By Molly K. Hooper and Walter Alarkon - 09/17/09 09:40 PM EDT
Key House Republicans say that the end of federal funds for ACORN is nearing after the lower chamber voted overwhelmingly to cut off taxpayer dollars currently sent to the controversial nationwide community organization.
In a vote of 345-75-2 on Thursday, the House approved a GOP amendment to a student loan bill that would defund the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Since 1995, the nonprofit, grass-roots group has received more that $50 million in federal funds.
“This bill indicates that the writing is on the wall for ACORN,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said Thursday afternoon, noting that it still needs to clear the Senate, as well as have the president sign it.
Boehner also said that “President Obama must indicate whether he will join the Congress in taking decisive action.”
Though Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) technically offered the resolution adopted by a majority of the House on Thursday, the language was that of a measure that Boehner introduced on Wednesday.
Within 24 hours of submitting his stand-alone bill, Boehner had received 140 co-sponsors. Since Issa has taken the lead on calling for investigations into the questionable practices of ACORN, Boehner let his colleague offer the amendment that was adopted.
The House GOP’s “Defund ACORN Act” cuts off all funding to the organization, its state affiliates and individuals related to the community organizers, a number of whom have been found guilty of committing voter fraud.
Boehner, Issa and other leading Republicans attribute the support for their measure to defund ACORN to a decision made last week by the Census Bureau Director Robert Groves to sever ties with ACORN.
“Recent events concerning several local offices of ACORN have added to the worsening negative perceptions of ACORN and its affiliation with our partnership efforts,” Groves wrote in the letter sent to ACORN President Maude Hurd on Sept. 11.
But not all lawmakers thought that ACORN deserved defunding, regardless of Groves' decision.
Seventy-five House lawmakers, all Democrats, voted to keep giving ACORN federal taxpayer dollars.
New York Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks opposed defunding the controversial group because he needed more evidence that the two incidents captured by undercover journalists was, in fact, systemic.
“To me it’s a matter of principle; I don’t know that it’s systemic and I’ve seen what they’ve done to help poor people in the New York area,” Meeks said.
Boehner said the two notorious incidents cap a long list of instances in which ACORN employees have broken the law.
“Seventy ACORN employees in 12 states have been convicted of voter fraud,” Boehner said, noting that the organization has received more than $50 million in federal funding since 1994.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called ACORN’s actions “inexcusable,” but kicked the question of what to do about federal funding for the group to Appropriations Chairman Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.).
“Well, let me say this: any group that receives any funds from the federal government needs to have tough scrutiny applied to it,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. “I think it's up to the Appropriations Committee to scrutinize ACORN or any other group that receives money from the federal government that has such an allegation against it.”
Senate Republicans are pushing for more measures to block federal funding from going to ACORN, the community organizing group and top target of conservatives.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) has sponsored another amendment prohibiting the use of federal money for ACORN in the Interior and environment appropriations bills.
An amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) prohibiting the use of federal money for ACORN in the Interior and environment appropriations bills passed Thursday by a 85-11 vote.
Earlier this week, a Johanns amendment banning federal cash for the group in the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending bill passed the Senate by an 83-7 vote.
By blocking funds to the group, lawmakers "answered the call to defend taxpayers against waste, fraud and taxpayer abuse," Johanns said Thursday.
The group had earned the ire of conservatives after some of its workers advised conservative activists — who were dressed as a prostitute and a pimp — on how to evade tax laws. ACORN has fired the employees who offered the advice and noted that the conservative activists, who secretly filmed the encounters, were turned away by other ACORN workers.
Senate Democrats are largely on board with the new amendments. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) suggested to Johanns that his latest amendment would be approved by unanimous consent, meaning it would pass without a recorded vote. Feinstein noted that she was willing to accept the amendment even though her staff found no money for the group in the Interior spending bill.
"There's a redundancy," Feinstein said. "This is going to have to be done every single appropriations bill, which doesn't seem to me to make very good sense."
But Johanns insisted on a roll call vote.
"This involves an organization that has a history of very serious problems," said Johanns, who has more anti-ACORN legislation planned.
He said he'll introduce a standalone bill that would block any federal money at all, whether from a spending bill or other government program, from going to the group.
Jared Allen contributed to this report