Dems Silenced at House Pro Forma Session

Pro forma sessions are generally routine procedure in the House of Representatives. The House is briefly and technically in session, with few lawmakers around to actually conduct any business.

But with a deadlock over extending a payroll tax cut - the Democrat-controlled Senate passed a bill to do just that and Republican House leaders are saying they won't take it up - today's session was anything but pro forma.

Typically a small procession walks onto the House floor, a designee from the Sergeant at Arms office carries the ceremonial mace of the House of Representatives into the chamber, the House chaplain reads a prayer, a member recites the Pledge of Allegiance, and any other procedural business can be quickly settled in a matter of minutes.

But today, as Pennsylvania GOP freshman Michael Fitzpatrick, who was serving as presiding officer, attempted to slam the gavel and end this morning's pro forma session, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen tried in vain to delay recess by bringing up the Senate's two-month extension of the payroll tax credit and unemployment benefits by unanimous consent.

"Mr. Speaker!" Hoyer, D-Md, shouted. "Mr. Speaker, we'd like to ask for unanimous consent that we bring up the bill to extend the tax cut for 160 million Americans as you walk off the floor Mr. Speaker."

As the procession left the rostrum and Fitzpatrick left the chamber, Hoyer voiced his objections.

"You're walking out!" he complained. "You're walking away just as so many Republicans have walked away from middle-class taxpayers, the unemployed, and very frankly as well from those who will be seeking medical assistance from their doctors, 48 million senior citizens."

"We regret, Mr. Speaker that you have walked off the platform without addressing the issue of critical important to this country and that is the continuation of the middle class tax cut, the continuation of unemployment benefits for those at risk of losing them, and the continuation of the access to doctors for all those 48 million seniors who rely on them daily for their health," he concluded. "I am pleased to yield to my friend, Mr. Van Hollen."

But as Van Hollen, D-Md., who had led the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, was heard off-mic thanking Hoyer for yielding, the House studio cameras went dark and the microphones were cut off, silencing the House Democrat.

The House is not meeting tomorrow, but convenes again on Friday for another pro forma session. With Hoyer and Van Hollen both living in Maryland just miles outside of the Capitol Beltway, Friday's pro forma session could be just as contentious.