A routine science competitiveness bill may have crystallized what the House chamber has become at this moment in a frightening political cycle for Democrats: little more than an election-year staging ground.They all want to get something on the record that they can brag about to their constituents rather than talk about what they've done that isn't selling well. So they offer up these feel-good amendments and hope no one will remember their other votes.
Over two days, Democrats turned the ho-hum America Competes bill into a 54-amendment marathon — allowing vulnerable incumbents to sponsor dozens of feel-good amendments to tout back home.
Exhausted from a brutal 16-month stretch that produced a health care law, stimulus funding and a climate change bill, House Democrats seem worn out. They’ve clipped their workweek to a 42-hour period from Tuesday evening to midday Thursday, sprinkling a light schedule with long debates on noncontroversial bills that could easily pass without a formal vote. The five-day workweek is long gone.
So they’re left with less substance and more politically convenient amendments.
During Thursday’s debate on the competitiveness bill, John Boccieri of Ohio added $50 million to a manufacturing program; Martin Heinrich of New Mexico tried to make his home state’s federal labs eligible for “innovation” funding; and Loretta Sanchez of California brought school administrators into the fold on the president’s advisory council on science and technology. The three Democratic lawmakers — and several others who offered similar amendments — just happen to be facing tough reelection races.
Remember when the House Democrats were going to work a record five days a week - none of those pansy hours that previous Houses had been in session? Well, forget about that. They're just in town for a few days and they're so busy passing these nothingburger amendments that they don't have time for the real work they're supposed to be doing like, say, passing a budget.
t’s not that there’s nothing big left for the House to do — the budget, annual appropriations bills and war funding bills haven’t moved much. It’s just that there’s little appetite among Democrats to have a fight on any more controversial issues before they face the voters.Well, the GOP can play that game, too.
Thus, simple bills that pass with little debate — a post office naming here, an honor for the late Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell there — are filling the schedule.
But while Democrats tried to play out this string this week and use the House as their own campaign battlefield, they were ambushed on Thursday.Sure, let's all feel good and help out endangered Democrats. We can kick the can on the budget and appropriations down the road and then pass some ginormous omnibus bill packed with all sorts of goodies and pernicious elements that no one will actually have time to read before the leadership forces a vote at midnight because they have to rush, rush to do the "work of the American people." You know the drill.
Republicans used a procedural maneuver to force a vote on an amendment that was just as politically pleasing to them. The GOP proposal would ban salaries for workers who look at pornography on government computers, prohibit funding in the bill for colleges that ban military recruiters and slash overall spending authorization levels.
Democrats ended up yanking the bill — at least for now — and slammed an exclamation point on what had been another extremely sleepy week in the House.
When Republicans offered their amendment — through a procedural tool called a motion to recommit — most Democrats voted to kill it. But once it became clear that enough Democrats would vote for it because of the anti-pornography and military-recruiting clauses, dozens of Democrats shifted their votes. Ultimately, it prevailed 292-126, forcing Democratic leaders to put off a final vote on the science bill.
A senior GOP aide said that Democrats had prohibited Republicans from offering their own amendments, so they resorted to this procedural maneuver to embarrass Democrats.
“Perhaps if they had made these amendments in order and allowed the House to work its will on these important subjects, the entire exercise wouldn’t have been for naught,” the aide said.
The level of political gamesmanship on both sides was underscored by the fact that, in 2007, the House passed the original version of this America Competes bill by unanimous consent in less than an hour.
And when they're voting on thousands of pages of unread bills, remember back to these sultry days of their do-nothing weeks in May.