Reform bill passes minus 2-year delay

The House yesterday unanimously passed reform legislation after Democratic leaders pulled a provision that would have let lawmakers convicted in the 110th Congress keep their pensions.

The House yesterday unanimously passed reform legislation after Democratic leaders pulled a provision that would have let lawmakers convicted in the 110th Congress keep their pensions.

Republicans led bipartisan opposition to the provision, which was inserted to parallel the Senate bill but would have delayed the pension-rights reform until Jan. 1, 2009.

Several Republicans who sponsored similar reform legislation in the 109th Congress lined up to protest when they heard that the provision had been added.

Rumor on the floor had it that withdrawal of the controversial provision had been so hasty that it was handed to the clerk written on a napkin.

The GOP members argued that the minority had not been given the chance to see the amendment and that it would exclude members now currently being investigated for possible corruption. Republicans alluded to Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), whom investigators found with $90,000 in cash in his freezer, as a reason Democrats sought the delay.

Democrats rejected the assertion and a spokesman for Jefferson, who voted for the bill, said, “The congressman supported this measure when it was introduced in the 109th and he continues to support it.”

Complaining that formal procedures continued to be ignored by Democrats, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) said, “They rewrote the bill in part on the floor in the 45 minutes leading up to the debate or less. They prominently discussed 48 hours to look at any bill before it moved on the floor and so I tried to say we aren’t getting our 48 hours and the chair ruled that it was not a proper rule of order.”

Shadegg said the parliamentarian told him he was not entitled to the 48 hours; that was a guideline, not a rule.

The Congressional Pension Accountability Act was introduced by freshman member Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.) and brought up on suspension in order to move the bill quickly to the Senate.

Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of the hastily withdrawn delay provision: “Nobody was aware of the change of the time and the date, and literally a napkin was filed changing the enacting date [of] Jan. 1, 2009, back to the date that had previously been always discussed, Jan. 1, 2007.

“When you are changing bills on the floor, writing the change out on a napkin and dropping that in the hopper — I think the American people should begin to understand that the process here is not working as it should.”

Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), who was in the Speaker’s chair at the time of debate, denied the rumor about the napkin; the text of the changes were made available to members inside the chamber and they had simply run out of copies, he said.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, “It was changed on some piece of paper of which the consistency I don’t know.”

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) attributed the floor confusion to “incompetence.” 

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) added, “I think most members of Congress think that if you are convicted of a felony involving the abuse of your office you ought to forfeit your pension. How they’ve done it, though, and how this bill has come to the floor, is an abomination to the rules.

“And while nobody really knows what all the rules are, I think most people understand fairness … and what’s lacking here has been … fairness for the minority party to participate in the process.”

On Monday night, Kirk criticized Boyda, saying on the floor that she did not know what was in her own legislation.