Democrats Move on Reform Bills

Posted July 20, 2004 at 6:38pm

Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) and Marty Meehan (Mass.) will formally introduce separate bills today to crack down on majority abuses of power in the House.

Maloney and Meehan announced plans to drop their respective legislation earlier this month after Republicans held open a vote on a largely Democratic-backed amendment to the Patriot Act for 38 minutes and ultimately killed the measure on a 210-210 tally.

Maloney’s Restoring Democracy to the U.S. Congress Act seeks to address specific minority grievances during the 108th, while Meehan’s Democracy in Congress Act is broader in scope and attempts to increase federal lobbying disclosure provisions and other House procedures. Meehan’s bill seeks to put in place many of the reforms pushed by the then GOP minority in the early 1990s.

Both Members are still seeking support for their bills, but so far Maloney has 15 Democratic cosponsors and Meehan has commitments from about a dozen Democratic Members.

In particular, Meehan’s legislation would give minority Members more opportunities to amend bills and participate on the floor by providing additional time to review legislation, limit votes to no more than 30 minutes and prohibit votes after midnight and before 7 a.m. He will introduce two separate bills to address the issues, one to increase lobbying disclosure requirements and the other to address the House minority’s rights.

Meehan, who took on the controversial campaign finance reform effort in the previous Congress, is seeking Republican backers for his bill and said Democrats would push similar reforms if elected to a majority.

“Our solutions are aimed at stopping wanton abuses of power and curbing the undue influence of special interests,” Meehan said last week.

Maloney’s bill, meanwhile, seeks to remedy many of the Democratic concerns that have reached a boiling point in this session, from time limits on votes and minority participation in conference committees to “calling the Capitol police to forcibly remover Members from legislative meetings” and “redrawing Congressional districts for partisan political gains.”

The latter refers to the controversial Texas redistricting map that endangered five incumbent Democrats and played a part in the defeat of two other minority lawmakers.

“Of the people, by the people and for the people really hasn’t applied to this Congress,” Maloney said.

“There have been blatant instances in which the will of the American people has been overturned or flat-out neglected by the Republican leadership,” she added. “It’s one thing to lead Congress because you’re in the majority, it’s another to run the people’s house like a dictatorship. This bill would give hundreds of millions of Americans their voices in Washington back.”

Republicans countered by saying Democrats were simply playing political games in an election year, and have continued to insist the party treated the GOP similarly or worse during their tenure in the majority.

“This is another signal that Democrats are more interested in procedure than policy,” said one House Republican leadership aide. “If they want to concede this November election by resorting to this nonsense then that’s just fine by us.”

This staffer added that the “big bone of contention” among Democrats is that votes are being held open beyond the 15-minute minimum time limit called for in the House rules. But the aide added, the 15-minute time frame is the floor, not the ceiling, for votes and even Democratic leaders have conceded that limit be exceeded under certain circumstances.

Maloney’s bill is expected to be referred to the House Administration Committee, while Meehan’s legislation will likely be referred to the Rules and Judiciary committees.