Blunt Gets a Win, But Democrats Blast Gas Vote
The House left town on an acrimonious note last week, after a razor-thin vote to pass a new energy bill Friday gave Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) a much-needed victory in his new post while also handing Democrats fresh grist for their argument that the GOP has abused its power.
The Gasoline for America’s Security Act passed the House on Friday afternoon, 212-210, after the scheduled five-minute vote was held open for an additional 40 minutes to allow Republicans to round up the necessary support for passage. The measure passed with only GOP votes, as all 196 Democrats present joined 13 Republicans and Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in voting against it.
The Republican tactics in holding open the vote and persuading a handful of Members to change their votes prompted Democrats to charge that the GOP is making a habit of such behavior.
“This is a practice, not an anomaly,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), comparing Friday’s actions to the 2003 Medicare prescription drug vote. “This is a practice of undermining the Democratic will of the people’s House of Representatives. … This is a sad day in Washington.”
Hoyer and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) ability to keep all of their Democrats in the “no” column — including a few who originally voted in favor of the bill — made Republican vote-counters’ jobs that much harder.
“I think what we saw happen there was that the number of Democrats we usually have was just not there,” said Blunt, who also admitted that the leadership may have rushed the bill to the floor too quickly.
“Even a bill designed to cut gas prices needed more time to talk about it than Members had,” Blunt said.
Blunt would not directly address a question about whether the vote was an important one for him in his new position as Majority Leader and Whip. But Blunt did say he was looking forward to coming back after this week’s recess.
“I think we’ll all benefit from having a week to have a more normal approach to the floor,” he said.
While Blunt may be serving as Majority Leader since the indictment of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) prompted him to step down from that post, DeLay was certainly not on the sidelines during Friday’s vote. The Texan could be seen on the floor actively working his colleagues, particularly Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), who was eventually persuaded by DeLay and others to vote for the bill.
In the end another Maryland Republican, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, made the difference by changing his vote to “aye” and breaking a 211-211 tie. When the vote was gaveled closed, Democrats chanted “Shame!” after having made several parliamentary inquiries during the vote to demand that it be closed.
Pelosi said afterwards that the vote was just the latest example of the Republican abuses of power in the House, accusing the GOP of “holding votes open for the sole purpose of reversing the outcome of the vote.”
She charged that the vote should have taken five minutes, but instead took “nine times that long” so that the “indicted leader” DeLay could engage in “arm twisting” to pass the bill.
“This is a shameless display of the culture of corruption in the House of Representatives,” she said.
But Republicans countered that it was Democrats who were playing politics with an important policy issue.
“I think they’re trying to embarrass Republicans politically instead of thinking of Americans at the gas pump,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).