- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

House Republicans are wielding the power of parliamentary procedure to score floor victories unlikely for a minority party.

The Republicans have employed a tactic to alter a handful of bills in the Democratic-controlled chamber, and yesterday their patience paid off when they caught the new majority in a pickle and blocked a vote on D.C. voting rights.

Republicans said it’s the culmination of a parliamentary strategy they’ve been plotting for weeks.

“The first six or seven they have said, ‘Oh, whatever, we’ll support those, they don’t mean anything,’ but this is the one that jumped up and hit them in the face unexpectedly,” a senior Republican leadership aide boasted yesterday.

Democratic leaders had dismissed the earlier votes as “not substantive,” but yesterday’s move angered the majority party.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland called the motions “gotcha amendments” meant to catch members in a political conundrum. “We are not going to play that game with them. When there are substantive amendments, we will debate them as substantive amendments.”

He said yesterday’s motion, which tied D.C. gun rights to the voting bill, delayed a significant measure, even though President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

The tactic, a “motion to recommit,” is a far cry from some of the political theater that makes for sensational headlines, and the technical explanation of sending a bill back to the committee from where it originated with instructions is more something a C-SPAN fan would enjoy.

Yesterday, Republicans attached language to overturn the ban on handguns in the District. Democrats, surprised at the last-minute language, postponed all votes on final passage of the bill indefinitely. Already, Democrats have allowed — and voted for — six motions to recommit offered by Republicans.

The leadership aide said Democrats made a political mistake by allowing their members to vote for measures they considered harmless, such as one that would forbid federal contracts from going to colleges that ban on-campus military recruiters.

“Once the majority votes for one, it embraces the maneuver forever,” the leadership aide said. “Republicans struck that Achilles’ heel very early in this Congress, and it will be a constant source of heartburn for the Democrats.”

One motion to recommit, attached to a water-treatment bill, said terrorists could not get a license to board a maritime vessel. Another, added to a Hurricane Katrina Housing bill, blocks anyone convicted of violent crime or drug crime from living in public housing.

“Republicans in 12 years never exposed the weakness they did in month two,” the aide said.

The last time a motion to recommit passed in the Republican Congress was April 22, 2004, and that was a non-recorded voice vote. Before that, Republicans allowed a vote on July 26, 2002. The success rate of motions to recommit being adopted since 1989 is 7.6 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Several Democrats waved away worries that the gun language would kill the voting rights bill.

“The Republicans know they’re going to lose. They know we have the votes,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a nonvoting Democrat who would get a vote should the bill pass both chambers and get Mr. Bush’s signature.

“Essentially, they are into gamesmanship, and they’ve been successful with some of the games,” she said.

But Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said Democrats were trying to crush the Second Amendment rights of D.C. residents.

“House Republicans remain fully prepared to debate and vote on any proposal affecting the citizens of the District of Columbia,” he said.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, said Democrats will have to put the D.C. voting-rights measure back to the floor.

“If they walk away from this bill, they will upset a lot of people,” he said.

Mr. Hoyer said Democrats will address the issue “as soon as possible.”

Should the Democrats bring the bill back to the floor, they would have to vote on the motion to recommit, which Republicans say catches Democrats in a bind on Second Amendment rights. Another option is passing another rule that sets parameters of debate and does not allow Republicans to offer a motion to recommit, a sticky situation because they have already set the precedent of allowing several they considered noncontroversial to pass.

“That’s the rules,” sighed Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat. “These things have no impact on public policy, and Republicans squander the motions to recommit on political symbolism.”

Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

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