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Hoyer Ready to Scrap Rule

Aug. Voting Snafu Prompts Shift

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) endorsed the reversal of a signature Democratic rules change Tuesday — a measure ending the practice of prolonging floor votes specifically to affect their outcome. Hoyer made his comments in an appearance before the special House committee charged with investigating an August voting snafu on the chamber’s floor.

Implemented at the start of the 110th Congress, House Rule XX clause 2(a) prohibits holding a vote “open for the sole purpose of reversing the outcome of such vote.” Newly empowered House Democrats adopted the rule last year in response to the now-infamous Medicare Part D vote that Republicans held open for three hours to ensure passage while they were in the majority.

But on Tuesday Hoyer criticized the House rule, acknowledged it can be nearly impossible to enforce, and said he would not object to amending the rule. “My view is that 2(a) is not enforceable,” Hoyer said.

The rule has come under new scrutiny as Rep. Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.) — who was the presiding officer during the disputed floor vote last August — has cited the rule as the impetus for his premature gaveling of the vote, and subsequent chaos on the House floor.

McNulty has acknowledged making mistakes in the handling of the vote. Appearing before the special committee established to investigate the August vote, McNulty said, “I was overly fixated on the enforcement of that rule, and it caused me to make an error.”

The special panel was created after chaos erupted following a vote on a GOP-authored amendment to an Agriculture spending bill that would have prohibited illegal immigrants from accessing certain federally funded programs.

Republicans alleged that the Democratic majority mishandled the vote, resulting in the defeat of the measure. GOP leaders assert that McNulty’s announcement of a 214-214 tie — defeating the amendment — was inaccurate and that the motion had, in fact, passed 215-213 as Republicans changed their votes.

But Democrats dispute that version of events, noting that their own Members were changing votes on the House floor, resulting in the final tally of 212-216.

While Democrats and Republicans on the Select Committee to Investigate the Voting Irregularities of Aug. 2, 2007, both questioned the application of House Rule XX, the panel remained otherwise sharply divided over the facts of the case.

“I believe everyone is telling the truth here. The problem is we all see it from different vantage points,” Hoyer said in his testimony. He is not a member of the panel.

In particular, Republicans sought to prove that Democratic leaders moved to end the vote at a favorable time, pressuring McNulty into gaveling the vote closed.

McNulty denied those assertions, however.

Following the hearing, both Chairman Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and ranking member Mike Pence (R-Ind.) acknowledged the panel has not reached agreement on a number of issues, but said the inquiry — at a cost of nearly a half-million dollars — has not been a failure.

Delahunt predicted the effort would diminish partisan tensions on the floor and could be used to better train Members who preside over the chamber as Speakers Pro Tem.

“What is the reputation and integrity of the United States House worth?” Pence added.

Delahunt said he could not predict when the panel would produce its final report.

The committee is charged with issuing a final report by Sept. 15. That document is to include recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future.

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