Even figuring out the terms of debate for legislation is a tough task for Republicans these days–as the fight over lobbying reform in the House illustrated yesterday. First the GOP leadership introduced a rule to prevent reformers from offering amendments, then they pulled the rule from the House floor fifteen minutes later. They didn’t have the votes. Then they did. When they reconvened to vote again, no one knew for sure. At the end of the day, the rule passed 216-207. Translation: Republicans 1, Democracy 0. A supposedly “open government” bill will come to a vote next week under closed debate. For those interested in backroom legislative minutia, here’s yesterday’s (sub-only) synopsis from National Journal’s Congress Daily:
A last-minute agreement between House Speaker Hastert and Appropriations Chairman Lewis salvaged the lobbying and ethics overhaul package Thursday, but not before exposing divisions across the Republican Conference.
Following a two-hour afternoon Conference meeting, Hastert and Majority Leader Boehner were prepared to pull the trigger on a procedural vote that appeared destined for failure amid opposition from a united bloc of GOP appropriators.
The decision to put the rule up for a seemingly hopeless vote was against the wishes of Rules Chairman Dreier, who crafted the legislation at Hastert’s request, and Majority Whip Blunt, who has never lost a procedural vote on the floor.
However, GOP leaders and appropriators appeared at a stalemate after appropriators balked at a commitment Dreier made to Lewis Wednesday that a bill would not come out of conference that did not include changes agreeable to the spending panel.
Tensions flared in leadership after the Conference meeting as leaders and their aides scrambled to reach an agreement just as debate resumed on the floor–with the widely held expectation that the rule vote would fail.
Several GOP leadership sources said Hastert was furious with Lewis and appropriators who remained opposed to the bill despite commitments to extend the overhauls in conference.
Defeating the rule would make it increasingly difficult for the House to pass a bill in the future, and Hastert has put a high priority on the legislation. Leaders were also concerned that the failure to pass the rule would open the door to a barrage of Democratic criticism and undermine the GOP leadership team.
“That case was made,” said Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio. “Not only [would it undermine] the leadership, but the whole majority.”
An hour before the vote, Hastert and Boehner huddled in another meeting with appropriators, including Lewis and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. This time, Lewis accepted the commitment to fix the bill in Conference.
Walking out of the meeting, Lewis remarked, in classic Washington-speak: “The Speaker is a very persuasive man.”