Yesterday, House Democrats were forced to scrap the COMPETES Act — a jobs bill to increase investments in science, research, and training programs. Despite initial bipartisan support, the bill went down suddenly as House Republicans staged a parliamentary ambush to insert a provision that would fire any federal worker “disciplined for violations regarding the viewing, downloading, or exchanging of pornography.”
The unadulterated partisan politics were on full display shortly before the vote. Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) unveiled the GOP porn amendment, announcing that it would be a referendum on the use of porn on government computers. However, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) quickly took to the floor to denounce the minority party’s “embarrassing” gimmicks to “undermine an important bill for my 9-year-old daughter, for your kids and your grandkids”:
JENKINS: If you think spreading pornography with a government computer is an act that should lead to dismissal, then vote for this motion. […]
GORDON: For God’s sakes. And when it gets to the conference, we’ll take care of that even more. But everyone raise your hand that’s for pornography. C’mon raise your hand. Nobody? Nobody is for pornography? Well I’m shocked so I guess we need this little bitty provision that means nothing is going to gut the entire bill. This is an embarrassment. If you vote for this, you should be embarrassed.
Using a “motion to recommit,” the amendment scared enough Democrats to back the porn amendment, thus forcing Democratic leaders to pull consideration of the bill, possibly postponing it for weeks. House Republicans celebrated their success in obstructing the jobs bill, and promised more of the tactic in an interview with CQ. “We certainly should do more of this type of thing,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).
But it’s not the first time Republicans in Congress have used sex-related amendments to sow division and kill substantive bills:
— Republicans, led by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), fought to kill the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, a bill to boost energy efficiency, by forcing votes on sex related amendments. One amendment requires home contractors to ensure that no employee “has been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, a crime of child molestation, rape or any other form of sexual assault.” The amendment was successfully placed into the House version of the bill.
— In an attempt to kill health reform, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) offered an amendment to the reconciliation “fixes” in the Senate, to force the bill to go through the House again. His amendment would ban coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. However, Coburn had offered his own version of a health reform legislation, the Patients’ Choice Act, and his bill did not even contain his own sex offenders provision he tried to force on the Democrats’ bill. His amendment failed.
— Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) tried to bog down the FY 2010 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill by staging a fight over grant money to study HIV risks of sex workers. The study Issa targeted was a $5 million project cleared by an NIH peer review process and was already underway. Nevertheless, Issa claimed that instead of studying Thai and Chinese sex workers, the NIH should just take “a $3.10 transit ticket to go across town” to complete the study. Avoiding a fight, Rep. David Obey (D-WI) abruptly accepted Issa’s amendment to remove the research funding.
In the one instance Democrats have stood up and opposed frivolous sex-related amendments, Republican campaign committees have quickly used those votes to claim Democrats support sex offenders. A release from the NRSC blared: “Barbara Boxer Votes To Allow Convicted Sex Offenders To Receive Taxpayer-Funded Viagra” shortly after Coburn’s amendment failed. The GOP has used sex as a political weapon to kill legislation designed to create jobs, fund research, reform health care and save energy. And as Rep. Smith noted, they plan to use this tactic more often.