The House Rules Committee, already known for not being a bastion of cross-party comity, devolved into significant partisan rancor Thursday morning over a resolution to allow the House to sue the president of the United States. The panel advanced consideration of the measure in a party-line, 7-4, vote after nearly two hours of debate, with Democrats and Republicans accusing each other in turn of playing political games.
Democrats said Republicans' pursuit of a lawsuit against Barack Obama for making unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act after the law was passed, with Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts accusing his GOP counterparts of acting out of "hatred" for the president and at one point calling the Republicans "cuckoo clocks." "I'll come up with a better word if I can think of one," McGovern replied after Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, asked him to refrain from such name-calling of his colleagues.
Republicans said Democrats were hypocritical for offering several amendments that could only be called political, such as one that would use funds from the special investigative committee on the Benghazi attacks to pay legal fees associated with the lawsuit at hand, and another that would allow a House floor vote on immigration legislation.
"It's the definition of a political stunt," said Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., who was recently named the interim chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. "It's incredibly frustrating."
Republicans were from the start on guard against Democratic attempts to amend the resolution, even those purportedly aimed to increase transparency and avoid conflicts of interest.
The GOP members rejected an amendment from Rules ranking member Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., that would have required the House General Counsel every week to report on how much money had been spent on the lawsuit. Republicans said it was unnecessary and overly burdensome given that the committee had just adopted, by voice vote, an amendment from Florida Republican Rich Nugent requiring the public release on a quarterly basis of funds spent by the general counsel.
Sessions suggested the mandate might not even be feasible: "I'd be shocked if [attorneys] billed on a weekly basis," he said of the lawyers with whom the House would contract to execute the lawsuit against Obama.
"They bill by the hour!" retorted Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., a former judge.
"The general counsel is going to know every week ... since it's coming out of their budget," Slaughter added.
"I remember during the entire healthcare roll-out, the president said he would report to Congress every month on how many people were getting health care," McGovern piled on, "and you objected and said they should report every week."
Slaughter was also rebuffed by Republicans on an amendment to bar the House from entering into contracts with law and consulting firms for the purpose of the lawsuit that also lobby Congress; Republicans said there were already prohibitions against signing contracts with such conflicts of interests. Republicans also fought back a Slaughter amendment that would have prevented a contract with a firm that had any financial stake in the implementation of the health care law.
"I'm really disappointed," Slaughter sighed at one point following the rejection of one of her amendments. "That really says a lot about what we're doing here."
The House is expected to consider the resolution on the floor next week as one of its last acts before the August recess.