Congressional Pension Accountability Act (H.R. 476)/Partisan squabble about who said what on the House floor and motion to strike disparaging remarks; motion to table (kill) the appeal of the ruling of the chair that the motion to strike was not made in a timely fashion
house Roll Call 43 Jan 22, 2007
This vote amounted to taking sides in a partisan fist-fight about comments exchanged between Reps. John Shaddeg (R-Ariz.) and Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.). In a debate about reforming the congressional pension laws to prohibit lawmakers convicted of certain crimes from drawing a pension, Millender-McDonald called Shaddeg "disingenuous" and Shaddeg demanded that Millender-McDonald's words be taken down.
To be taken down is a parliamentary maneuver that strikes a lawmaker's words from the record. House rules prohibit one lawmaker from impugning the motives of another lawmaker. The Speaker Pro Tempore, the chairman of the floor debate and a designee of the Speaker, ruled that Shaddeg did not make his request in a "timely and appropriate matter."
At that point, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) appealed the ruling of the chair, saying, "Just because the chair wasn't listening to the gentleman doesn't mean he wasn't making it in a timely manner."
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) then moved to table (kill) the appeal of the ruling of the chair. This vote was on Hoyer's motion.
The debate preceding the controversy was itself tense and reflected a simmering dissatisfaction by Republicans for being, in their view, continually squeezed out of the legislative process by the majority Democrats.
Terry pointed out that the bill under consideration had been amended twice without Republicans being able to see the changes, in his view violating the civility rules put in place at the beginning of the legislative session that require all lawmakers to have access to bills 48 hours before they are voted on.
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made a parliamentary inquiry with the chair to determine for the record whether those changes to the bill had been handwritten on a napkin. "Is anything typed and shared with the minority?" he asked the chair rhetorically.
Shadegg was upset after the chair ruled that there was no parliamentary procedure by which he could object to the bill going forward without the 48 hours for lawmakers to examine it under House rules. The chair ruled that because this bill was taken up under a fast-track procedure known as suspension of the rules, the 48-hour rule wasn't in effect and the minority had no recourse.
"I think it is most unfortunate that we are considering this bill under suspension with last-minute changes, with limited time for debate, and no opportunity to consider alternatives," Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.) said. "I think it is most unfortunate that this bill has become clouded by the hasty effort to get this taken up on suspension with last-minute changes not approved previously by the minority.
"The issue is certainly more important than naming a post office, which is what we normally do on suspension," Ehlers continued.
The bill would require Members of Congress convicted of crimes related to their official duties to give up their retirement benefits. It was prompted by scandals in the previous legislative session that resulted in prison terms for a few lawmakers, who still got to keep their congressional pensions.
The legislation would strip the pensions of lawmakers convicted of felonies, including bribery, defrauding the government and perjury. The Republican revolt actually followed a Democratic move to broaden the bill to include another offense that would deny a lawmaker his pension if convicted: coercing others to lie on a lawmaker's behalf. Ironically, Republicans actually supported making the bill significantly broader, but they opposed the closed process by which the Democrats had broadened it, and complained that it was still too narrow. Republicans said the bill should have included other crimes, such as tax evasion. Despite Republican complaints about the process, however, not one ended up voting against the bill on final passage.
This vote, however, represented a Republican protest for how the Democratic majority conducted the debate and crafting of the legislation. In a completely party-line vote, all of the Republicans present voted against the motion to table, and all of the Democrats present voted for it. Thus, by a vote of 223-190, the House tabled the appeal of the chair's ruling that Millender-McDonald's disparaging words against Shaddeg couldn't be taken down because the motion was not made in a timely fashion, put aside the partisan squabble and moved on to an up-or-down vote on the legislation.
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