House Dems muzzle GOP on sensitive issues

In their zeal to protect their members from politically hazardous votes on issues such as gay marriage and gun control, Democrats running the House of Representatives are taking extraordinary steps to muzzle Republicans in this summer's debates on spending bills.

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Even some Democrats are chaffing at the heavy-handed clampdown on debate. Abortion opponent Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., on Thursday lashed out at his party's leaders for denying him and others a chance to vote on restoring a long-standing directive by Congress blocking taxpayer-funded abortions in Washington, D.C.

At issue are 12 bills totaling more than $1.2 trillion in annual appropriations bills for funding most government programs—usually low-profile legislation that typically dominates the work of the House in June and July. For decades, those bills have come to the floor under an open process that allows any member to try to amend them. Often those amendments are an effort to change government policy by adding or subtracting money for carrying it out.

The tradition has often meant laborious debates. But it has allowed lawmakers with little seniority to have their say on doling out the one-third of the federal budget passed by Congress each year. It was a right the Democrats zealously defended when they were the minority party from 1995 through 2006.

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