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Democrats and Republicans Disagree about "Openness" of Process for Spending Bill

Democrats and Republicans fight about just about everything on Capitol Hill.

And as the House of Representatives launches debate to fund the government through the fall and shave $100 billion in spending, Democrats and Republicans can't even agree whether or not the House is handling the legislation through an "open" process.

The House Republican brass is adamant that the process is open. Republicans point to the fact that any lawmaker is permitted to offer almost any amendment to the bill. Such a procedure was virtually unheard of in the previous Congress when Democrats were in control.

That's prompted lawmakers from both parties to craft more than 400 amendments.

One amendment was to be offered by Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark, to defund the president's teleprompter, amounting to a savings of several hundred thousand dollars a year.

"There was nothing about my amendment that was designed to make the president look less gifted when he's speaking on his feet, Womack said in an interview with FOX News. "This is all about cutting costs and every little bit helps. I don't think because it's an insignificant amount of money is reason for us not to do what we're trying to do and that's save the American taxpayers money. And I think the president should lead by example."

Womack argues that the president is s gifted orator and doesn't need a teleprompter, but he pulled the amendment because he couldn't get the Congressional Budget Office to score it. Still, he says he made his point.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., offered an amendment that would eliminate the several hundred thousand dollars devoted to paying for a tsar to shut down the detainment center at Guantanamo Bay.

"The budget is about setting priorities and this president has indicated he's not going to shut down Gitmo so why are we still funding a position," he said.

Huelskamp adds that even though the dollar amount saved would be relatively small, federal spending is made up of a bucket full of small drops.

"I think the American people look at that and say What are you doing Mr. President? Why is that in anybody's budget? And that's why I'm glad we have this open process where we can take a shot at each of these programs, levels of spending and say where can we reduce? And we're going to do that."

Under the current ground rules, any lawmaker may take up to five minutes to talk about any amendment on the House floor.

Under most circumstances, many bills are only allotted an hour or two of debate. And not all lawmakers are guaranteed the right to speak. If they do secure some time, it may be for only one minute at a time.

But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., doesn't think much of the GOP's new way of doing things.

"Transparence and openness is a wonderful process. At some point, they'll start to follow it," Hoyer said of the Republicans.

Hoyer notes that even though Republicans plan to devote three entire days to the spending bill, the House schedule indicates that final votes for the week will come at 3 pm Thursday. Hoyer contends it's a question of simple mathematics. He notes there are more than 400 amendments on the table that could conceivably receive a minimum of five minutes of debate each, if not more.

"That's 2000 minutes," Hoyer said. "That does not get you out at 3 pm on Thursday."

Hoyer theorizes that's why House Republicans crafted an escape hatch to potentially ditch the current process and come back with something that curbs debate and amendments. Known in the House as imposing "martial law," Republicans say they don't want to resort to that tactic.

"We want to have a free-flowing debate," said Jo Maney, spokeswoman for House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif. "But if we're unable to move quickly enough or people try to delay consideration, we do have the ability to impose some structure on the debate. We hope it doesn't come to that."

Maney and other senior GOP aides also suggested that lawmakers would withdraw numerous amendments, thus streamlining the process. There is concern that many of the amendments are duplicative. The House could also rule some amendments out of order.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said repeatedly he wanted a free-wheeling process that would permit the body to "work its will." When Democrats controlled the House, Hoyer served as Majority Leader, who controls the floor schedule.

"I don't know whether Mr. Boehner will regret this process or not," mused Hoyer. "I'm interested in seeing the process play out."