WASHINGTON — The House suffered a rare procedural paralysis today, with members unable to either conduct business or go home, amid lingering bitterness over a crucial vote switch last week on deficit-reduction legislation.
Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), on a day planned as a quick pro forma session, was faced with a Republican uprising and for nearly four hours did not have the quorum needed to conduct business.
"We want to make sure the Speaker fully understands and appreciates what wrong he did to the minority last week," said Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.). "You're getting right on the fringe where the Speaker himself is getting mighty damned autocratic."
After more than an hour of wrangling, the House finally voted to have Wright round up absent members so that the chamber could at least vote to adjourn. The final vote to quit until Tuesday was 116 to 106.
Unofficial records indicated it had been nearly 20 years since the House had been forced to round up absent members.
'Kind of Enjoying It'
"It's all fine with me. I'm kind of enjoying it," Wright told reporters. "At least for the moment."
He called the gyrations "an effort to demonstrate that they can effectively obstruct something."
Late last Thursday, Wright presided over the 206-205 passage of a bill trimming $23 billion off this year's deficit but got that result only by holding the vote open for 10 minutes until Rep. Jim Chapman (D-Tex.) switched sides.
The action left bad feelings among at least some Republicans, who oppose the $13 billion in new tax revenues contained in the measure and who are frustrated by more than three decades of minority status in the House.
On Friday, with most members gone for the weekend, Republicans demanded a roll-call vote on routine approval of the journal of the previous day's proceedings. No quorum was mustered, forcing an unusual, if abbreviated, Saturday House session.
'Raw, Naked Power'
And at least some GOP members returned this week apparently determined not to let the matter drop.
"Feelings are still running very high on our side of the aisle," said Rep. Jack Davis (R-Ill.). "We've seen the mask of power taken off, and the raw, naked power underneath that mask" being used "to trample the rights of the minority."
After several inconclusive procedural votes, including two failures to muster the votes to adjourn and a failure to have absent members arrested, the House voted 102 to 96 to authorize Wright to compel absent lawmakers to show up. While staff members got on the telephones to round up stragglers, the chamber was left in limbo.