House Tables Murtha Rebuke

Posted May 22, 2007 at 6:43pm

A divided House sidestepped an effort Tuesday by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) to reprimand Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for allegedly violating House rules, prompting Murtha to apologize to his fellow Democrats and Rogers to suggest he might keep pressing the issue.

On a mostly party-line vote, 219-189, Democrats opted to table a privileged resolution authored by Rogers — killing the motion without debate — that accused Murtha of breaking House rules by threatening the Michigan lawmaker’s future earmark requests.

While Rogers said last week that he would not file a formal complaint with the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct, the Michigan lawmaker said Tuesday he was still mulling his options. “I’m not closing that door,” he said following the vote.

Rogers said he would have been satisfied if Democrats would have allowed one hour of debate on the motion so Members could have their say on the floor. “The fundamental issue is the ability to say ‘I disagree,’ with no retribution,” Rogers said.

Murtha has made no public statements on his exchange with Rogers on Thursday on the floor, where the senior appropriator allegedly threatened to strip all of Rogers’ earmark requests for “now and forever.”

Rogers said Murtha made the threat after he made an unsuccessful attempt to gut a pet project of Murtha’s from the Intelligence authorization bill on the floor two weeks ago. Rogers authored a motion to recommit that would have diverted funds from the National Drug Intelligence Center — located in Murtha’s Johnstown, Pa., district — to other intelligence programs. Rogers is a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Rogers said that he never had spoken to Murtha before, or since, Thursday’s exchange.

For his part, Murtha sat in his usual perch in the corner of the House floor during Tuesday’s vote, casually speaking with his Democratic colleagues. Two Democratic aides said that Murtha apologized to the Democratic Caucus immediately following the vote in a closed-door session on the Iraq supplemental spending bill.

“He acknowledged that he misspoke, and that he put the Caucus in a bad spot and he apologized for it,” said one senior Democratic aide.

Only one Republican, Rep. Tim Murphy (Pa.), sided with Democrats on the motion to table the resolution, and two Democrats voted with Republicans: Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) and Jim Cooper (Tenn.). Cooper also was the only Democrat to vote with Republicans on Rogers’ motion to recommit that would have gutted Murtha’s earmark in the intelligence bill two weeks ago.

Another 13 Members voted “present,” among them eight of the 10 lawmakers who sit on the ethics committee, including GOP Reps. Doc Hastings (Wash.), Jo Bonner (Ala.), John Kline (Minn.), Gresham Barrett (S.C.) and Mike McCaul (Texas), as well as Democratic Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), Gene Green (Texas) and Bill Delahunt (Mass.).

Ethics Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) did not vote, and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) voted to table the motion — which Republicans could make an issue of if the ethics committee does take up the matter.

“Ethics Committee member [Doyle] chose not to preserve his impartiality and voted in Murtha’s favor, which could require him to recuse himself should this matter come before the committee,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith wrote in an e-mail.

Other Members who voted present included Reps. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), and 11 Members did not vote.

Rogers’ earmark requests for the coming year already were provided to the Appropriations Committee before his exchange with Murtha.

Democratic aides argued this week that while Murtha may have misspoke, earmarks tend to be determined by appropriators of the same party so he could not necessarily strip Rogers’ earmarks. Rogers countered that that practice is “based on a gentleman’s agreement,” and disputed suggestions that Murtha does not wield that kind of influence. “The question is the ability to perform the act. Could he do it? Of course,” Rogers said.

According to a list provided by his office, Rogers’ earmark requests for fiscal 2008 include: $4 million for a Base Security Systems project administered in Brighton, Mich.; $2.25 million for Advanced Composite Materials Research for vehicles, in East Lansing, Mich.; $8 million for Battlefield Respirators production; $1 million for Disposable Bioreactors to be developed in Lansing, Mich.; $4 million for Tactical Vehicle Cargo Restraint Nets; $2.5 million for Advanced Hybrid Vehicle Technology research at Michigan State University in East Lansing; $6 million for cold weather layering clothing to be produced in Lansing; $8 million for multi-climate protection clothing to be produced in Lansing; $9 million for fleece insulating liners to be produced in Lansing; and $325,000 for the training of technology workers to be done at Cleary University in Howell, Mich.