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Archive for Thursday, July 24, 2003

House Democrats hold up legislative process to protest treatment

July 24, 2003

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— House Democrats are so angry at their treatment by the Republican majority that they promised "a week from hell," and began delivering just that with a series of parliamentary maneuvers that nearly ground the legislative process to a halt for a few hours Wednesday.

The burst of frustration followed a decision by House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., last week to call the Capitol Police to confront Democrats who had walked out of a debate on a pension bill. Democrats were angry that Thomas had rewritten the bill without telling them, and one Democrat at the session called a Republican congressman a "wimp" and a "fruitcake."

The House has always been a relatively contentious and partisan body, but in recent weeks the acrimony has risen to new heights. Democrats say Republicans are shutting down debate and ramming through their agenda, while Republicans say Democrats are being obstructionist and partisan.

The tension came to a head Wednesday when Thomas fought back tears as he acknowledged on the House floor that he'd been "stupid" in his handling of last week's episode. Republicans had been almost as unhappy with him as Democrats, feeling that Thomas' actions had left the GOP vulnerable to accusations of abuse of power.

Thomas promised to do better. "I learned a very painful lesson on Friday," said Thomas, who has long been known for his acerbic, biting style. "You deserve better judgment from me, and you'll get it."

But Democrats insisted the problem was greater than one high-handed committee chairman.

They have stewed for months over the Republicans' refusal to allow them to offer amendments to bills on the House floor. And they have long expressed anger that Republicans won't allow them to offer whole substitutes to bills under consideration.

Still, in many ways, the Democrats are simply complaining about being in the minority. House rules give the majority vast power to move legislation at a quick pace, without providing any power to the minority to assert its views.

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