- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

House Republicans yesterday forced votes every 30 minutes to protest a move they worried Democrats would make to stymie the minority party’s main procedural weapon.

Republicans said they heard that Democrats would secretly change a long-standing House rule today that has allowed the minority party to propose changes to legislation before final passage. Republicans have been using this tactic for months as a way to embarrass the majority.

After calling for 12 votes, Republicans learned that the change wasn’t to take effect until after the Memorial Day recess.

Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, talked with Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, after a day of bickering.

“There was an agreement that nothing will happen this week or next, nothing will happen without further consultation with the minority,” Mr. Boehner said.

The antics stalled a major defense bill authorizing military policy and setting a spending blueprint for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Boehner and other Republican leaders said they will continue to fight any change that takes away their rights.

“We are not going to accept them trampling on our members,” he said. “It’s not fair to the 202 members who were elected by the American people, represent just almost half of the American people, to not have our voices be allowed to speak on the floor of the House.”

The procedural maneuver at issue is called a “motion to recommit,” rarely used before this session. It allows the minority party to try to change — or kill — bills as they are ready to pass the chamber.

The move sends a bill back to its originating committee with instructions. In one example this year, Republicans surprised Democrats by trying to overturn the District’s ban on firearms with a motion to recommit a bill that would give the District congressional voting rights. Democrats pulled the bill from the floor and said they would re-examine the process.

When the Democrats took control of the House in January, they adopted a pay-as-you-go rule, which allows a broader platform for amendments. Mr. Hoyer said Republicans are exploiting the this rule.

“For the last two months, I have talked with Republican leaders about how to retain the ‘pay-as-you-go’ provision, which is key to addressing the exploding budget deficit caused by Republicans, but which has allowed them to play political ‘gotcha’ games,” he said.

The Republican Study Committee Floor Action Team, charging that any change is a “direct infringement” on minority rights, called for protest votes every 30 minutes yesterday.

“There they go again, promising high ethics and openness and instead delivering a muzzle through a stunning abuse of power in the people’s house,” said committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican. He said that changing the 185-year-old rule equates to “silenc[ing] Americans from hundreds of districts across the nation by attempting to mute their representatives in Congress, and we are not going to stand for it.”

Democrats said the series of votes forced by Republicans was hindering Congress from moving forward on an important bill.

“Republicans are playing games with troop funding by holding up legislation which includes provisions to improve troop readiness, strengthen the National Guard, provide much-needed equipment and training, upgrade military health care and give the military a pay raise,” said Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat.

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