House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi isn't known as a small-government advocate. But she and members of her camp have sounded more like fiscal conservatives ever since House Speaker John Boehner hired a law firm for up to $500,000 to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law banning gay marriage.
"The hypocrisy of this legal boondoggle is mind-blowing," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement to the Washington Post this week. "Speaker Boehner is spending half a million dollars of taxpayer money to defend discrimination. If Republicans were really interested in cutting spending, this should be at the top of the list."
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement that the California Democrat's "newfound concern for saving taxpayers money is encouraging."
"We hope it means we can count on her support for reducing DOJ's budget to recoup any costs incurred by the House so that taxpayers will bear no added cost for the administration's refusal to defend the laws of the United States," he said.
The contract with former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement was made after President Obama instructed the Justice Department in February not to defend the law he called unconstitutional. The department said other groups can do so, prompting House Republicans to pick up the slack.
Before the cost of the contract was revealed, Pelosi and Boehner exchanged several letters, turning the issue into a political football.
Pelosi sent Boehner a letter last month asking how much it would cost taxpayers for Clement's law firm to defend at least 12 DOMA cases.
Boehner responded in a letter to Pelosi on Monday, saying the Justice Department should reimburse the House for court costs. He also said he shares Pelosi's concerns over the cost of defending the law in court and intended to "redirect" some of the department's money to the House as repayment.
But Boehner, who is traveling in Pakistan, didn't say how much money was at issue or how he would force the department of repay the House.
Pelosi sent Boehner another letter the same day, pressing him further to reveal the cost of the contract. She also argued that Congress shouldn't enter into "this lengthy and costly litigation," citing one lawsuit that the House plans to fight: a "gay widow" who was forced to pay $360,000 in estate taxes because DOMA prevented her from legally filing for a martial tax benefit.
"This case is a prime example of the injustice perpetuated by DOMA on millions of American families," Pelosi wrote.
When the contract was released -- showing that Clement would work for $520 an hour with a $500,000 cap that could be raised if both sides agreed in writing and received approval from the House Administration Committee -- Pelosi still wasn't satisfied.
In her second letter to Boehner Wednesday, she says the contract still left a number of unanswered questions.
Since Democrats were not informed of the expense approved by House Republicans on a bipartisan legal advisory board, she wants to know whether there was a call for bids, how the $500,000 fee and $520-per-hour rate were established, and what restrictions will be imposed on the lobbying practices of Clement's law firm to avoid any conflicts of interest.
The ball is back in Boehner's court.