WASHINGTON — House Democrats Thursday backed off a plan to strictly limit the after-hours floor speeches that have become a vehicle used by some Republican members to savage political opponents on cable television.
Instead, members of the House Democratic Caucus withdrew the proposal to restrict so-called "special order" speeches and referred the controversial issue to a bipartisan study committee. The compromise was first suggested Wednesday by House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.).
"This represents a step in the right direction," an aide to Michel said Thursday. "He's very pleased."
The speeches, which can each go as long as 60 minutes, are carried live to a potential audience of 60 million on the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network. They begin after the end of legislative business and on some occasions have continued all night.
Democrats wanted to limit the speeches to three hours a day--90 minutes for each party--and set a rigid deadline of 6 p.m. PST to end the addresses. House Republicans accused Democrats of attempting to muzzle minority views.
Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) had predicted parliamentary warfare if the Democrats persisted in their plan to restrict the forum. Dornan attacked then-candidate Bill Clinton as a draft-dodger and womanizer in a series of highly publicized "special orders" in September and October.
The Democrats also proposed limiting to 20 the number of one-minute speeches that begin each legislative day.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said that Democratic leaders decided to withdraw the proposal and refer it to a study committee because of the strength of the Republicans' objections.
"I think there is going to be a continued effort to reach bipartisan consensus on all the issues and I wouldn't exclude this (decision) from that," said Robin Webb, Foley's assistant press secretary.