By Peter Sullivan - 07/20/14 05:30 PM EDT
Republicans are touting an open amendment process on House spending bills to argue the minority is treated far better in the lower chamber than in the Democratic-held Senate.
Republicans point to Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) as an example of how much better life is in the House than the Senate for the minority party.
Jackson Lee has had 18 roll call votes on her amendments in the House in the past year, more than the entire Republican caucus in the Senate.
“We're going through the appropriations process right now in an open process,” incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told “Fox News Sunday” last month. “So what is the hold-up here? Harry Reid and the Senate.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is deeply frustrated with the charges that he needs to allow more amendments to make the Senate work, so much so that he invited a group of columnists to his office earlier this month to make his case.
“It irritates me so much when people say, ‘Why don’t they just work together?’ ” Reid told them. He said the real problem is that Republicans made a decision “to oppose everything Obama wants.”
The number of cloture votes, a way to measure the number of filibusters, climbed to a record of 163 in this Congress, up from 54 during the last time Republicans controlled the Senate.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), countered the charge that Republicans are blocking everything by pointing to recent bipartisan successes on terrorism insurance, known as TRIA, and job training.
“We just passed TRIA (after Sen. Reid agreed to amendments), we passed the job training bill (again, after Sen. Reid allowed amendments),” Stewart wrote in an email. “We’re on track to pass a highway funding bill. And that’s all within the past couple weeks.”
In the House, amendments sponsored by Democrats to spending measures have actually been approved by the entire chamber. They include measures to fund improvements in gun background check systems, prevent federal interference in state medical marijuana laws and restrict the NSA’s ability to search for Americans’ communications in its database.
The House has had roll call votes on more than 180 amendments offered by the Democratic minority since last July, compared to just 12 roll call votes on amendments from the Republican minority in the Senate during that period.
“I want to thank the Republicans for their generosity,” Jackson Lee said in an interview when she was asked about her own amendments.
Asked whether the Senate should allow the Republican minority to have votes on their amendments, Jackson Lee said, “All I can say is that McConnell and Reid can get together and work the business of the Senate and I'm just grateful for the bipartisanship here.”
Other Democrats say Republicans in the House have actually prevented the minority party from offering too many amendments by increasing the number of measures included in a “closed rule,” which prevents amendments.
While the GOP is allowing amendments on spending measures, it’s not allowing them on other legislation.
In June, the House broke the record of 61 closed rules that had been set when Democrats controlled the chamber in 2008.
“They don't allow any amendments on the actual policy bills,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who co-sponsored the successful NSA amendment.
She added of appropriations amendments: “It’s better than nothing but it’s a poor substitute for open Congress.”
Rep. George Miller (Calif.), a veteran House Democrat, said the open appropriations rules are just for show.
“That's just camouflage,” he said. “They know, during the process, most of the amendments probably won't survive.”
The fate of amendments to House appropriations bills is uncertain because it appears likely that Congress will have to pass a stopgap continuing resolution to avert a shutdown on Oct. 1, instead of following the standard appropriations process.
Steven S. Smith, a political scientist who studies Congress at Washington University in St. Louis, said the House is able to allow appropriations amendments because it has the time for that process.
“The fact is that the House isn’t doing very much, so the big picture is that they have lots of time,” he said. “And they actually don’t expect the appropriations bills to go anywhere.”