During a vote last week on a military construction and veterans funding bill House GOP leaders scrambled after a Democratic proposal to ban federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers had the votes to pass. The vote was kept open for several minutes so top Republican leaders could convince seven House GOP members to change their vote to defeat the proposal. As the vote tally changed Democrats stood and screamed "shame, shame, shame" and criticized what they said were efforts to "twist arms."
Democrats have already vowed to press the issue again and Republicans want to avoid another messy floor fight that could put members in competitive races this fall in a tough spot.
The speaker outlined plans Tuesday to require that amendments to future spending bills be "pre-printed" before the debate so members can review the details. The discussion came at a closed door weekly House GOP conference meeting, according to two Republicans who attended the session. The move is notable because Ryan regularly stresses that he supports an "open process" and says that could mean members may need to take tough votes.
Under the change that's being discussed members would still be allowed to propose any amendments to spending bills. But by saying the text has to be printed ahead of the debate it will allow leadership to anticipate potentially controversial issues and work with members to manage politically tricky votes.
Texas GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, who chairs the House panel that sets the ground rules for floor debates, told reporters that there was confusion during last week's debate about what was in it.
"We don't all sit down and pay attention to everything that is being said," Sessions said, stressing that members are often talking on the floor and can lose track of the substance of the amendment they will be voting on during long series.
"The speaker is interested in making sure you put it in writing. That way we all know," Sessions said.
One senior House GOP leadership aide stressed "no decisions have been made" on the new procedure but noted that making members submit text ahead of time promotes "more transparency."
At the Tuesday morning meeting Ryan also thanked those members who switched their votes last Thursday, according to two Republicans who attended the weekly conference meeting.
"The speaker praised members for ensuring that this important military and veterans legislation passed," Ryan's spokeswoman AshLee Strong told CNN.
The number two House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer, criticized Republican leaders for saying they couldn't pass the spending bill because of the Democratic proposal, which Democrats argue is a restatement of the President's executive order aimed at banning discrimination by federal contractors. "It boggles the mind that the leadership thought they couldn't get the votes for the (military spending bill) unless it was a discriminatory bill."
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-New York, who sponsored the amendment last week, vowed "the issue is not going away."
He told CNN on Monday evening, "You bet I'm going to continue to push this issue until we take the discrimination out of these appropriations bills and federal contracting."
House Republican leaders, anticipating another vote on the issue, told GOP members on Tuesday that when Democrats raise the issue again they will offer a "religious liberty" amendment to counter the debate. That amendment would provide an exemption to any religious institution or entity who receives a federal contract.