Accusations Fly as Democrats Fight GOP Attempt to Extend Suspension Calendar

Posted June 24, 2003 at 10:52am

A House Republican plan to extend the suspension calendar provoked Democratic frustration and accusations of GOP attempts to silence debate during a Monday night Rules subcommittee hearing.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), ranking member of the Rules subcommittee on technology and the House, told his colleagues: “If this is payback for the way that the Democrats ran the House, then call it payback. Please don’t claim that this is a fair and balanced process when it’s clearly not.”

But Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) countered that the move to extend the suspension calendar “does not represent or portend any ominous new power or any abuse of existing power.”

The GOP is seeking to continue using Wednesdays through the remainder of the session as a day for voting on “suspension” bills — noncontroversial items such as naming governmental buildings and congratulating sports teams on victories.

Debate on suspension bills, which cannot be amended, is limited to 20 minutes on each side, and the measures require a two-thirds majority to pass. Democrats at the hearing accused Republicans of preventing debate on substantive issues by loading up the suspension calendar.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) testified that the 108th Congress spent almost as much time on suspension bills “naming federal office buildings and post offices as we did to the House Republican tax plan.”

Republicans have not lived up to promises they made, while in the minority, to reform House procedure, he said.

Rules ranking member Martin Frost (D-Texas) said Republicans — the majority party since the 1994 elections — have made the House “less democratic and more autocratic than ever before.”

Dreier, in his statement, parried Democratic accusations. Republicans “stand in conflict with some of the things we said about Democratic control,” he allowed, but said members of his party “have a very thin margin within which to govern. We have to make the most efficient use of time and the rules.”

During questioning, he said Republicans have done what “we have needed to do to move the agenda of the American people forward.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) testified that controversial language is often inserted into supposedly noncontroversial suspension bills, a practice he called “undemocratic.” Such votes, he said, enable Members “to go back to the voters and pretend that they really agree,” when in fact the language voted on might be “out of sync with their voters.”

In order to pass, the Republican bill to extend the suspension calendar must now face a currently unscheduled floor vote and earn a simple majority.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said he had little doubt as to the outcome. “He who rules has the right to change the rules,” he said, adding, in reference to Republicans, “I wish you do poorly in this regard.”