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US Lawmakers Engage in Bitter Quarrel Over Procedural Vote


There has been acrimonious debate in the House of Representatives as lawmakers work to complete important legislation before the start of a long summer break. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where heated exchanges between Republicans and Democrats came as President Bush urged Congress not to leave town until it passes key measures.

Beginning late Thursday and lasting through Friday, the House floor was the scene of some of the most intense partisan exchanges in several years.

On Thursday, with major defense and anti-terrorism legislation still pending, minority Republicans were infuriated over how a vote on an agriculture measure was handled.

About 100 Republicans stormed off the floor as the chamber erupted in acrimony, with Republicans accusing Democrats of violating voting procedures to turn the vote in their favor.

Democrats acknowledged a procedure error by one of their members who was presiding at the time, but the controversy set the stage for more uproar and paralysis Friday, as Republicans complained about what they call dictatorial tactics by Democrats.

"A week of violations of the principles of the House culminated last night in such an excessive way that Republicans walked off the floor, and it was a deserved walk out and I am ashamed of the House," said Republican whip Roy Blunt.

"I don't blame the minority for being angry at what completely appeared to them, which was the impression I would have had, that they were being treated in a way that they thought was not fair," said House Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer:

After a nearly four hour recess, the House returned to business to consider legislation still on the agenda, only to encounter a problem with the computerized voting system, which triggered yet another uproar.

Before they leave for the August recess, lawmakers must approve legislation to fund the Pentagon, and a measure to revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The president and congressional Republicans want changes that would give the U.S. attorney general and the national intelligence director powers to order interception of overseas electronic communications, including those possibly involving individuals in the U.S., without first seeking approval from a special court.

"If the DNI (Director of National Intelligence) says that the proposal that is offered does not close the gaps in our intelligence gathering, he (president) will veto it, so that is the test for the president and we need to make sure that gap is closed prior to the August recess," said White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel.

But Democrats object strongly to a proposal that the president's controversial attorney general Alberto Gonzalez have a role in surveillance approvals, and accuse Republicans of over-reaching for changes beyond those worked out in tough negotiations.

"Congressional Republicans insisted on a much broader, permanent bill giving the attorney general, this attorney general, not the court the discretion to make decisions about surveillance involving Americans. Clearly, in my judgment they are not negotiating in good faith," said Florida Democrat Congressman Alcee Hastings.

"This goes to the question of whether we take our blinders off with respect to intelligence, with respect to that kind of [suspected terrorist] chatter that is going on around the world," said Dan Lungren is a California Republican.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid suggested that the administration, and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell changed the scope of their demands. "He told us what he wanted [and] we gave it to him. And it appears that others have become involved because he now wants more than he told us he wanted," he said.

All of this has pushed House consideration of both the FISA measure and a $460 billion defense appropriations bill, including Iraq and terrorism -related amendments, far into the day Friday, making it certain that lawmakers will have to delay the start of their August recess.

The Senate has not yet approved its version of defense appropriations legislation.