House Dems hit rough legislative patch

House Democrats have hit a legislative rough patch over the last two weeks.

Democrats have slowed the pace of their agenda, but the majority is finding it just as hard -- if not harder -- to pass legislation as it was during the run-up to the economic stimulus, climate change and healthcare votes.

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Twice in a two-week stretch, Democrats failed to pass an $80 billion bill to bolster investments in science and technology.  In each instance, the COMPETES Act -- the Democrats' latest piece of jobs legislation -- was the only non-suspension bill on the week's calendar.

And when the COMPETES Act was brought up along with a rule allowing for debate, a Republican motion to recommit the bill prevailed thanks to language cracking down on government employees or contractors who had been disciplined for viewing on-line pornography while on the job -- too many Democrats believed they could not cast a vote against that.

But because the Republican motion also gutted the bill's funding, Democrats removed it from consideration.

Rather than play chicken with another Republican motion to recommit, Democrats on Thursday brought the bill up under suspension of the rules. The bill went down for a second time, having failed to win a two-thirds majority after all but 15 Republicans voted against it.

Things didn't get any easier for the majority, though, when they looked inward for relief.

Just hours after the COMPETES Act failed again, Democratic leaders were forced to back away from their initial plan to bring a massive package of tax extenders to the floor by Friday.

Although the tax extenders bill was the product of weeks worth of negotiations between House and Senate tax writers, members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition -- already wary of the cost of the bill -- objected to such a swift consideration of a bill that had been completed only that morning.

Postponing the tax extenders bill until early next week puts in jeopardy the goal of having the bill signed into law by June 1, when dozens of tax cuts are set to expire.

Blue Dog Democrats as a whole were coy about the level of displeasure they had with the bill, although it became clear by the end of the day Thursday that numerous conservative Democrats were leaning toward voting against a tax bill that wasn't offset with revenue raisers or spending cuts, raising the possibility that yet another vote will be razor close.

In all instances, Democrats sought to put the blame on the minority party.

"The Republicans have been very irresponsible, I think, in terms of what they've been doing on motions to recommit," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, a day before her second attempt at passing the COMPETES Act.

Democrats again blamed Republicans for failing to deliver enough votes the second time around.  And when it came to postponing consideration of the tax extenders bill, leading Democrats made clear their displeasure -- even ahead of time -- at getting minimal to no Republican support.

"The American Jobs, Closing Tax Loopholes and Preventing Outsourcing Act will come to the House Floor for a vote next week," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a Thursday statement. "Members will have ample time to review this bill, which will create and save jobs, provide tax relief to the middle class, close tax loopholes, and prevent corporations from shipping jobs overseas.  Republicans have voted against every job creation measure put forward so far, but I hope they change course and join with us as we fight for America’s middle class."

Even with healthcare behind them and another huge special election victory in their pocket, Democrats do not have any easier of a road from here on out.

Beyond the tax extenders, Democrats must pass a war-funding bill in the midst of continuing to roll out their piece-by-piece jobs agenda.  In addition, Pelosi is eying other liberal priorities such as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, as well as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Pelosi told The Hill this week the don't ask, don't tell policy would be history by the end of the year.

Pelosi appears to be keenly aware of the obstacles Republicans plan to throw in her path, on top of the challenge she faces in winning enough support from her own caucus.

"When we bring a bill to the floor, we win," she said Wednesday.  "But I'm not going to allow a situation to develop where [Republican] actions, which are political, get in the way of the policy advancements that we make...  So we have to review all of that when we go forward."