Congress: 1st Day, 1st Fight; GOP-led Rules Highlight Defense for DOMA

congress_smBy: Lisa Keen/Keen News Service–

The Republican leaders in the U.S. House started off the 2013-14 session giving unusual prominence to their legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

As part of a routine package of “rules” by which the House is to govern itself during the 113th Congress, Republican leaders included language authorizing the continued legal defense of DOMA.

Drew Hammill, press spokesman for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, said the request runs counter to the Republican “mantra” to find cuts in spending and counter to the trend toward acceptance of same-sex couples marrying.

“Republicans will take the extraordinary measure of including an authorization of their efforts to defend DOMA in the Rules of the House of Representatives and by doing so, continue to spend taxpayer funds, already adding up to $1.7 million, in their attempts to defend this shameful law in federal courts and the Supreme Court,” said Hammill.

Even Log Cabin Republicans complained.

“At a time when sound fiscal policy should be front-and-center, diverting taxpayer funds to defend the Federal Defense of Marriage Act should not be a priority, period,” said Log Cabin’s interim executive director Gregory Angelo.

The draft of the text for the rules bill, passed along partisan lines January 3, was made known to Democrats on the evening before the first day of the 113th Congressional session. It was, otherwise, a day of celebration for most in the LGBT community as Vice President Joe Biden swore in the first openly gay elected person to the U.S. Senate – Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin. The House also swore in its largest ever LGBT caucus – with six members, all Democrats, including Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Mark Takano of California, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Sean Maloney of New York, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Polis, now the senior most openly gay member of the House, went to the floor Thursday, to express his disappointment with the DOMA litigation language.

“Big spending Republicans on Day One spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money on a federal takeover of marriage and lawyer stimulus – wrong foot to start off on,” said Polis.

The DOMA legal fees provision appears in Section 4 of House Resolution No. 5. It authorizes the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to continue its legal defense of DOMA “or related provisions” in the Windsor v. U.S. case and “other cases that involve a challenge to the constitutionality” of Section 3 of DOMA. The provision states that BLAG “continues to speak for, and articulate the institutional position of, the House in all litigation matters in which it appears, including Windsor v. United States.”

The provision does not identify a dollar amount authorized to continue this defense, but, a spreadsheet from Democrats on the Committee on House Administration in October showed BLAG had paid out more than $1.4 million in legal fees between April 25, 2011, and October 9, 2012. The fees were paid to Republican former Solicitor General Paul Clement and his legal team, who were hired by House Republicans.

House Democrats criticized Speaker John Boehner, who heads the five-member BLAG committee, when House General Counsel Kerry Kircher and House Administration Committee Chair Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) signed a contract to pay attorney Clement $500,000 to defend DOMA after the Obama administration said it believed the law to be unconstitutional. (The Obama Department of Justice continues to enforce DOMA but said it would no longer defend the law in court.) The Committee and Congress had not authorized expenditure of the funds for such litigation. Democrats said the contract was made without proper authorization for the funding.

Hammill said he does not believe the language in the rules bill satisfies that need to authorize funding, saying it was still “outside the appropriations process.”

LGBT groups were quick to criticize inclusion of the language in the rules bill.

“It is particularly disappointing that this historic Congress – with the largest-ever class of openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Members and same-sex Congressional spouses – has begun with a vote that disrespects those new Members and all LGBT Americans,” said Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, called it “truly disheartening.”

DOMA, he said “has been struck down as unconstitutional 10 times, with support from judges appointed by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes.”

“It’s past time for the Republican leadership to listen to their constituents, a majority of whom support the freedom to marry, and stop wasting precious resources in an effort to treat fellow Americans as second-class citizens,” said Solomon.

That shift is not likely to happen before the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on the constitutionality of DOMA, in the Windsor case, later this year.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Roll Call newspaper reports that there are 51 senators ready to back a new rule change that curb the use of filibustering to stall or block legislation. Currently, nearly all legislation has to gain at least 60 votes in order to pass a procedural vote to close debate and move to a vote on the bill itself. The fight over that rules change is not expected until after the inauguration, January 21.

 © Copyright 2013 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

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