Dems angry over GOP relations in the House

Media don’t cover outrage, Dems claim; joint conferences a source of contention

For Immediate Release:

November 5, 2003

Contact:Hans Nichols

The Hill

Enraged House Democrats say that bipartisan relations in the House — especially regarding joint House-Senate conferences — have reached an all-time low, far worse than when they controlled Congress for 40 years.

But they conceded that their anger is not necessarily registering with either voters or the media and vowed to be strategic in how they stage their public outrage.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) explained to reporters that last Thursday’s “acting up” on the floor on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill “is really a very blunt and somewhat ineffective instrument.”

Hoyer continued: “Why? Because what you do is you can delay, but you can’t stop. And you guys [the media] yawn, and it doesn’t get reported to the republic.”

He added, “For the most part, you don’t write about it, and because for the most part people don’t care about process, and I understand that, except us insiders who care about it.”

Despite these messaging difficulties, Hoyer yesterday sent a crisp letter to Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) registering the Democrats’ concern over being left out of several conferences.

Democrats also worried that the relations could get even worse and that the majority party has lost its ability to shock them.

“Just when you think you have seen it all, just when you think they have crossed the line in terms of abuse of power by manipulation of the rules, they have now just torn up the rule book,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last
Thursday.

She added: “As I say, just when you think you have seen it all, the abuse of power gets even more abusive. But that’s the way it is with the abuse of power.”

At an evening meeting of party leaders last Tuesday, Pelosi decided on a media strategy to adequately prepare her own caucus and build expectations in the press, according to a Democratic leadership aide.

The plan was to build expectations for last Thursday, when Democrats would throw a one-two punch, with Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) banging on the door of the Medicare conference in an attempt to highlight his exclusion, and the leadership’s floor disruption tactics on the FAA bill.

But that careful media strategy was somewhat overshadowed by the gun scare in the Cannon House Office Building, which drew the cameras and klieg lights away from Rangel’s attempt to have a showdown with Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) in a back corridor of the Capitol.

“We just can’t catch a break,” said one Democratic staffer. 
Dan Maffei, communications director for Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, also lamented Thursday’s strange turn of events. “Between the chairman calling the police on my members meeting in the library and the gun scare in Cannon, spot news is increasingly affecting my job as congressional press secretary,” he said.

In keeping with their attempt at a coordinated media strategy, Democrats held a series of procedural votes to protest what they viewed as an incomplete conference process on the FAA bill. Those votes kept the House in session into the early hours of Friday morning.

“When you do something like disrupt the floor, it has to make sense,” said a Democratic leadership aide, noting that the disruption pertained only to the FAA bill.

Democrats claimed a partial victory when DeLay said on the House floor early Friday morning, “A formal conference should have been held before we brought [the FAA reauthorization conference report] to the floor.”

In his letter to the majority leader, Hoyer repeated DeLay’s floor comments that Republicans “will work to make sure that we follow the rules of the House and formal conferences are held before those conference reports come back to the floor.”

Hoyer continued: “I remain deeply troubled that Democratic conferees, duly appointed by Speaker [J. Dennis] Hastert [R-Ill.], are conferees in name only and are being inappropriately shut out of important conference meetings on Medicare and energy legislation and thus denied any meaningful opportunity to participate in crafting these conference reports.”

“The lack of respect for people who represent 600,000-plus Americans is at an all-time high, from my perspective, and that is simply a 23-year perspective,” Hoyer said.

Jonathan Grella, a DeLay spokesman, said, “The Democrats don’t even get an F for governing. They deserve an incomplete. Willing Democrats are always welcomed to the negotiating table. Medicare is a perfect example.

“Ask [Sen. John] Breaux [D-La.], [Sen. Max] Baucus [D-Mont.] if they are part of the negotiation. Democrats should stop carping from the sidelines and get into the game,” he said.

“If they are willing to hit the same iceberg twice, we’ll let them. But when they refuse to govern, then they’re doing a disservice to the American people and could potentially be adding a very destructive element to our government,” Grella said.