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9/11 responders bill fails, parties point fingers

From Jeff Simon, CNN
  • Democrats suspend rules for vote, requiring 2/3 majority
  • Bill falls nearly 40 votes short
  • Weiner blasts Republicans for voting "no" because they couldn't add amendments
  • King blasts Democrats for being "petrified" of immigration vote

Washington (CNN) -- A verbal flash-fire erupted on the House floor Thursday night over nine-year battle to pass a benefits bill for emergency workers who were first on the scene of the 9/11 attacks.

Frustrated with Republican votes against the $7.4 billion measure because Democrats suspended the rules to prevent them from offering unrelated amendments -- and at the same time requiring a two-thirds majority to pass -- Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner excoriated the minority party.

"It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes," Weiner said during an impassioned, 90-second speech. "It is a shame. A shame! If you believe this is a bad idea to provide health care--then vote no! But don't give me the cowardly view that 'Oh, if it was a different procedure.'"

The bill failed to get the 291 votes it needed for passage, polling just 255 votes. But that 255 votes easily surpassed the 218 needed for a simple majority. Democratic New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney -- the sponsor of the bill who has been working on the legislation since just after terrorist attacks -- is working to convince her party's leadership to hold a simple majority vote before the ninth anniversary of the attacks. She told CNN Friday that passing the bill under suspension rules was "a very high bar."

"My goal is to have it on the floor again under regular rule, majority rule, which would require only 218 votes. We clearly had the 218 votes to pass it," Maloney said.

Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, another Republican, opposed the legislation on the basis of cost. He called the bill an "irresponsible overreach" that "does not contain the necessary protections to safeguard taxpayer dollars from abuse, waste and fraud."

"I think this is another example of the Democrats' insatiable appetite for the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars," Smith said Thursday night on the House floor.

But Rep. Pete King, R-New York -- who actually voted in favor of the bill -- tipped the debate in another direction, focusing on the Democratic tactic that kept the Republicans from offering up an amendment on illegal immigration.

"But what we are doing tonight is a cruel hoax and a charade," King said from the House floor, every bit as passionately as Weiner would moments later. "Everyone knows that this bill will not get the two-thirds majority required on the suspension calendar. Everyone also knows that this bill would pass with a clear majority if the Democrat leadership would allow it to come to the floor under the regular procedures of the House.

"The reason H.R. 847 is not being brought up under regular order is because the majority party is petrified of having its members face a potential vote on illegal immigration," he said. "You can blame it on the Republicans -- and I've been strongly critical on the Republican position on this issue -- but the reality is you could pass this bill if you wanted to."

King's words set off Weiner.

"It takes great courage to wait until all Members have already spoken and then stand up and wrap your arms around procedure," Weiner began. "We see it in the United States Senate every single day when Members say, 'We want amendments. We want debate. We want amendments, but we're still a 'no.'' And then we stand up and say, 'Oh, if only we had a different process, we'd vote yes.

"You vote yes if you believe yes," he said. "You vote in favor of something if you believe it's the right thing. If you believe it's the wrong thing, you vote no.''

King tried to interject, but Weiner refused to yield the floor.

"The gentleman gets up and yells, trying to intimidate people into believing he's right -- he is wrong!" Weiner shouted. "The gentleman is wrong! The gentleman is providing cover for his colleagues rather than doing the right thing!"

"I will not stand here and listen to my colleague say, 'Oh, if only I had a different procedure that allows us to stall, stall, stall and then vote no.' Instead of standing up and defending your colleagues and voting no on this humane bill, you should urge them to vote yes, something the gentleman has not done," Weiner concluded, punctuating his final words with an index finger in the air.

King told CNN Friday that if the bill went to simple majority vote he "would sit with the Democrats all day and defend the bill against the Republicans."

Weiner defended his outburst and acknowledged that many people are unhappy with what they see as partisan bickering in Congress, but he said that many people may not understand what's actually happening. Suspending the rules for certain votes, he said, "is a common procedure ... used all the time."

"Frankly, it was beyond a lot of people's understanding why anyone would want to politicize this and make it a long, drawn-out fight," he told CNN.