Wednesday, January 24, 2007

House Democrats say they intend to honor their pledge to allow Republicans to participate in writing legislation, but they won’t say when.

“I said we were going to be fair, not stupid,” said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, adding he is wary of Republicans using amendment votes as ammunition for future campaign attack ads.

“But we do intend to engage, involve and allow Republicans to have substantive opportunities as we consider legislation,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters. “We want Republicans to have the opportunity to offer amendments in committee [and] amendments on the floor.”

He still hasn’t said when the majority will open up the amendment process, known as using “regular rules.”

What’s more, Republicans say, the majority is flouting the rules that are in place.

That prompted Minority Leader John A. Boehner yesterday to introduce a resolution rebuking House Democrats.

“We’ve extended the hand of friendship to each other in hopes of working together for the common good,” the Ohio Republican said. “Unfortunately, the hand of friendship is being slapped away by the actions of the majority. You simply can’t talk about cooperation at the same time you’re circumventing the rules of the House to shut the other side out.”

The resolution died in a party-line vote.

Through a spokesman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed Republican concerns.

“The Republicans have a problem,” spokesman Drew Hammill said. “They are having a hard time finding issues to talk about and today’s comments by Mr. Boehner are further evidence of that.”

The new Democratic majority suspended regular rules to hurry passage of its “100-hours” agenda, including legislation to raise the minimum wage, authorize more stem-cell research funding, subsidize lower student-loan interest rates and end oil-industry subsidies.

The bills passed and the 100-hour rush ended a week ago, but regular rules “remain suspended.”

“Just treat us the way you [had] asked to be treated,” Mr. Boehner told Mr. Hoyer earlier this week during debate of a bill to which Republicans were not allowed to offer amendments.

The bill, which would ban federal pensions for members of Congress convicted of certain crimes while in office, passed in a unanimous vote Tuesday.

Without regular rules, Republicans couldn’t offer amendments that would have expanded the list of pension-losing crimes, including some unrelated to abuse of office — ranging from white-collar embezzlement crimes to political crimes such as securing campaign contributions by intimidation.

“My colleagues on this side of the aisle want to participate,” Mr. Boehner said. “We want to work with the majority in the best interest of the American people, and we can do that together. But the only way to do that is to go through regular order.”

The debate of the bill — and the rules — grew heated as Republicans repeatedly raised objections.

“The process has been shut down to us, and that is why we are upset,” said Rep. Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican, who supported the bill, but wanted to offer an amendment to strengthen it.

Mr. Hoyer said he sympathized.

“It’s difficult to be in the minority,” he said. “I feel your pain. I want you to know that.”

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