Democrats decry Republican tactics in marathon vote

For Immediate Release:

December 9, 2003

Contact:Edward Epstein

San Francisco Chronicle

Washington -- Angry House Democrats, still smarting over extraordinary parliamentary maneuvers that Republicans used last month to pass the Medicare bill President Bush signed Monday, sought to upstage Bush's big moment by taking to the floor to embarrass the House leadership.

In winning a 220-215 vote in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 22, the House Republican leadership turned a scheduled 15-minute vote into a three-hour marathon, time they used to twist arms to produce a winning margin. One member, Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., later indicated he was offered a $100,000 contribution for the campaign of his son, who is running to succeed him next year, if he would change his vote against the measure. He didn't.

"The Medicare vote will be remembered as one of the lowest moments in the history of the House,'' Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said Monday during a sometimes raucous debate over a motion she introduced calling on the House GOP leaders "to prevent any further abuse'' of voting rules.

"Not one member of the elected leadership of the majority will show his face on the floor to defend'' the vote, she said, to applause from her fellow Democrats. The House voted to table Pelosi's motion 207-182.

Pelosi, whose Democrats are outnumbered in the House 229 to 206, knew she would lose, but figured the tough tactics used by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, could mobilize her party and raise money for the 2004 election campaign.

"I brought this privileged resolution to the floor,'' Pelosi said, "because there were public rumors of bribery of $100,000 to a member of this House.'' There were scattered shouts of "Shame, shame,'' among the Democrats.

Neither Hastert nor DeLay was on the floor as Pelosi's measure was debated. The Republicans who responded defended the bill, the long vote and the need to act to provide a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.

"We had to thread a needle,'' said Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., in describing the effort to meld a coalition of Republicans and a few Democrats to pass the bill. "Yes, it took us an extraordinary amount of time to get it done. ... The speaker is entitled to take as much time as he likes for a vote. ''

But Pelosi's deputy, Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., reminded Republicans how they reacted angrily when they were in the minority in 1987 when then-Speaker Rep. Jim Wright, D-Texas, held a vote open for 30 extra minutes to win a budget bill vote. Hoyer quoted Vice President Dick Cheney, then the House Republican whip, to make his case.

"The Democratic tactics are the most grievous insult inflicted on the Republicans in my time in the House,'' Cheney said at the time. "It was the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power in the 10 years I've been here.''

But Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., said it was vital to pass the bill. "I would have stayed here for three more days with the clock open, I felt it was so urgent. '' Shaw said.