By Walter Alarkon - 06/17/09 06:33 PM EDT
Democrats used the House Rules Committee to limit debate on the $64.4 billion appropriations bill for the Commerce and Justice departments to 33 amendments, down from the 127 originally offered. More than 100 of the amendments came from Republicans.
Democrats decided to go to the Rules panel to limit amendments almost immediately after debate on the bill began Tuesday. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Democrats ended debate on an amendment offered by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.).
Obey blasted Republicans for slowing down his efforts to pass the 12 appropriations bills in the House by the August recess.
If Republicans continued to offer dozens of amendments, “We will not finish appropriations bills before August, we will have continuing resolutions and omnibus appropriations bills, which neither side wants, and there will be no room left in the schedule for other crucial priorities like healthcare, energy reform and the military authorization bill,” Obey said.
Republicans fired back at Obey and the Democrats, charging them with changing the rules in the middle of the debate to shut out minority members.
“Certainly a dictatorship is quicker than a democracy,” said Schock.
He added that the Democrats’ heavy hand reminded him of tactics used by former Illinois Govs. George Ryan (R) and Rod Blagojevich (D), both of whom were indicted on federal corruption charges.
“I see this body headed in the same direction,” Schock said. “What happened here last night was a clear step in the wrong direction. The majority has shut us out from one of the last rights of the minority,” the ability to offer amendments to spending bills.
Republicans in the House argued that amendments were freely allowed in previous years. When a surfeit of amendments threatened to bog down the House, top appropriators from both parties would negotiate a unanimous consent agreement that would whittle the amendments down to a manageable number, Republicans said.
A senior GOP aide acknowledged that Republicans have resorted to going to the Rules panel to limit amendments before, but the aide said that happened only after amendments had been debated for days.
“I think Mr. Obey was itching for a fight and was looking for any slightest provocation to pull the plug,” the aide said.
But Obey hit back against suggestions that limiting the debate was extraordinary. When Republicans controlled the House from 1995 to 2006, they resorted to rules restricting amendments 25 times.
He said that the rule was necessary because Republicans weren’t willing to talk.
“We have tried every way we can to involve the minority,” Obey said. “We’ve asked them several times if they could participate.”
Republicans said their complaints were not about process but about the substance of Democratic policies. GOP members said that their amendments were aimed at cutting spending that has increased under Democrats and that will lead to more than $9 trillion in deficits over the next decade.
“This was outrageous abuse of the legislative process,” said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.). “But this debate is about runaway federal spending, and the American people have had enough of it.”
House members began considering amendments under the new rule on Wednesday and will vote on the spending bill on Thursday. Obey has scheduled another vote on the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security and legislative-branch operations for Friday.
Obey and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) want to pass all 12 appropriations bills before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Lawmakers haven’t been able to do that since 1994. Instead, they’ve had to resort to omnibus packages criticized as vehicles for pork and to continuing resolutions that delay spending decisions well into the start of the fiscal year.
Jared Allen contributed to this article.