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Paper Trail Bill Prompts Delays, Headaches

House Democrats on Friday postponed consideration of an election reform bill at least another week after failing to resolve the concerns of dozens of Members about how it would affect their individual districts.

The bill had been scheduled to hit the House floor Thursday, but the Rules Committee adjourned after a lengthy hearing Wednesday without voting on a rule, with Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) among those concerned about the bill, which would require voter-verified paper receipts for electronic voting machines by next year’s general election.

Slaughter later said she was satisfied after leadership agreed to allow New York to keep its lever machines until 2010, and she attributed the canceling of a Rules meeting on the subject Friday to the decision by Democratic leaders not to hold any significant votes today because of the shortened week caused by the Jewish holidays and the Sept. 11 funeral of Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio).

“It is a matter of scheduling,” Slaughter said. “When we decided we were only going to meet one day we decided not to do major legislation.” Slaughter noted that federal housing and terrorism insurance legislation also had been postponed.

She also said that leadership had been well aware of her concerns for weeks. “We’ve talked about this at many leadership meetings,” she said. “I wouldn’t surprise the Speaker of the House.”

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), the sponsor of the election bill, said Friday that there were “too many little questions about what’s in the bill” from various Members. Holt said he personally was looking into the situations in dozens of districts to assuage Members about how much it might cost, the likelihood of federal reimbursement and other issues. Many Members do not understand the bill, Holt said, adding that local counties are telling their Members that their systems are secure, which Holt says is not true.

“There are 435 Members who say ‘What does this mean for my three counties?’” Holt said.

Regardless, Holt said he thinks the bill would have passed if it had gone to the floor. “I wouldn’t make too much of the delay, nonetheless I’m disappointed because every day makes it harder for the states to implement,” he said.

Hastings said Friday that he wants to see a stronger bill without going into specifics.

“This is a nice bill, I’m not opposed to some of the things in this bill,” he said. “At the same time, I think we can do better.”

In addition to problems with the election reform bill, Democrats were scrambling to overcome a multibillion-dollar score by the Congressional Budget Office for the terrorism insurance bill to comply with “pay-as-you-go” rules. Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he expected the issue to be dealt with and both that bill and the housing bill to be on the floor next week.

House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) ripped the special treatment for New York in the election bill. “I am stunned that the other Democrats would allow New York to be cut out of the bill and I’m surprised there are not 49 other amendments cutting out states from a bad bill,” Putnam said.

Other Republicans jumped on the delays. “There is a mounting pile of work to be done and fewer and fewer days to do it,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “That’s a reflection of the Democrats’ inability to govern effectively.”

Stacey Farnen Bernards, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), dismissed the nitpicking. “Republicans did nothing to address the issues that Democrats are working hard to resolve in this legislation,” she said. “This really amounts to just more armchair quarterbacking by people who failed to get the job done when they were in charge.”

The decision by House leaders to scrap major legislation for this week had some questioning the wisdom of forcing Members to return Monday for a series of suspension votes.

“I can’t believe that they are going to make us come in for three hours for the whole week,” Holt said.

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