By Walter Alarkon - 06/24/09 07:25 PM EDT
Democrats used procedural rules to streamline the debate on the fiscal 2010 Homeland Security spending bill, but Republicans managed to force repeated roll call votes, which kept lawmakers on the House floor for hours. The strategy was first used on June 18, when GOP lawmakers stalled House proceedings on the first spending bill for fiscal 2010.
“Why? Democrats in Congress just can’t spend money fast enough,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
To counter the protests, Democrats have adopted structured rules limiting the number of floor amendments the House could consider. A rule last week on the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill allowed 33 amendments after 127 had been submitted for consideration. But Republicans were still able to call for more than 50 time-consuming procedural votes during debate of the bill last Thursday.
The Democratic rule adopted for this week’s debate on the Homeland Security appropriations bill limited the number of amendments to 14, despite more than 80 submitted for consideration. The rule also allowed Democrats to limit the time for each amendment vote to two minutes.
The rule prompted Republicans to use the only weapons at their disposal to delay floor proceedings. In the morning and early afternoon Wednesday, GOP members forced six votes on motions to adjourn and more votes on motions to reconsider, each of which took 15 minutes.
House members were still debating and considering amendments to the Homeland Security spending bill at press time. They were expected to hold a final vote on Wednesday evening.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, said that Republicans were being “childish” over the amendments.
“We are really being pushed to do this and we are sorry to do this,” Slaughter said.
Democrats accuse Republicans of wasting time when Democrats are trying to deal with the recession, healthcare reform and climate change legislation.
The $42.6 billion spending bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security that Democrats were trying to pass Wednesday was the third of the dozen annual spending measures Congress takes up. The House has already passed two of the bills, putting lawmakers far ahead of the slow pace followed in recent years. Congress hasn’t approved all 12 bills, which fund government agencies and departments, before the start of the fiscal year since 1994. Democrats have said they want to break that trend this year.
But they will struggle to meet that goal and move forward with the rest of their legislative agenda if Republicans continue to draw out debate on the House floor. Last Thursday’s eight-hour voting session prompted several House committees to cancel hearings, including one with White House Budget Director Peter Orszag and another to mark up another spending bill. The votes on Wednesday came at the same time House panels had scheduled a total of 18 hearings.
Some Democrats wanted House leaders to take more drastic measures to stop Republican stalling. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), a House Appropriations Committee member, said that the debate over process is threatening the comity between appropriators of both parties, who have historically worked together to report out funding measures.
“Democrats are giants with grasshopper complexes,” Jackson said. “We have to start acting like giants.”