July 19, 2003
Democrats boycott; GOP calls in police, passes pension bill

A transcript of the committee meeting quoted Stark as belittling Thomas's intellect. Although the transcript does not show it, McInnis interjected, ''Shut up.'' The transcript then shows Stark saying: ''You think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you, you little fruitcake.''

Washington - Festering acrimony between members of the House of Representatives exploded into the open Friday after Capitol police officers were called by Republicans to remove Democrats from a committee library where they were meeting.

The Democrats refused to go, the police backed off, and the Democrats brought their complaints to the House floor where Republicans, who hold the majority, promptly rejected them.

The seeds for the dust-up yesterday, the most vitriolic in years in the House, were sowed the night before when Thomas circulated the Republican draft of the pension bill shortly before midnight and scheduled a vote for the morning. When Democrats arrived yesterday for the committee's deliberations, they demanded more time to study the bill. They went to the committee library behind the main hearing room, leaving Stark to prevent the Republicans from engineering a unanimous voice vote.

With Stark mounting a rearguard action, the rest of the committee Democrats discussed the bill.

In the main committee room, Stark insisted that the bill be read word for word, a rare tactic that would give his Democratic colleagues in the back room time to discuss their strategy. The bill's reading infuriated Republicans, eager to vote and leave town for the weekend.

According to the Democrats' version of events, Thomas's staff summoned a Capitol police officer, who told them that a ''disturbance'' had been reported and ordered the Democrats to leave the back room. The Democrats refused to budge.

According to the Republicans, Thomas called the police because he feared that Stark would get into a fight with Representative Scott McInnis, Republican of Colorado, a former police officer 21 years Stark's junior.

A transcript of the committee meeting quoted Stark as belittling Thomas's intellect. Although the transcript does not show it, McInnis interjected, ''Shut up.'' The transcript then shows Stark saying: ''You think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you, you little fruitcake.''

Stark said in an interview later that he regretted calling McInnis a ''fruitcake.'' But he also said the transcript missed his telling Thomas, ''You're behaving like a fascist.''

Representative Guy McCrery, Republican of Lousiana, a committee member, said that once the police arrived, Thomas directed them to remove the Democrats from the back room ''because they're using it without authorization.'' But, he said, Thomas later told his staff to tell the police, ''Never mind, the Democrats can use the library.''

The Democrats ultimately left the library peacefully, returning not to the committee room but to their own offices. The committee record shows that the pension bill passed without dissent.

The bill was supported by mutual funds and hundreds of companies that sponsor defined-benefit pension plans. However, some pension advocates said the bill could undermine pension security for millions of American workers.

''It is a terribly misguided legislation,'' said Karen Ferguson, director of the Pension Rights Center in Washington, D.C. ''It is both bad tax policy and bad retirement policy.''

If passed, the bill would boost the maximum amount Americans could contribute annually to defined contribution retirement accounts, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans, to $15,000. Those age 50 and older also would be able to make $5,000 annual catch-up contributions.

Posted by tstubbs at July 19, 2003 12:31 PM | Trackback
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