Frank blasts 'orgy of self-congratulation' on CR deal: 'I either explain or object'

Bleary-eyed lawmakers and aides froze on the House floor late Thursday when Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) objected to a compromise struck between Republicans and Democrats to proceed with a government funding measure.

Moments before midnight as Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and his Democratic counterpart, ranking member Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), announced that an end was in sight to the lengthy debate, Frank approached a podium in the well of the House.

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“Mr. Speaker, I guess I am the dissenter in this orgy of self-congratulation, and I want to explain why,” Frank said calmly, as horrified bipartisan staffers and members, who spent over an entire day whittling 500 amendments into fewer than 150, watched.

One staffer, who requested anonymity, told The Hill that his “heart stopped when Barney Frank stood to object to the unanimous consent” agreement struck between the two parties, which would end with a final vote late Friday or early Saturday morning.

The hard-charging veteran rabble-rouser told a half-full House chamber that he could either have the opportunity to speak his piece or he would object – which would mean the continuation of essentially unlimited debate on amendments, without a set time to vote on the underlying bill.

“I either explain or object; that’s the choice,” he said.

The House chose to let Frank speak.

The ranking member of the Financial Services Committee cried foul that the GOP leaders boasted of the recent open process — allowing for unlimited amendments on a measure that touched all aspects of the government — as it would fund operations through the end of the fiscal year in September.

“To debate the whole government, under the guise of a budget and the constraints of a government debate, in not a whole week – two and a half days so far – we have dealt with the most fundamental questions,” Frank cried, his voice growing louder.

“You get to debate whole aspects of the government tomorrow for 10 minutes, we are the model of democracy, the next thing you know, they’ll be rioting in parts of the world so they can have 10 minutes per issue to debate fundamental issues, this is a travesty!” Frank exclaimed.

Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) sat on the House floor, watching Frank rail against the GOP’s austere CR, which would cut $61 billion in spending from 2010 figures, with a bemused expression on her face, attempting to stifle laughter.

Pelosi let slip a loud chuckle after Frank stated, “I am confident that this awful, distorted, ill-thought-out process has produced a bill that will never see the light of day.”

He continued to call it a “travesty” and ended his dramatic monologue: “Once the Senate gives this awful product an appropriate burial, I will not be a party to its resuscitation, Mr. Speaker, I reserve my reservation.”

With that, it seemed the House could move on to the 100-plus remaining amendments and then home for next week’s district work period.

Then, unpredictable Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) “reserved the right to object.” Again, staff and lawmakers visibly tensed.

“What?!” a GOP staffer was seen telling a colleague on the floor. Gohmert took to the podium in the well of the House, turned his body to face the Democratic side of the aisle and said “to sit here and listen, after having spent four years in the most closed Congress and then to be lectured as to what was a travesty … is a travesty … that’s the real travesty.”

Former Speaker Pelosi would not have tolerated the seemingly freewheeling atmosphere allowed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of unlimited amendments that has played out over the past three and a half long days of business, an aide close to the top-ranking Democrat told The Hill.

But many Democratic and GOP lawmakers, who for the past four years never had the opportunity to offer amendments to bills or engage in lengthy debate, seem to have enjoyed the previous week of actual legislating.

Gohmert let off more steam: “Try standing here for the last four years and dealing with closed rule after closed rule, closed rule, no amendments … let’s get on with the democratic process because that’s what it is when you get to hear from both sides.”

“With that, I withdraw my reservation,” Gohmert said.

Rogers looked around the chamber before announcing that there were no more objections – and the process moved forward.

Since lawmakers had initially anticipated heading home on Thursday, several were seen wheeling luggage away from the House floor after midnight to prepare for the likely final day of debate and votes on the CR.

The House is set to return for business at 9 a.m. Friday.

Under the agreement reached on Thursday, nearly 100 amendments scheduled for floor consideration will have 10 minutes of debate time.

A handful of amendments were allotted 20 minutes debate time.

Two amendments that would replace the entire underlying CR – offered by Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) and the other offered by centrist Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) – may have up to 30 minutes of debate time.

An amendment that would defund Obama's healthcare law will have 60 minutes of debate time. Aides predict that as the day goes on, lawmakers may drop their amendments to expedite the process.