Chaos on House floor as Democrats try to unsettle GOP budget during vote

The House floor erupted into a chaotic scene Friday as House Democrats tried to upset Republican plans to pass their 2012 budget resolution. 

Democrats unsettled Republicans by voting "present" in a vote on a more conservative budget than the official GOP proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), almost enabling that bill to pass.

In the end, it failed in a 119-136 vote, with 172 Democrats voting present. 

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Several Republicans, including Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (Calif.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), a member of GOP leadership, switched their votes to ensure the more conservative budget backed by the Republican Study Committee did not win approval. 

The drama erupted when Democrats began to shift their votes to "present," with Democrats and Republicans alike standing to shout at one another and the presiding officer in a scene more akin to the British Parliament than the U.S. House. A majority of Republicans initially voted for the RSC bill, likely in anticipation that Democrats would oppose it. 

As the presiding officer tried to close down the vote, about a dozen more Democrats asked to switch their vote from "no" to "present," which nearly allowed the RSC bill to pass.

“Democrats, vote 'present!' ” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) shouted at his colleagues, who tried, one by one, to switch their "no" votes to "present." Ryan, the architect of the official GOP budget, shouted “Shut it down!” in an effort to close the vote and count the tally before Democrats could switch enough of their votes to advance the amendment.  

At one point, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) stood on a chair and pointed at the presiding officer to keep the vote open.  

The RSC's alternative budget resolution would cut even more deeply into spending than Ryan's bill, and was not expected to be approved by the House.

In the end, only one more Republican voted against the RSC budget than supported it, 119-120.

“Well, I thought I was paid to actually cast a vote, not just show up,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the chairman of the GOP conference, chuckled as he left the chamber.

Hensarling voted for the RSC budget and said he would have been fine had the Democratic maneuver worked and the GOP adopted the more conservative plan.  

A spokeswoman for Hoyer said the maneuver was his idea and that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was aware of the plan before the vote. A second Democratic source said the plan was hashed out in a leadership meeting earlier in the week, without staff present.  

"This vote will show which budget Republicans support — the Republican budget that ends Medicare as we know it and cuts investments while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest, or the extreme RSC budget that is the GOP budget on steroids: ending Medicare as we know it and going even further in decimating investments in our future," a whip notice from Hoyer's office said. "With Democrats voting present, Republicans are solely responsible for passage or failure of the RSC budget."

But Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the plan to have members switch their votes was apparently concocted by Hoyer on the floor.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said if the plan had succeeded, Republicans would have moved Ryan's budget resolution as a substitute amendment.

The Republican whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), laughed at the Democratic maneuver. Of the 'present' votes, he told The Hill, "I guess they learned that from Obama in the Senate."

Earlier, the House also rejected a budget plan from the Progressive Caucus, in a 77-347 vote with no support from Republicans. A proposal from the Congressional Black Caucus was defeated in a 103-303 vote, again with no Republican support.

—Erik Wasson, Russell Berman and Michael O'Brien contributed to this story.

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