Republicans bend rules, press for votes during
wee hours to escape the light of accountability.
before has the House of Representatives operated
in such secrecy:
2:54 a.m. on a Friday in March, the House cut
veterans benefits by three votes.
2:39 a.m. on a Friday in April, the House slashed
education and health care by five votes.
1:56 a.m. on a Friday in May, the House passed
the Leave No Millionaire Behind tax-cut bill by
a handful of votes.
2:33 a.m. on a Friday in June, the House passed
the Medicare privatization and prescription drug
bill by one vote.
12:57 a.m. on a Friday in July, the House eviscerated
Head Start by one vote.
then, after returning from summer recess, at 12:12
a.m. on a Friday in October, the House voted $87
billion for Iraq.
in the middle of the night. Always after the press
had passed their deadlines. Always after the American
people had turned off the news and gone to bed.
did the public see? At best, Americans read a
small story with a brief explanation of the bill
and the vote count in Saturday's papers.
what did the public miss? They didn't see the
House votes, which normally take no more than
20 minutes, dragging on for as long as an hour
as members of the Republican leadership trolled
for enough votes to cobble together a majority.
didn't see GOP leaders stalking the floor for
whoever was not in line. They didn't see Speaker
Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay coerce
enough Republican members into switching their
votes to produce the desired result.
other words, they didn't see the subversion of
late last month, they did it again. The most sweeping
changes to Medicare in its 38-year history were
forced through the House at 5:55 on a Saturday
debate started at midnight. The roll call began
at 3:00 a.m. Most of us voted within the typical
20 minutes. Normally, the speaker would have gaveled
the vote closed. But not this time; the Republican-driven
bill was losing.
4 a.m., the bill had been defeated 216-218, with
only one member, Democrat David Wu, not voting.
Still, the speaker refused to gavel the vote closed.
the assault began.
DeLay, Republican Whip Roy Blount, Ways and Means
Chairman Bill Thomas, Energy and Commerce Chairman
Billy Tauzin -- all searched the floor for stray
Republicans to bully.
watched them surround Cincinnati's Steve Chabot,
trying first a carrot, then a stick; but he remained
defiant. Next, they aimed at retiring Michigan
congressman Nick Smith, whose son is running to
succeed him. They promised support if he changed
his vote to yes and threatened his son's future
if he refused. He stood his ground.
of the two dozen Republicans who voted against
the bill had fled the floor. One Republican hid
in the Democratic cloakroom.
4:30, the browbeating had moved into the Republican
cloakroom, out of sight of C-SPAN cameras and
the insomniac public. Republican leaders woke
President George W. Bush, and a White House aide
passed a cell phone from one recalcitrant member
to another in the cloakroom.
5:55, two hours and 55 minutes after the roll
call had begun -- twice as long as any previous
vote in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives
-- two obscure western Republicans emerged from
the cloakroom. They walked, ashen and cowed, down
the aisle to the front of the chamber, scrawled
their names and district numbers on green cards
to change their votes and surrendered the cards
to the clerk.
speaker gaveled the vote closed; Medicare privatization
can do a lot in the middle of the night, under
the cover of darkness.
Congressman Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio,
is the ranking member on the Committee on Energy
and the Commerce Subcommittee on Health.
Posted: January 17, 2004