'Honey, What Should We do With the New Majority? I Know, Let's Add Four Unconstitutional Votes to It!'

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jan 30, 2007 12:12 PM

"The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states ...'' -- Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 2.

Marshall Manson reported on the Dems' latest chicanery last week. Get a load of this:

Yesterday, Democratic House Leader Steny Hoyer introduced a proposed change to House rules that would allow Delegates and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico to vote on the floor of the House.

Delegates and the Resident Commissioner represent U.S. territories and other possessions in the House. There are five: one delegate each from the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and Guam, and the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.

Needless to say, four of the five are Democrats.

Under House rules, delegates and the Resident Commissioner are currently allowed to cast votes in House Committees. (A practice that I believe is also contrary to the Constitution.) At present, they are not allowed to cast votes on the floor.

If the Democrats get their way, that will soon change.

The Democrats can violate this clear Constitutional instruction owing to a quirk in the manner that the House usually does its business. When the House considers legislation on the floor, it usually refashions itself as the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union.

Hoyer’s rule change would allow the delegates and the Resident Commission to cast votes in the Committee of the Whole, as it is usually called.

That rule change passed, 226-191.

George Will:

If these five votes decide the outcome of a vote in the Committee of the Whole, the matter at issue will be automatically revoted by the full House without those five participating. Still, these five faux members will have powers equal to those of real members on everything but final passage of bills, which often is more perfunctory than the process that leads to that. Almost always, all five delegates are Democrats. (Puerto Rico's current resident commissioner is the first Republican in 100 years.)

What part of the words "several states" do House Democrats not understand?

It's not the first time they've done it:

Democrats had enacted a similar bill, the first time a congressional vote was given to representatives other than those from the 50 states, when they held the majority in 1993-94. But when Republicans took over in 1995 they rescinded the territories' vote.

Democrats say giving the five representatives the right to vote when the House sits as "a committee of the whole House on the state of the union'' is an extension of voting rights and an issue of basic fairness.

Marshall noted that media reaction wasn't real kind in 1993:

But the reaction to the 1993 effort is enlightening. The New York Times said about the proposal, “This maneuver is nothing but shameless political tyranny.”

The Chicago Tribune opined that, “This amounts to a blatant end-run around the Constitution, which allows full voting status only to the representatives of the states.”

USA Today warned, “House Democrats, always eager to grab more power, are expected to open Congress’s new year Tuesday by making an end run around the Constitution.”

Perhaps after "six years of George Bush" the media thinks the "conversation has become a little one-sided," and this is now warranted. After all, the NYT story is headlined, "House restores voting rights to Congressional delegates."

The return of the privileges, first allowed by Democrats in 1993 and rescinded by Republicans in 1995, resulted in Republicans’ pouring out their frustration about their treatment by Democrats in the first weeks of Congress. The sour mood threatened efforts at forging a more cooperative relationship between the parties.

Gee, ya think? Gotta love Nancy's quote, though:

“The House is ordained to be a marketplace of ideas,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “We should work to expand democracy, not limit it.”
Right, democracy should be "expanded" despite the Constitution in the same way that Democratic voting rolls oughtta be "expanded" despite death or non-existence of Democratic voters. To think otherwise would be downright un-American.

If you find good editorials written against this idea, let me know. I'll link them.

Update: RCP calls it an "unforced error" on the part of the Dems:

This is simply political malpractice on the part of House Democrats. The 2006 campaign demonstrated extraordinary discipline on the part of Democrats, and their 12 years in the political wilderness led many to suspect, including myself, that they would be extremely cautious and measured with their new power. But this decision - which was utterly unnecessary and will be effectively demagogued by Republicans - might be an early sign that the new Democratic majority, now in control and with Bush's poll numbers in the cellar, may be hard pressed to maintain the same political discipline that proved so successful in acquiring power in 2006.