By Jay Heflin - 05/24/10 11:45 PM EDT
"Our job really comes down to one thing," Slaughter began. "We are to prepare the bill for the floor — not to go into people's background and go into all kinds of definitions, or anything like that. So I would really like to ask my colleagues — on all sides — to please exercise some restraint and really find out what it is that you need to know to be able to vote this bill out — and kindly leave the rest of it outside the door."
The hearing's original focus was on legislation costing roughly $200 billion that resuscitates several tax breaks, which expired last year, and extends numerous expiring spending measures. But the meeting quickly become contentious as members attempted to one-up one another as to whether tax increases will hurt job growth and or unemployment compensation is government largess.
Things got particularly dicey when it was time for Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) to question Levin. Partisan animosity had reached the boiling point and neither was willing to give any partisan ground to the other.
The two first quibbled over the definition of the deficit and with each passing minute on the issue raised their voices higher.
They then digressed into name-calling by refusing to call the other party by their preferred name: Democratic, not Democrat, and Republican, not minority.
At one point Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) jumped into the argument, feeling upset by Republicans condemning Democrats for expanding the role of the government — not on the extender bill, but in general.
"I'm personally tired of ya'll beating up on the government," he said.
Hastings' interjection began a whole new face-off as Foxx attacked Levin's background in the private sector. She questioned its duration and if it was "private" enough to be considered a private-sector job.
Hastings once again jumped into the fray by highlighting Foxx's career in education and questioning if it was "private" enough.
Just as everyone thought the hearing would conclude because of a pending House vote, a partisan battle erupted over which party was responsible for the current economic crisis. Accusations over which party was in control of Congress when there was a budget surplus ensued.
Finally, cooler heads prevailed, with Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) being the first to apologize for how the hearing played out.
"I don't think we need to be getting so over the top," he said. "I don't think we need to be combative. ... It's getting to the point to where people don't want to come to the Rules Committee."
For all the pain and frustration, a Rules vote on the extender bill has not been scheduled, but is expected to occur Monday evening. Democrats — that is, Democratic lawmakers — expect to debate the bill on the floor Tuesday. But it is unclear if that will happen at this point.