WASHINGTON -- Several House Democrats walked out of a committee vote in protest on Wednesday, accusing their Republican counterparts of refusing to negotiate in a bipartisan manner over a job training bill.
While it's common for members of Congress to simply not show up for committee meetings, it's rare for them to actually boycott one.
"We didn’t come to this decision lightly," said Reps. John Tierney (D-Mass.), Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) and George Miller (D-Calif.), members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, in a statement. "Unfortunately, we viewed boycotting this proceeding as our only alternative after many months of repeatedly requesting bipartisan negotiations and being rebuffed by committee Republicans."
"It would have been a dereliction of duty to continue to participate," they added.
Republicans were quick to criticize the walkout (seen in this video, near minute 51:00).
"Rather than present their ideas, Democrats offered a rote defense of the status quo and political theatrics," Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said in a statement. "Both are a disservice [to] workers, employers, and job seekers."
The legislation at issue is a bill to reauthorize and reform the Workforce Investment Act, the largest source of federal funding for job training. Republicans want to consolidate more than 30 workforce development programs into a single fund, which they say would eliminate redundant programs and cut out red tape. Democrats say the plan would make it harder for vulnerable groups like the elderly and disabled to get access to the job training they need.
Committee Democrats argued that funding for job training had been a generally bipartisan issue until recently. After making little headway in negotiations, they sent committee Republicans a letter on Monday asking them to cancel the markup of the bill scheduled for Wednesday, saying that the GOP plan "eliminates programs for the sake of eliminating programs, without any independent evaluation of whether they are in fact duplicative of one another."
Nonetheless, Republicans went ahead with their markup and approved the legislation on Wednesday. Ahead of the vote, Kline said the reforms would save taxpayer dollars that are "wasted on failed programs" and leave workers "stranded in unemployment."
After discussion of the bill, Hinojosa said he would leave the committee meeting on principle, and he called on his Democratic colleagues to join him.
"I have concluded that I cannot be part of a political process that continues to be highly partisan and broken," Hinojosa said. "At this time, I urge my colleagues to join me in exiting this committee room."
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