Rules panel works through 600 amendments

The House Rules Committee is facing an unprecedented situation: It has to sift through more than 600 amendments to the 2010 defense appropriations bill.

Most of the amendments were submitted by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is protesting about 540 earmarks worth $1.3 billion that are going to companies without a competitive bidding process. A total of 606 amendments were submitted, the most Rules has ever encountered, according to a spokesman for the panel.

“This unprecedented number of amendments put a huge strain on the hardworking staff, who had to review, collate and summarize every single one,” said Vincent Morris, the communications director for the House Rules Committee.

Rules is expected to meet Tuesday afternoon to decide which amendments will make it when the House takes up the mammoth Pentagon spending bill, and it could be in for a long session.

Flake’s barrage has led to a frustrating situation on the committee, creating an even deeper divide between Democrats and the GOP over the floor debate process. Each amendment has to be read in order for the committee to decide which ones to select for floor consideration.

Staff and lawmakers on the committee have been working nonstop since Friday, when the amendments started pouring in. The cutoff was Monday at 3 p.m., and staff had to work overnight, according to a congressional source.

“Although we always welcome input on every piece of legislation that comes to Rules, if the committee were to give Republicans the opportunity to debate and vote on every single one of their amendments, we would be here past Christmas,” Morris said.