Pelosi Closes Out Session With Final Attack on GOP Leadership

Posted December 8, 2003 at 4:33pm

Having finished the omnibus spending package, House Democrats used Monday’s final moments of the Congressional session to launch one last political attack against majority Republicans, charging the GOP with employing a pattern of heavy-handedness that culminated in last month’s divisive Medicare vote.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered her second privileged resolution of the year to challenge the Republican leaders’ handling of the bill, which Members approved 220-215 in the early morning of Nov. 22. Pelosi charged Republicans with holding open the vote for nearly three hours to achieve the result they wanted, violating House standards and engaging in “a deliberate attempt to undermine the will of the House.”

Pelosi said those actions “impugn the dignity and integrity of House proceedings, bring dishonor on Members of Congress and were a gross violation of rights of Members who opposed this legislation.” She said Republicans were not setting a “good example of Democracy for the rest of the world.”

But the GOP leadership saw Pelosi’s resolution as a political stunt.

“[Pelosi] has to do something to pull her Caucus together, and that usually means visceral attacks on Republicans,” said Stuart Roy, spokesman for Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

As for why the GOP did not send an elected leader to the floor to debate Pelosi’s resolution, Roy said, “Her argument was strictly partisan and political. We’re not going to further her political cause.”

Pelosi did, in fact, reference next year’s elections.

“We will carry this fight all the way to Election Day,” Pelosi said, later adding: “We will return the people’s House to the people.”

“That’s what this is about — treating each other with respect,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). He pointed to a key budget vote in 1987 when then-Minority Whip Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.) accused Democrats of heavy-handedness and abuse of power when the then-majority Democrats held open a key budget vote for nearly 30 minutes. That’s a far cry from the record three hours Republicans set with the Medicare vote, he said.

Democrats have been barking for months about the GOP’s handling of House proceedings, saying as the minority party they are denied a fair chance to participate in lawmaking. Republicans, on the other hand, insist Democrats acted similarly when they were in control of the chamber for some 40 years.

Monday presented the second time Pelosi has taken to the floor with a privileged resolution. The Minority Leader offered a resolution in July to criticize Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) for calling Capitol Police on Democratic lawmakers meeting in a House office building library.

The debate over Pelosi’s resolution came after the House passed the omnibus, 242-176, despite objections by most Democrats and some conservative Republicans.

The omnibus combines seven unfinished appropriations bills for a total of $328 billion in discretionary spending and $828 billion in total funds, including mandatory items.

Although the Senate still appears unlikely to approve the measure until January, House GOP leaders felt it made sense to vote on the bill as quickly as possible while a bicameral agreement was in place.

While Members from both sides of the aisle took issue with some aspects of the omnibus, the bill benefited from the fact that it seemed to have something in it for everyone.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a fiscal conservative, said that although he objected to some of the spending contained in the bill, he voted for it because it funds school vouchers for the District of Columbia and because it conforms with the fiscal 2004 budget resolution.

“We feel that the battle should be over the budget resolution,” Pence said of himself and his fellow conservatives.

Hoping to assuage the concerns of fiscal hawks — who in recent weeks have been increasingly critical of Republicans’ record on holding down spending — GOP leaders and appropriators made a point Monday of circulating charts showing that nondefense discretionary spending grew just 3 percent in 2004.

“For a year that began with a struggling economy and pressing needs at home and abroad, that we have held the growth of discretionary spending to 3 percent is an achievement in fiscal restraint,” said DeLay.

Democrats, meanwhile, accused the Republicans of misplaced priorities, saying the GOP has failed to spend money where it is most needed.

“This bill is nothing more than a fiscally irresponsible boondoggle that in almost every area of concern for families is grossly inadequate,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a presidential hopeful.