These bills were considered along with others, and many of them are aimed at reining in what Republicans say is an out-of-control Internal Revenue Service. The IRS admitted to targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, and the House today passed other bills addressing this issue.
The three governance bills were brought up under a suspension of House rules, which allows for quicker debate but requires a two-thirds majority to pass them.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blamed Democrats for pulling their support for the bills and slowing down the process, and a GOP spokesman said he was surprised that Democrats could vote against them.
"Even I am surprised that Democratic leadership chose to oppose these measures," said Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
"I can't begin to think how they will justify this to their constituents," he added. "Democratic leaders supported mega bonuses, paid vacation and zero accountability for Washington bureaucrats."
During debate, House Oversight & Government Reform Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the three bills are messaging bills that attack government workers, and said Republicans should be focusing on job creation.
"House Republicans are wasting taxpayer money and the few days remaining before a five-week recess on poorly drafted messaging bills that attack the IRS even though they have identified no evidence to substantiate their claims that the White House used the IRS to target the President’s political enemies," he said.
The Common Sense in Compensation Act, from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), would limit bonuses to federal workers to 5 percent of their salary. Republicans said most senior officials received an average $11,000 bonus last year, and that even some IRS officials involved in the targeting scandal received more than $100,000 in bonuses over the last few years.
"It is time for the government to stop furloughing workers who depend on paychecks from week to week while awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses to senior employees," Meadows said during debate.
But Cummings and other Democrats said limiting bonuses would hurt the government's efforts to retain qualified workers.
"I'm very concerned about the federal government's recruitment and retention efforts if Congress eliminates agency discretion to provide awards to our best performers," he said.
The Government Employee Accountability Act, from Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), would allow federal agencies to put employees on paid or unpaid leave during investigations for improper conduct. But here again, Cummings said this would let political appointees fire people, possibly for political reasons, without due process.
Republicans noted that the bill maintains due process for federal workers, and said taxpayers need assurances that employees like those in the IRS face consequences for improper actions.
Finally, the Citizen Empowerment Act, from Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), would allow people to record phone calls or other interactions with federal workers. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said this change is only fair given the power the government has to record the calls of people everywhere.
"We don't want to record their private conversations on their cell phones," he said. "We don't even want to get that meta-data. We just want to record what the federal employee is saying to us in the course and scope of his employ at our tax dollar's expense."