Sanders Goes It Alone as Minority Seeks to Disrupt Floor Action

Posted July 22, 2003 at 3:54pm

No sooner had Congressional leaders outlined ambitious pre-recess floor schedules for both chambers than Democrats demonstrated how difficult it will be to accomplish those goals.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) threatened Monday to make this ‘a week from hell for Republicans,” according to published reports, if the leadership does not bring up the child tax credit bill. The measure, designed to help low-income families, is not scheduled for floor action.

But before Democrats could even launch such a strategy, they were thwarted by one of their own: Rep. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an Independent who caucuses with them.

Unhappy that Democratic leaders reached agreement with Republicans to limit amendments to the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill, he put the brakes on Tuesday’s floor proceedings.

Sanders twice tried to force the House to rise — a delaying tactic — and once Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) came to Sanders’ aid by making a third such motion.

‘Frankly, he threw a tantrum,” Appropriations Committee majority spokesman John Scofield said of Sanders. ‘He wanted privileges that weren’t afforded other Members.”

Sanders had been unsuccessful in getting his own amendment, which dealt with the USA Patriot Act, in play because it not properly drafted, Scofield said.

Sanders was not the only Member who was upset about the agreement, according to his spokesman, Jeff Weaver.

“First they flip-flopped the schedule and then they hastily made this agreement,” Weaver said, noting that Commerce-Justice-State was not supposed to be debated until later in the week. Noting that several Members were at the desk trying to file changes, he added: “It’s not just us.”

“We were in the process of perfecting our amendment” when the schedule changed he said.

Republican floor managers were helped by Appropriations ranking member David Obey (D-Wis.), who sided with them against Sanders.

Obey chastised Sanders, telling the Vermonter it was not fair of him to muck up the entire House because he did not follow proper procedure with his amendment.

Sanders’ office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The incident, following on Friday’s Ways and Means Committee ruckus, demonstrates how hard it will be for Congress to stay on course this week and next. But appropriators still say they can accomplish their lofty goal of finishing four more spending bills before adjourning Friday for the August recess. (The House has already passed eight of the 13 annual spending bills.)

Appropriations are ‘reasonably on schedule,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) declared Tuesday, predicting that all but one bill will be passed before the recess.

In anticipation, the House Republican Conference has scheduled for Friday a ‘get-out-of-town” rally to tout its accomplishments as Members head home.

Meanwhile the Senate, with one additional week to conduct business, has a scaled-back, yet no less rigorous, agenda.

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he wants to dispense with the Homeland Security appropriations bill this week and then resume debate on the White House-backed energy bill, which has been languishing since last year.

Debate began May 6 and so far this year the Senate has spent 12 days on it, Frist said, adding that after spending all of next week on it, the Senate should have had ‘ample time” to thoroughly vet the bill.

Frist had barely uttered his desire to complete the energy bill before Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) tried to buy more debate hours.

Daschle said he really wants to finish the bill but cautioned that working on it next ‘Tuesday through Thursday” may not be enough.

The Senate spent nine weeks debating the measure last year but has only spent ‘nine days” on it this Congress, he said. Frist’s office, however, stood by its counts of 12 days.

There are 382 amendments to be considered, many of which deserve ‘careful consideration” he added, imploring Frist to not rush the bill to completion.