Fight over LGBT rights derails House budget work

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The U.S. House on Thursday defeated a spending bill dealing with domestic energy and water programs, as GOP conservatives rebelled against a provision added by Democrats that would bar discrimination by federal contractors against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.

The vote was 305-112 against the underlying $37 billion spending measure, raising questions as to whether Congress will again fail to pass the dozen yearly spending bills to fund the operations of the federal government.

“It’s unfortunate, because this is a very good bill,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, as he blamed Democrats for playing politics.

“What we just learned today is that Democrats weren’t looking to advance an issue, they were looking to sabotage the appropriations process,” Ryan added, as he jabbed Democrats for adding their amendment on LGBT rights, but then voting against the underlying bill.

Democrats saw the outcome much differently.

“Republicans have once again lain bare the depths of their bigotry,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who accused the GOP of a “thirst to discriminate against the LGBT community.”

At issue was an amendment from Democrats that was added late on Wednesday night by the full House, as 43 Republicans voted with all Democrats to provide a majority to bar LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.

The vote was 223-195 for that plan from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY). 195 Republicans voted against it, but could not stop the Democratic effort.

The defeat for GOP conservatives on the House floor was reminiscent of how the House appropriations process ran aground last year over the issue of the Confederate flag, as Democrats then pressed for limits on the display of that flag in national cemeteries.

This time, the issue of transgender bathroom use has riled more conservative Republicans – but they clearly lack the votes to stop Democrats from adding their amendments on LGBT discrimination and federal contractors to various budget bills.

Conservatives say Speaker Ryan shouldn’t even allow votes on such issues – but Ryan has made clear he is for an open process amendment known as ‘regular order’ on spending bills.

“We remain dedicated to working on this bill and all of our appropriations bills,” Ryan insisted to reporters.

But that was also the vow from Speaker John Boehner a little less than a year ago, when the Confederate flag issue cropped up – in the end, GOP leaders just gave up on the budget bills, as more conservative Republicans said they would not vote for any measure that limited the Confederate flag.

We’ll see in June whether the same thing happens in 2016 on the issue of LGBT rights.