WASHINGTON – House Democratic leaders are not going to make it easier for a technical fix to the omnibus spending bill to be completed in short order.
The House had planned to hold a vote Wednesday for an enrolling resolution, which is basically a vote to correct an error in a bill that has already been approved. But Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (search) said she won't allow Republicans to sweep their mistake under the rug.
"The Republican leadership forced through a so-called 'martial law' rule that required a same-day vote, preventing Members of Congress from having enough time to read legislation that spent hundreds of billions of dollars and was thousands of pages long. This arrogance of power is part of a pattern of abuse," Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Tuesday.
"While Democrats insist that the taxpayer persecution provision be deleted, we will only agree to a unanimous consent procedure tomorrow if Republicans also agree to limit the use of martial law rules," she said.
Outrage erupted on Capitol Hill over the weekend when it was discovered that someone had slipped language onto page 1,112 of the 3,600-page 2005 Omnibus Appropriations bill that would allow the chairmen of the Appropriations Committees — or their designees — to examine individual tax returns as part of their oversight function over the Internal Revenue Service (search).
That authority is now limited to the heads of the tax-writing panels in Congress, who would face criminal prosecution if they disclose private tax information. The spending bill does not include any such penalties.
Fingers are pointing at Rep. Ernest Istook (search), R-Okla., who chairs the appropriations subcommittee with IRS oversight. But Istook said the IRS wrote the provision and congressional staffers put it into the final language, and he denies any malicious intent or wrongdoing.
"I never knew what was happening until it was done. Had I known, I would have intervened to omit or fix this provision. I didn't write it; I didn't approve it; I wasn't even consulted," Istook said in a written statement.
North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has sent a letter to the IRS asking if the agency did indeed write the provision. He has promised no legal repercussions.
The IRS told FOX News that the agency will "carefully review the letter and respond as appropriate." A spokesperson also said IRS commissioner Mark Everson (search) was "unaware of this provision until after it was approved. He strongly supports the measure being deleted from the bill."
But Richard Kogan, who helped draft congressional legislation for 20 years, said the larger issue at hand is the amount of last-minute "stuff" that gets put into multi-bill packages.
"As more and more legislation is written by fewer and fewer people — more by the leadership, less by the broad membership of the Congress — then it is inevitable that there will be more and more mistakes and that there will be more and more abuses of power," he said.
That's the concern of Democrats who say that they are mad that they were forced to deal with nine spending bills all in one fell swoop. If they do delay the bill's passage on Wednesday, they will have to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep government running until Dec. 8, so they can have time to get back and pass the omnibus bill. The Senate has already passed the appropriations measure without the IRS language.
Click in the box near the top of this story to watch a report by FOX News' Molly Henneberg.