House Democrats muzzle GOP on sensitive issues

In their zeal to protect their members from politically hazardous votes on issues such as gay marriage and gun control, Democrats running the House of Representatives are taking extraordinary steps to muzzle Republicans in this summer’s debates on spending bills.

On Thursday, for example, Republicans had hoped to force debates on abortion, school vouchers and medical marijuana, as well as gay marriage and gun control, as part of House consideration of the federal government’s contribution to the District of Columbia’s city budget.

No way, Democrats said.

At issue are 12 bills totaling more than $1.2 trillion in annual appropriations bills for funding most government programs—usually low-profile legislation that typically dominates the work of the House in June and July. For decades, those bills have come to the floor under an open process that allows any member to try to amend them. Often those amendments are an effort to change government policy by adding or subtracting money for carrying it out.

Why the cone of silence?

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., insists the clampdown is to prevent debates from dragging on and on. Republicans, however, have agreed to limit the amount of time debating the bills.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., acknowledged in a brief interview that one reason for restricting amendments is to save members of his party from having to cast politically painful votes.

So instead of debating an attempt backed by House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio to allow more children living in Washington to receive school vouchers, the House will vote on a Quixotic attempt to eliminate the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

“What they want to do is they want to avoid tough votes on appropriations bills,” said Rep. David Dreier of California, senior Republican on the Rules Committee.

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