It usually takes several years for a House majority to overreach like Democrats did on the evening of Aug. 2. But now we see enraged House Republicans credibly accusing Democrats of stealing a vote, followed by a Republican walkout, the first in the House in years. As we went to press on Aug. 3, boiling anger and talk of technical voting-machine problems reigned on the Hill as controversy over illegal aliens’ access to public benefits brewed.
The short version: Republicans sought to send the agriculture bill back to committee to block federal employment and rental assistance for illegal aliens. Democrats supported these agriculture-bill loopholes. They then trampled on the minority in their service. It happened when Rep. Michael McNulty, New York Democrat, gaveled the vote closed as a 214-214 failure. But the monitors showed a vote of 215-213 to return the bill to committee. Amid the confusion, Democrats reopened the vote and eventually claimed a 216-212 victory. Whether a technical glitch factored into this mess was in dispute as we went to press on Aug. 3.
Glitch or no glitch, this was an outrage. Democrats at minimum were content to appear to tell Republican lawmakers that their vote and their slim apparent victory didn’t count. On Aug. 3, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt vowed to halt all House business except foreign intelligence surveillance reform and bridge-safety legislation until the matter is resolved — as they should.
This episode has the potential to galvanize a dispirited minority the way Tom DeLay’s Medicare roll-call contortions did for Democrats in 2003, or the late Democratic Rep. Frank McCloskey’s disputed Indiana House seat did for Republicans in 1985. House Republicans are right to halt all nonessential business. The minority in the House oftentimes requires an outrage, an abuse of power by the majority, to wake from its slumber. This would qualify. Unless there is some as-of-yet unknown technical explanation, this was indeed worse than Mr. DeLay’s 2003 roll call of twoplus hours to strong-arm support for Medicare legislation.
A vote is a vote. It is particularly egregious for House Democrats to attempt to rescind the outcome on an issue so clear-cut as public assistance for illegal aliens. Illegal aliens who disregard our immigration laws should not also be allowed to enjoy public benefits courtesy of the American taxpayer.
On the morning of Aug. 3, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer offered to refer matters to the House Ethics Committee. He did not offer to correct the vote. Later that day, the House voting machines went down with technical problems amid promises to return to the issue.
Referral to the ethics committee would not be sufficient. Right now it certainly looks like the minority’s rights were trampled upon, as was House procedure. The minority will get nowhere if it allows the Democratic leadership to flout rules with voting do-overs on outcomes it does not like.