WASHINGTON - Members of the Republican Study Committee supported an unexpected amendment to a bill reauthorizing Native Hawaiian housing programs at a Financial Services Committee hearing in the House of Representatives Feb. 13. The amendment failed when several Republicans, including Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., co-chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus, sided with Democrats against it. The committee went on to approve the reauthorization, as it had last year when Republicans, as the majority party in Congress at that time, didn't offer to amend despite controlling a majority of committee votes.
The change in attitude toward the bill reflects a strategic change within the Republican Party following the elections of last November, according to a Capitol Hill lobbyist. Speaking on condition of anonymity because clients would not want to be associated with statements that could be construed as anti-Republican, the lobbyist said the more conservative members of the congressional GOP, represented by the Republican Study Committee, took
Republican losses last November as a mandate to move right on the political spectrum, on grounds that moderate Republicans took the heaviest losses. The cluster of more than 100 arch-conservative House members has already produced opposition to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act reauthorization as race-based legislation.
The failed amendment to the Native Hawaiian housing reauthorization bill, H.R. 835 in the House, concerned race: ''Nothing in this title shall be construed to confer a constitutionally special political and legal relationship, based on Native Hawaiian race or ancestry, between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people for purposes of establishing a government-to-government relationship.''
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said several times that nothing in the bill does so. The ranking member on the committee for the minority GOP, Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., responded that the amendment originated in concerns that the bill as written could be unconstitutional in view of a Supreme Court ruling that found Native Hawaiian voting preferences race-based, and therefore unconstitutional.
Democrats on the committee, led by Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., were quick to discard that argument and suggest that if amended, the bill would fall within the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee.
The lobbyist referenced above said the intent behind the attempted referral to Judiciary was simply to kill the bill.
Brad Dayspring, a press officer in the office of Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, one of the amendment's backers, said the only purpose of the amendment was to bring the bill into compliance with the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. On a day disrupted in Washington by inclement weather, he did not fulfill a request for further information.