House faces vote on Murtha allegation
House Democrats are likely to delay at least until tomorrow a vote on a resolution that would reprimand Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for allegedly threatening to block any defense spending sponsored by a Michigan Republican.
Senior Democratic aides said they still expect to win on a largely party-line vote, which will likely table the resolution drafted by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). But they will have to delay the vote until tomorrow or early Wednesday for logistical reasons.
The reprimand resolution is the latest instance of House Republicans trying to turn Murtha into a liberal bogeyman, a process that has been slowly building since he became a high-profile opponent of the Iraq war in late 2005. And Murtha is one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's closest allies, so they enjoy taking shots at Murtha as indirect attacks on her.
The latest dustup has nothing to do with the war or Pelosi, however, and instead much more to do with congressional courtesy and special line-item spending measures known as earmarks. [Republicans have to tread very carefully in attacking Murtha, because they have at least a dozen members of their own who in recent years found themselves under federal investigation because of the way they steered earmarks to their own special interests.]
Rogers alleges that last Thursday Murtha approached him on the House floor and angrily denounced him for leading an effort to strip $23 million in funding from an intelligence authorization bill that is intended for the National Drug Intelligence Center, based in Murtha's hometown of Johnstown, Pa. Republicans believe that the money is wasteful and just an example of Murtha doing pork-barrel spending, while Murtha defends it as helping in the fight against illegal drugs.
But the incident moved beyond the drug center spending when, according to Rogers, Murtha threatened to pull any funding Rogers ever wanted from the Defense appropriations subcommittee, which Murtha chairs.
"I hope you don't have any earmarks in the defense appropriation bill because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever," Murtha shouted at Rogers, according to Rogers' account. This prompted a Rogers retort of: "This is not the way we do things here and is that supposed to make me afraid of you?"
Murtha, the ninth most senior member of the House in his 18th term, takes his earmarks and the Appropriations Committee seriously. Steering money back home is not just acceptable, but considered a birthright to many committee members. Check Murtha's web site for press releases and you'll find announcements of more than $5.1 million in federal funding to his district -- so far this month.
And this video shows Murtha in a finger-pointing altercation with Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas) after Tiahrt voted to pull Murtha's drug center funding. [Warning to those who hate Fox News, yes, it's a clip from Fox News but the interesting part is footage from C-SPAN showing Murtha yelling at Tiahrt. In Murtha's estimation Tiahrt violated the appropriations culture by voting against the earmarks of a fellow appropriator.]
Murtha didn't deny the Rogers account of their run-in on the floor, but issued a statement clarifying that every earmark request, even from Rogers, will be weighed even handedly. "The committee and staff give every Democrat and Republican the same consideration. We have extensive hearings and every request is given careful consideration. We will continue to do just that," the statement said.
Pulling someone's earmarks based on how they vote on other measures would almost certainly qualify as a violation of House rules. Rogers opted against filing a formal complaint with the Ethics Committee, which has been unofficially declared a "nuclear option" that should only be done in the most egregious cases.
When rank-and-file members offer "privileged resolutions", as Rogers is doing tonight, the majority has two days to set up a vote. If offered by Pelosi or House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), the resolution would be immediately considered.
Here's the text of Rogers' resolution, including some of the alleged dialogue of the Murtha encounter:
THE FULL TEXT OF THE PRIVILEGED RESOLUTION IS OUTLINED BELOW:
Whereas, the Code of Official Conduct provides that a Member "may not condition the inclusion of language to provide funding for a Congressional earmark... on any vote cast by another member;
Whereas, Chairman Reyes filed the Report to accompany the bill H.R. 2082, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008;
Whereas, the report states that, with respect to the requirements of clause 9 of House Rule XXI, "The following table provides the list of such provisions included in the bill or report," and includes a table of 26 items identifying "Requesting Member," "Subject," and "Dollar Amount (in Thousands)";
Whereas, the referenced table includes an item denoted as: Requesting Member, Mr. Murtha; Subject, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE PROGRAM COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT ACCOUNT - National Drug Intelligence Center; Dollar Amount, $23 million;
Whereas, the Gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Rogers, offered and voted for a motion to recommit the bill to change the provisions of the aforementioned Murtha earmark during its consideration in the House;
Whereas, as a result of Mr. Rogers motion and vote on the Murtha earmark, the Gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Murtha subsequently threatened to withdraw support for earmarks providing funding for projects located in the Gentleman from Michigan's district.
Whereas, on May 17, 2007, in the House Chamber, the Gentleman from Pennsylvania stated, in a loud voice words to the effect, to the Gentleman from Michigan as a result of offering and voting for the motion to recommit, "I hope you don't have any earmarks in the defense appropriation bill because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever."
Whereas, the Gentleman from Michigan responded, in words to the effect, "this is not the way we do things here and is that supposed to make me afraid of you?"
Whereas the Gentleman from Pennsylvania raised his voice, pointed his finger and stated, in words to the effect, "that's the way I do it."
Whereas the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Murtha) is the ninth most senior member of Congress, whose seniority ranks him over 426 of his 433 colleagues in the House;
Whereas the gentleman from Pennsylvania chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which has jurisdiction over the activities and functions of the nation's intelligence agencies;
Whereas the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Murtha), the second-ranking and second longest serving Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, has been described in numerous media accounts as a master of the legislative process and an expert on earmarks;
Whereas the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Murtha) has stated that he is a former member of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, whose members are among the most knowledgeable in the House concerning the ethical obligations of Members of Congress;
Resolved, that the Member from Pennsylvania, Mr. Murtha has been guilty of a violation of the Code of Official Conduct and merits the reprimand of the House for the same.
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