Panel to Probe Floor Uproar

Posted August 3, 2007 at 6:45pm

Despite intense partisan rancor over a disputed House vote last week — which delayed activity in the chamber and prompted a rare Saturday session on the eve of the August recess — House lawmakers agreed Friday evening to establish a select committee to review the incident.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) proposed the six-member committee in a privileged resolution late Friday night, circumventing discussions with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) that both lawmakers earlier had indicated were ongoing.

“I’m sorry. We can be talking about it for months. I wanted to bring this resolution to the floor tonight so there could be real action on this issue,” Boehner said.

The investigation would focus on a procedural vote on the fiscal 2008 Agriculture spending bill, which Republicans allege Democrats mishandled in the House on Thursday night, altering the outcome to defeat the measure.

Although Democratic leaders expressed regret for the incident — in which Rep. Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.) announced a vote count before some Members had completed changing their ballots, leading Republicans and Democrats to differ on whether the measure had passed — the majority has denied any violation of House rules.

Before the chamber voted on Boehner’s proposal, Hoyer agreed that the sides should form a committee to probe the matter. A resolution simply to create the panel was then approved by voice vote.

“I welcome the investigation. I applaud coming to the bottom of what happened. Because I know what happened,” Hoyer said on the House floor Friday night. The Maryland lawmaker initially sought an investigation by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct but withdrew that proposal from the House floor in response to Republican objections.

“Sending it to the ethics committee is sending it to what most people would describe as a black hole,” Boehner said on the House floor.

Instead, Republicans proposed a select committee with subpoena powers made up of three Democrats and three Republicans to review the vote. The panel would be required to issue an interim report by Sept. 30 and a final report by Sept. 15, 2008, which would recommend changes to House rules to ensure similar questions could be avoided in the future.

“We’ve got to make sure we get to the bottom of what happens and make sure it never happens again,” Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy said.

The dispute occurred as House lawmakers voted on a motion to recommit, a procedural motion that allows the minority to propose amendments immediately before a final vote on legislation.

Aside from those negotiations, however, Democratic and Republican lawmakers continued to quarrel over the disputed vote on an Agriculture spending bill, slowing House action and prompting the chamber to schedule a rare Saturday session.

Democratic House leaders also rejected Republican demands to return the spending bill to committee, characterizing the request as “frivolous.”

“There was no mistake made last night,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a Friday press conference.

The Californian described the incident Thursday as a “misunderstanding” and an “inconvenience.”

“It did not change the outcome of the vote,” she said.

But Republicans disputed that version of events, demanding the fiscal 2008 Agriculture spending bill be returned to the Appropriations Committee for amendments, and vowed to block the majority of legislative action planned in the House late last week.

“Our Members felt like a victory was taken away from us on live television in front of everyone,” House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said.

Republicans assert a tied 214-214 vote count — rending a defeat — announced by McNulty, the Speaker Pro Tem, was inaccurate and that the motion had in fact narrowly passed 215-213 as Republicans changed their votes. Democrats similarly disagreed, however, arguing their own Members also had changed votes, with a final tally of 212-216 — the result that currently appears on THOMAS’ official list of roll-call votes.

In the ensuing commotion Thursday night, Democrats sought to vacate that vote, but that effort failed. Hoyer subsequently called for the House to reconsider that vote, at which time more than 100 Republicans stormed out of the chamber in protest.