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Democrats and Republicans: Last Minute Arguments on Capitol Hill

Although it was to have adjourned for the year last week, the final days of the 108th Congress have been extended, as Democrats and Republicans engaged in last-minute arguments over legislative process. Lawmakers provided an interesting illustration of seldom-seen governmental issues, as they argued over handling of a massive $388 billion spending bill.

If all had gone as Republicans planned, Congress would have completed the spending bill and left town, bringing a formal end to the 108th Congress.

The legislation comprises nine separate pieces of legislation Congress failed to approve during the year, several of which, Democrats repeatedly emphasized, were never subject to full debate.

But the so-called omnibus bill was plunged into controversy over language that outraged Democrats, and caused embarrassment for Republicans.

Inserted at the last moment, the language would have given staff members of powerful appropriations committees the ability to examine citizen's tax returns.

Congressman Bill Young, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, blamed the language on a drafting mistake, saying the issue had been misinterpreted, and pledged to remove the offending portion.

But that will require a separate vote, which Democrats have blocked, while seizing an opportunity to make a point about what they call continuing Republican abuse of the legislative process.

"This should be a wake-up call to the majority party leadership to change practices and procedures to prevent this type of credibility and accountability problem in the future," said Congressman David Obe,y accusing Republicans of creating what he called end-of-session chaos.

Democrats also linked the controversy with Republicans' use of what is called a "martial law" rule, which allows any party holding the majority to bypass a requirement that lawmakers have at least three days to read legislation.

"Our founding fathers wanted a reflective process, a process where there was full and fair consideration in both houses, because their concern was that democracy would work if everybody had the opportunity to see it and to participate in it," said Congressman Steny Hoyer, number two ranking Democrat in the House. "This process of thousands of pages of bills being passed within hours under a martial law rule, did not allow that process to occur."

Democrats want Republicans to limit future use of this technique. Republicans refuse to do this, saying Democrats have used the same tactic in the past when they were in the majority.

As it staggers to a final conclusion, lawmakers still face the embarrassing issue of their failure to enact legislation to reorganize the U.S. intelligence system.

Theoretically, this could still be done on December 6, when the House and Senate are scheduled to return for what, given recent developments, could be the final session of the 108th Congress.