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House Democrats May Alter Rules on Motions

Angered over recent Republican success in forcing difficult votes on the House floor, Democratic leaders plan to revisit new spending rules in an attempt to close a loophole that has aided the minority in those efforts.

In recent weeks, Republicans have succeeded in winning seven motions to recommit, procedural motions that allow the minority to add last-minute provisions to legislation and even forced the majority last week to delay consideration of a bill that would provide a full-fledged House seat to the District of Columbia moments before a scheduled vote.

“It’s been an incredible morale booster for the Republican Conference,” said one GOP aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Democratic frustration is palpable.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) blamed the GOP’s recent success, at least in part, on broader germaneness provisions adopted when Democrats reinstituted “pay-as-you-go” spending guidelines in the House rules at the start of the 110th Congress.

Those spending guidelines, which require any new expenses to be offset, have opened some legislation, such as the D.C. Voting Rights bill, to modifications that previously would not have been allowed. In that instance, Republicans offered a motion to abolish the city’s long-standing handgun ban, prompting Democrats to pull the bill from the floor.

“We find ourselves in a position where we need to address that or we’re going to be on every bill, whether it’s a water bill, a D.C. Voting Rights bill … [subject] to an amendment that is totally unrelated to the substance of the bill,” Hoyer said at a Tuesday press conference. “We don’t think that’s appropriate. We don’t think that serves the legislative process, and we’re going to address that.”

He later added: “We’re not interested in ‘gotcha’ amendments.”

Several rank-and-file Democrats similarly criticized the Republican tactic, which one lawmaker derided as “mischief,” but said it is unclear exactly how the majority could address the issue.

In a separate interview, Hoyer said Tuesday that leaders have not determined if the changes would require revisiting the full House rules package, or if it would be addressed on a bill-by-bill basis.

“We want to make sure we consider legislation on its merits and avoid playing any games,” Hoyer added.

But Republicans believe it is unlikely such a change would curb their ability to win on procedural motions, arguing that PAYGO rules provided an additional opening only on the D.C. bill, and would not have been necessary on other proposals.

“Last week Democrats lost control of the floor because of the Republican motion to recommit, and that’s not going to be the only time that happens,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

But Hoyer asserted that the District voting bill will return to the House floor following the two-week April recess and would not face the same tactical difficulties it did last week.

“We will not have the procedural problems that we confronted,” Hoyer said.

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