Crying foul over “abuse of the process,” House Democrats yesterday took their first step toward invalidating Republican claims that a typo in the recently signed budget-reconciliation bill is a mere technical problem.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and seven other members of the Democratic leadership sent a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) demanding a new vote on the controversial spending-reduction bill and a full public accounting of the circumstances that led to the House’s voting on a slightly different version of the legislation than had passed the Senate.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) went to the heart of the Democrats’ complaints during a briefing with reporters yesterday, saying, “We’re tired of being shut out.”
In the letter, the Democrats say that Hastert, the Senate GOP leadership and the White House were aware of the discrepancy but chose neither to inform House Democrats nor to address the problem through standard clerical procedures before the House voted.
“What started out as an inadvertent mistake by a Senate clerk has become a serious problem because of the actions taken subsequently by the Republican Leadership of the House,” the Democratic letter says.
“Since you knew about this error many days prior to the House vote on February 1, we can only conclude that the reason that the error was not fixed through a legitimate manner was because it involved another vote that might have failed the second time around,” the Democrats wrote Hastert.
The final version of the bill passed the House 216-214 after passing the Senate only through Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking vote.
Hoyer remarked: “Now why don’t they want to pass the bill again? ’Cause we’ll say it’s a terrible bill again. … A large part of the American public is buying that and talking to their representatives about that.”
The Democratic leadership also distributed a letter written by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that cites the text of the Constitution, House rules and legal scholars to support the case that the bill has not actually been enacted. President Bush signed the legislation last Wednesday.
The GOP leadership has contended that the problem was rectified when Hastert and Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) certified that the bill was correct and had been passed by both chambers before sending it the White House last week. “These leaders signed this statement despite the fact that the Republican leadership in both houses know that this was not true,” Waxman wrote. “It is a major abuse of power.”
The Senate adopted a concurrent resolution saying that the language the president signed reflects the intent of Congress; the House GOP leadership is said to be eyeing the same resolution.
Hastert and the White House did not comment by press time.
Josephine Hearn contributed to this report.