Democrats Seek Unity on Motions

Posted April 17, 2007 at 6:50pm

With the District of Columbia Voting Rights Act set to return to the House floor this week, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that, despite the potential political fallout, Democrats will oppose all future Republican-authored motions to recommit that would shelve legislation.

“It will be the intention of our Caucus leadership … to ask Members to vote against such motions to recommit in the future on the basis of process, not substance,” Hoyer said.

A leadership aide later clarified that Hoyer was not, however, asserting that Democrats would unilaterally oppose every motion to recommit — procedural motions that, when accompanied by instructions, allow the minority to add last-minute provisions to legislation — but only those containing “killer” technical amendments that would shelve bills.

In the initial months of the 110th Congress, Republicans succeeded in winning on seven motions. In addition, the minority forced Democrats last month to pull the D.C. voting rights bill, which would provide a full-fledged House seat to the nation’s capitol, from the floor moments before a scheduled vote by offering a motion to abolish the city’s long-standing handgun ban.

But Democratic leaders now plan to return the voting rights bill to the House floor Thursday, and said rank-and-file Members will be asked to defeat the GOP motion on technical grounds, rather than its actual content, if Republicans attempt to pass it again.

“The amendment they sought to offer was not a problem,” Hoyer said.

Despite the politically sensitive nature of the motion, the Maryland lawmaker said Democrats now oppose the GOP proposal because it contains language that would table the bill, effectively killing it. Monday’s mass shooting at Virginia Tech also may make it easier politically for Democrats to oppose a measure weakening gun laws.

Moreover, Hoyer said Democratic leaders, who discussed the matter at a Monday afternoon meeting, intend to apply that same logic to future procedural votes.

According to numerous lawmakers in attendance at Tuesday’s weekly Democratic Caucus meeting, Hoyer made a similar statement during a brief discussion of the voting rights bill.

One Democratic lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Hoyer framed the issue as a need to better control the House floor and the agenda, suggesting that Democrats may need to cast politically distasteful votes at times.

“You have to control these procedural votes,” the Democrat said. Nevertheless, the lawmaker and other Democrats added that Hoyer did not issue an across-the-board edict requiring uniformity on all such votes.

Whether voting against such motions — which Republicans have framed as potential campaign issues — could hurt vulnerable new Members remains a subject of concern among some majority lawmakers, but Democratic leaders insist they will continue to evaluate each bill on a case-by-case basis.

“Leadership is intent on keeping control of the floor and moving our agenda forward,” said Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Bernards.

But Republicans assert that such a change would have had little affect on their recent success, noting that only the voting rights bill contained language that would table the legislation.

“It’s a win-win for Republicans and a de-facto admission that Republicans are winning the battle of ideas, which is making it difficult for Democrats to keep control of the floor,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

In the meantime, Democrats will continue with a review of new spending rules that Hoyer said has opened a loophole that has aided the minority in its efforts.

“We’re reviewing the issue,” Hoyer said Tuesday. He has blamed the GOP’s procedural success, at least in part, on broader germaneness provisions adopted when Democrats reinstituted “pay-as-you-go” spending guidelines in the House rules at the start of the 110th Congress.

“We want to get the budget deficit under control. We said fiscal responsibility was necessary,” Hoyer said, later adding: “But we are not going to be hoisted on the torrent of fiscal responsibility … by putting an amendment which is non-germane — from my perspective, not from the Parliamentarian’s — but not relevant to D.C. voting with the hopes that some people will feel compelled to vote for that and therefore either kill the bill or add the amendment.”

Republicans believe it is unlikely, however, that such a change would curb their ability to win on procedural motions, arguing that PAYGO rules provided an opening on only one of the eight bills they have targeted.