Republicans Upend House Floor Plans

Posted February 26, 2008 at 6:49pm

House Republicans failed in their efforts to force a vote on a domestic spying program Tuesday afternoon, but they claimed a small victory as they derailed the Democratic majority’s floor schedule.

Democratic leaders pulled from the House floor a public housing reauthorization bill minutes before an expected vote, responding to a Republican amendment that would have effectively prohibited public housing authorities nationwide from banning firearms.

Republican use of parliamentary rules to force difficult votes has been a flashpoint this year, and the GOP targeted the first bill on the floor — aside from suspensions — since the return from recess to continue their efforts. A vote on guns, an issue dividing the Democratic Caucus, suggests the recess did not bring an end to partisan sniping.

“Republicans have shown today once again that they are more interested in playing political games than advancing a bipartisan agenda for the American people through the House,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, spokeswoman for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Democrats, who have not determined when the housing measure will return to the floor, assert the legislation was postponed because the amendment would have forced the bill back to committee, rather than to a final vote on the floor.

Although Democrats sought to alter the amendment to move the legislation to an immediate vote — an arcane detail that would require the bill to be reported to the House “forthwith” rather than “promptly” — Republicans declined to make that change.

“The reason that House Republicans decided to do our motion to recommit promptly is because we can get even better language in committee that ensures that no public housing authority implements similar restrictions,” said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

The National Rifle Association circulated an e-mail message Tuesday urging Members to vote yes on the motion to recommit.

“This motion to recommit would prohibit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from imposing ‘no guns’ rules on public housing residents,” according to the NRA message. “It is flagrantly unfair to deprive law-abiding people of their Second Amendment rights simply because they cannot afford private sector housing, while at the same time making public housing projects safer for criminals.”

The Republicans offered the amendment as a motion to recommit. It is one of the few procedural items in the minority party’s toolbox that allows the GOP to offer legislative alternatives when a bill hits the floor — and one the Republicans have used to force difficult votes on Democrats during the 110th Congress.

GOP lawmakers initially attempted to use the motion to recommit to force a vote on Senate legislation to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that expired earlier this month — House and Senate Democrats are in negotiations on the issue but no agreement is expected this week — but that proposal was ruled irrelevant to the housing legislation and not allowed under House rules.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spokesman Michael Steel did not rule out reusing the strategy during the remainder of the week: “I would expect we’ll continue to make efforts to pass the bipartisan FISA bill, which has the support of the House of Representatives.”