House Republicans ax spending bill talks over Confederate flag amendments

WASHINGTON — The dispute in Congress over the Confederate flag threatened on Friday to upend House Republican plans to move forward on routine spending legislation, amid concerns that Democrats could hijack the bills to debate the flag.

House Republican aides said that a bill covering general government operations tentatively set for consideration next week would not be considered, after all. That followed an embarrassing incident on Thursday: Republicans had to pull a different bill when conservative Southern members revolted against a last-minute amendment to block display of the flag at federal cemeteries.

“It was a fast fuse, and I don’t think very many people realized how it would play out,” Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Friday of the incident. Now, he said, “there’s a number of options that are being considered” for moving forward.

Adding to the difficult political optics for Republicans, the dispute on Capitol Hill flared just as South Carolina removed its own Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in the wake of the vicious church shooting in Charleston that has sparked a national debate on the topic.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a congratulatory statement to South Carolina officials for removing the flag even as his own leadership team was debating how to deal with the spending bills pending in the House. Passing them to fund annual government operations is Congress’ most basic responsibility, yet any one of them could become a vehicle for Democratic mischief.

And Democrats made clear they had no plans to let up.

“Of course House Democrats are not going to let this issue go, because it’s the right thing to do,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who offered the amendment blocking Confederate flags federal cemeteries that caused this week’s fracas.

Boehner has announced plans for bipartisan talks to resolve the whole matter, and on Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was spotted exiting a private meeting with civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., though neither man would comment.

But most Democrats say they are not interested in such talks.

“This not a time to create commissions,” Huffman said. “I think the Republicans should just tear off the Band-Aid here and get on with this. A few of their members are going to vote in support of the Confederate battle flag, I think we all know that now, but the overwhelming majority of the House is going to do the right thing.”

Unlike other legislation brought to the House floor, spending bills typically are considered under terms of debate that allow lawmakers in both parties to offer amendments, many of which seek to block various government policies by cutting off money to carry them out.

That’s how Huffman’s Confederate flag amendment was written into the National Park Service funding bill, and any number of amendments addressing the flag issue could be drafted to fit other spending bills, as well, regardless of whether they would have a real-world impact.