Floor Abuse

Posted July 13, 2004 at 4:57pm

In both the House and Senate, Republican leaders are up to floor abuse. Right now, the Senate is spending precious legislative time debating a constitutional amendment on gay marriage solely for the purpose of political posturing. And last week, House leaders once again resorted to the tactic of holding open a roll-call vote to round up support for their position.

Roll Call generally does not take positions on legislation, and we will not do so in the case of the marriage amendment. But the Senate leadership knows full well that it doesn’t have the votes to pass it. Instead of getting on with a long list of unattended legislative items, including appropriations bills, the debate has been scheduled in hopes of embarrassing Democrats on an election “wedge” issue.

There ought to be a debate on the marriage amendment — sometime. And contrary to the current position of Senate Democrats, it ought to be a full debate with any and all floor amendments in order. Whether to allow homosexuals to marry is obviously is an issue of deep concern to the public as well as to activists on both sides of the issue.

Moreover, the act of amending the U.S. Constitution is too important to have debate limited, and Senators should deliberate — hard — the floor amendments that Democrats now are seeking to block in order to get past the issue.

Even so, we don’t think that this is the proper moment for the debate. And the legislative wrangling about procedure even seems to be heading toward the defeat of the GOP leadership’s aims. The only vote will be on cloture. The two main targets of the exercise, the Democratic Senators running for president and vice president, have said they won’t come back for a procedural vote. Which makes the whole endeavor a waste of the Senate’s time, just a week before August recess.

In the meantime, the House leadership’s decision last week to hold open a roll-call vote having to do with the USA Patriot Act for an extra 38 minutes is yet another instance of the GOP’s abandonment of the reform principles it espoused 10 years ago when it sought to overthrow “authoritarian” Democratic rule. It’s the fifth time in this Congress that the GOP has resorted to extending votes far past the time allotted in its own rule. The worst, of course, was the notorious three-hour marathon to muscle waverers on the prescription drug bill in November 2003.

Democrats once again are furious about GOP arbitrariness, and two of them, Reps. Marty Meehan (Mass.) and Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), are sponsoring legislation to restore “democracy” to the House. Owing to GOP power, the legislation won’t go anywhere. But Republicans should remember: Democrats abused them once and someday may be in a position to do it again.