House Democrats called Republicans' bluff this morning by attempting to hijack a pro forma session into doing actual work, but were rebuffed by House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who gaveled the day in and out in less than two minutes.
The stunt was meant to lampoon Republicans' claims that Congress is not in recess, as the pro forma sessions represent the usual order of business.
After Denham gaveled the pro forma session in and the Pledge of Allegiance recited, Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., approached the floor and attempted to call for the payroll tax cut conference committee to convene. He was dismissed as out of order, with the session gaveled to a close as Denham and stenographers quickly left. CSPAN's feed and microphones were cut off.
We've got work to do while the Republicans are out of session, Clyburn said. Where are the Republicans? We're ready to work.
Point of Contention
The use of the pro forma sessions has become a point of contention, after Republicans have been gaveling Congress into and out of session while most members are away for the holidays. The maneuver allows the GOP to make the technical claim that Congress has been in session. The tactic has been used to fight back against President Barack Obama's recess appointments, namely Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
We were just shut down and not allowed to speak on the floor when we were told that we are in session and we went to the floor to work, but we were not allowed to do the people's work, Clyburn said.
The move is a likely nod to the Obama administration's ongoing efforts to portray Congressional Republicans as a group of stalwarts, blocking his agenda. At the heart of the showdown is a payroll tax cut temporarily extended for two months at the end of 2011. The window allows for further negotiations towards a long term deal, but reports claim a divided Republican Party shows no inkling of making a deal anytime soon.
Convening after the stunt, Democrats portrayed the looming battle over payroll tax cut as a do or die moment for Republicans. Economists, they argue, see the tax cut as a boost to the economy and GOP intransigence could put a tepid recovery in peril -- and cost them in the 2012 election.
Let's get back, let's finish the job, let's make sure that we keep this fragile recovery moving, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., after the session.
After the session, Denham called the move theatrics at its worst.
We all have a duty to be back in our districts to work on behalf of the people and be representative, he said. We've already spent way too much time in D.C. in December. We should have been able to pass the [payroll] tax cut for a full year earlier. So now that we have a district work period, that's what we should be doing.
You can see the melodrama unfold in the video below.