Democrats muscle through agenda
Final installment in a special series on Congress' first 100 hours.
By WES ALLISON and BILL ADAIR
Published January 19, 2007
WASHINGTON - The game wasn't over, but the Democrats were already dancing in the end zone.
Thursday afternoon, House Democratic leaders summoned reporters to the biggest conference room they could find in the Capitol and declared victory for passing all six of their priorities within the first 100 hours of the new Congress.
No matter that the debate was still raging upstairs on the sixth bill, a legislative potshot at Big Oil, and that the vote wouldn't come for another three hours.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a black pantsuit and a purple blazer, the color of royalty, basked in the applause of 15 colleagues and the flash of cameras.
"We have demonstrated that the Congress of the United States is not a place where good ideas and the optimism of the American people go to die," she said.
Pelosi was flanked by blue placards listing the Democrats' priorities, with a big red check by each one, including the one that had not yet passed.
It was a bill to repeal nearly $14-billion in subsidies that the then-ruling Republicans gave oil companies in the last Congress. The savings would be used to fund research into alternative fuels.
But like everything else about the first 100 hours, as Pelosi's victory speech laid bare, the actual vote was as predetermined as a professional wrestling match.
All that remained to be seen was how many Republicans, wary of swimming against the populist tide, would turn tail and join them.
The Republicans, ever wily, took one last shot Thursday at knocking the Democratic agenda off track.
As debate on the Big Oil bill inched forward, Republican leader John Boehner rose to grouse about how the Democrats were "short-circuiting democracy," muscling their bills through the House without giving the Republicans a chance to amend them.
Then, quite suddenly, he made his play: "I move that the House do now adjourn."
The buzzers sounded across Capitol Hill, signaling a vote was under way, and members filed into the chamber. They slid their plastic cards into the voting machines and punched yes or no.
Then came an unexpected twist. Members only had 15 minutes to vote, and when the time expired on the motion to adjourn, the Republicans were ahead, 122 to 106.
But the Democrats, who now have the power to stop time, just did what the Republicans used to do when they were in charge: They kept the vote open until their numbers caught up, and Boehner's motion was defeated.
Curses! Foiled again.
Later, at the Democrats' victory party, a reporter asked Pelosi about the Republicans' complaints that they had been bullied and ignored and generally cut out of the lawmaking process.
She and her fellow Democrats, remembering the abuse they took from the Republicans for the past dozen years, guffawed.
No question, the Democrats used their majority to pass special rules for their agenda, preventing Republican mischief and ensuring all six bills passed within the 100 hours. And again, thanks to their powers to stop and start the legislative clock at will, it took them only 42.
But dozens of Republicans happily crossed over to vote for those Democratic bills. In fact, Pelosi noted primly, a majority of Republicans - 124 - joined the Democrats this week in cutting interest rates for student loans.
Another 82 voted to raise the minimum wage. Sixty-eight agreed with the Democrats that Congress indeed should implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
And 36 voted with the Democrats Thursday evening to squeeze a little green back from Big Oil.
The Republicans would get their chance to help legislate, she said, but the first 100 hours wasn't the time to let them.
"This," Pelosi said, "was about keeping our promise, not holding to some process."
Wes Allison can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 463-0577.
100 hours scorecard:
The House passed six Democrat-sponsored bills during its first 100 hours - actually, in 42. They would:
- Make the government negotiate for lower Medicare prescription drug prices.
- Expand federally funded stem cell research.
- Raise the federal minimum wage.
- Seek to bolster terrorism fighting efforts.
- Change rules governing ethics, lobbying and the budget.
- Impose fees, taxes and royalties on oil and gas companies and promote renewable fuels.
Source: Associated Press
[Last modified January 19, 2007, 07:11:50]
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