of stealing a winning vote tally from them — a maneuver they said was even more galling because it was done to give illegal aliens taxpayer money.

The fight carried over from late Thursday night, when Republicans walked off the House floor in protest as shouts of “Shame, shame, shame” rang through the chamber.

“This was an astonishing and unprecedented abuse of power, defying the will of the people and trampling on the very fabric of American freedom and democracy,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Democrats quickly apologized, saying the matter resulted from confusion on the House floor at the end of a busy day of voting.

“I regret what happened last night,” Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, announced on the House floor yesterday morning. “The minority, having been in that place, was understandably angry. … Had that happened to us, we would have been angry.”

The dispute centered on a Republican measure to prohibit illegal aliens from receiving certain benefits such as food stamps, housing assistance and employment opportunities included in an agriculture spending bill.

As time expired on voting, the sitting House speaker, Rep. Michael R. McNulty, New York Democrat, declared the Republican measure had failed on a 214-214 tie vote. But because some members changed their votes in the final seconds of voting, the electronic tally board showed the vote as 215-213, indicating the motion had passed, when Mr. McNulty struck his gavel.

Republicans immediately called for the 215-213 tally to stand, and began walking off the House floor in protest when Mr. NcNulty allowed more members to change their votes. The final tally was 212-216, with the motion failing.

Mr. Hoyer, citing the confusion on the House floor, then called for an immediate recount. Because only a few Republicans remained in the chamber, their measure was easily defeated.

“I wish to express my apologies to all the members of the House for calling the vote prematurely,” Mr. McNulty said.

The House was in recess for most of yesterday morning while leaders from both parties met to discuss the dispute. Mr. Hoyer declined to reopen the matter, saying every member present was allowed to cast a vote.

“The majority has been forthright in apologizing for last night’s unprecedented overreach, and I take them at their word that the violation was unintentional,” said Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

“But instead of doing the right thing this morning and reinstating the vote’s true outcome, Democrats seem content with the result they manufactured and are now simply trying to move on.”

The House passed a measure by Mr. Boehner for a six-member panel, evenly divided between the two parties, to investigate the voting matter.

Democrats say the minority’s accusations of foul play ring hollow, citing a landmark vote in 2003 on the Medicare prescription drug bill in which Republicans held a vote open for three hours before prevailing.

The acrimony in the House continued in the afternoon when the electronic tally board in the chamber failed during a procedural vote. Mr. Hoyer called for the vote to be scrubbed and a recount held once the system was fixed.

Republicans objected, accusing Mr. Hoyer of abandoning House rules, and demanded the vote continue. Mr. Hoyer prevailed.

The chamber’s busy schedule, coupled with the week’s delays and disputes, caused lawmakers to postpone the first day of their summer recess and schedule a weekend session today, with debate on two energy bills expected.

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