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Republicans Wage Floor Games

GOP Increases Attempts to Trip Up Democrats’ Agenda

House Republicans, unable to accomplish much legislatively these days, have found themselves increasingly adept at tripping up Democratic floor plans and dragging out debate.

From the banal procedural maneuver to resolutions condemning Democratic Members to the practice of reading lengthy legislative text on the floor, the GOP believes it has found one small way to frustrate — or at least attempt to frustrate — a powerful Democratic majority.

“There’s no question about it, [the additional restrictions] just completely energize the minority. I would think if you are going to run this place, let the minority have their say and defeat the amendments and call it a day,— Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said. “They have all the votes, so what’s the point of silencing? It seems really counterproductive to me.—

Roskam pointed to the GOP’s protest last week when Members hijacked the floor for three hours to give one-minute speeches that included the phrase, “where are the jobs?— The effort was part of the larger GOP strategy to derail Democratic health care plans, which Republicans charge ignore their ideas.

“As the majority continues to deny outlets for other perspectives, that energy goes somewhere,— he said.

During the 110th Congress, Republicans were occasionally able to employ procedural tactics to trip up debate or force Democrats to pull legislation from the floor.

Over the two-year period, Republicans were able to use procedural tactics to pass legislative alternatives 25 times. By contrast, Democrats were only able to pass 14 such motions in the 12 years while they were in the minority.

But the GOP victories have had a price.

In the 111th Congress, Democrats decided against taking any chances and restructured the rules to severely limit GOP interference. Democrats have cited the Republicans’ floor antics as a key reason for tightening the reins.

And Democratic leaders recently rejected a deal offered by Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that would have allowed Republicans back into the debate over this year’s spending bills. The argument: Democrats said they weren’t convinced that the GOP would stick with a promise to limit floor debate.

[IMGCAP(1)]It’s not surprising. On nearly a weekly basis, Republicans attempt another maneuver, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

Last month, for instance, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) stalled the passage of the Democratic energy bill for more than an hour by reading most of a 300-page amendment as a protest to a late-night addition to the bill.

Republicans’ other tactics have included the introduction and reintroduction of a series of resolutions designed to embarrass top Democrats. The targets have included Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). In each case, the resolutions were quickly tabled by Democrats.

“They are wasting their time annoying people and accomplishing nothing,— Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said. “They are angering their own Members.—

“Point of privilege, I did not get my amendment in order.’ Please,— poked Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

While the Republicans’ persistence has frustrated Democrats, Frank acknowledged that the minority has few tools at its disposal in a chamber where majority rules.

“When you are in the minority, there’s not a lot you can do. So minorities tend to do the same frustrating things,— Frank said.

To be sure, Democrats engaged in many of the same floor games when they were out of power. And just like the Democrats found in their minority days, Republicans often find their efforts produce limited returns.

On June 18, Republicans demanded a series of votes on amendments to the Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill. Members were on the floor for eight hours for a record 53 votes in one day.

Democratic leadership was able to capitalize on the floor time to whip the vote on the cap-and-trade climate change bill that narrowly passed the House a week later.

And last Thursday, when Republicans tried to hijack the floor by forcing the clerk to read a lengthy amendment aloud, Democrats cried foul. Democrats attacked the move as political, charging that the GOP was stalling floor procedure only to allow Boehner and other Members to attend the GOP leader’s fundraiser.

Boehner’s office denied the charge.

Still, Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) suggested that Members aren’t going to give up trying to make themselves heard, saying, “Our whole issue is so we can bring issues to the floor that are important to the American people and get votes on them.—