WASHINGTON -- House Democrats may not be getting far, but they're scoring points for creativity for the ways they've tried to force a vote on a "clean" funding bill to end the government shutdown.
Over the past two weeks, Democrats have offered 80 unanimous consent requests to take up a Senate-passed bill to fund the government, with no strings attached. As of Monday, they've used procedural motions 15 times -- sometimes on what's called a motion to recommit, sometimes on a previous question motion -- to try to force a vote on the Senate-passed measure. But in every case, Democrats' motions were ruled out of order or were otherwise shot down by the parliamentarian, who takes cues from House Republican leaders.
Beyond procedures on the House floor, Democrats filed a discharge petition to try to force a clean funding bill out of committee and onto the floor. Several members have publicized that effort, tweeting out pictures of each other on the House floor lining up to sign it. But the petition needs 218 votes to go anywhere. And so far, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is the only Republican who has said he would support the effort. Democrats would need at least 18 Republicans.
There's not much else Democrats can do as the House minority. Republicans control not just what bills hit the floor, but also the rules that shape the debate. A day before the government shut down, GOP leaders had already calculated that Democrats may try to bring a clean funding bill to the floor, so they changed the House rules to prevent that from happening.
Still, some Democrats are coming up with crafty ways to put Republicans on the spot for not ending the shutdown -- especially when the votes appear to be there to do so. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) recently introduced a resolution stating that shutdown harms "the dignity of the House" and therefore lawmakers should vote for a clean funding bill to end it. He cited Rule IX of the House rules, which gives members the ability to address matters that harm the "dignity" of the House -- and states that such matters take precedence over other House business.
As proof the House "dignity" has taken a hit, Grayson's resolution lists news outlets that have described the sad state of affairs in Congress. A German newspaper wondered "why there is so much poison in the system," and the New York Daily News ran a headline calling the House of Representatives the “House of Turds.”
“Statements such as these and others cited in the resolution call into question the dignity of the House,” Grayson said. “These statements are being expressed around the nation and across the globe. They’ve directly led to a congressional approval rating of 7 percent ... and they must be addressed by this body.”
Republican leaders refused to allow a vote on the resolution.
Grayson tried another tack on Monday. When the House took up a funding bill for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Grayson offered an amendment to change the title of the bill. You can tell which part he proposed adding to the title: “Making continuing appropriations for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Indian Health Service for fiscal year 2014, and for other purposes, although we prefer -- and would support -- a comprehensive, clean continuing resolution to end the government shutdown.”
Grayson at least got a vote on Monday's proposal. But it failed, with 15 Democrats voting against it and just one Republican voting for it, Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.).
Despite the setbacks, Grayson doesn't seem ready to quit.
"We're trying these different things because the will of the House is being thwarted ... in a particularly unsavory way," Grayson told The Huffington Post.
"A majority wants a clean resolution. That's the way it's supposed to work," he said. "We're being prevented from doing what even the rules allow us to do. The rules are being gutted by illegitimate leadership."
Grayson said he's got more ideas for forcing Republicans to hold votes on a clean funding bill. He wouldn't give details.
"I'm not going to let them know ahead of time," he said.