U.S. House puts ‘Doomsday’ bill on fast track

Reuters News

U.S. House puts ‘Doomsday’ bill on fast track

Wed Jun 22, 2005 7:18 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Members of the House of Representatives approved legislation on Wednesday to quickly replace themselves if they are killed in a Sept. 11-type attack.

The House voted 268-143 to retain the plan, which was attached to a spending bill likely to be sent to President Bush within several months.

The measure, dubbed the “Doomsday” bill, requires special elections within 49 days if more than 100 of the House’s 435 members are killed. Currently it can take 75 days or more for some states to hold special elections to replace a member who dies in office.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, noted the possibility that Congress could have been a target in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

“We could have been faced with a situation where Congress would not have been able to function and we have to do everything possible to prevent this from being a possibility in the future,” he said during a debate on the provision.

Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, called the measure “an invitation to one man-rule and dictatorship” because at least seven weeks could elapse before the House would be reconstituted, leaving major decisions to the president.

Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California said the legislation was “a plan that will lead to martial law at exactly the time when we need Congress functioning to represent the interests of the American people.”

Congress has been debating the need for new procedures since the Sept. 11 attacks when two hijacked airliners slammed into New York’s World Trade Center the Pentagon. Another airliner, thought to be headed to the Capitol or White House, crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

It was the third time the House has passed the legislation, but this time supporters, frustrated by inaction in the Senate, attached it to a bill that funds Congress’ operations, hoping to speed passage.

Under the Constitution, House members are always elected, while Senators who die in office or resign can be replaced by home-state governors.

A variety of ideas have been floated for dealing with a catastrophic attack on the Capitol. They include a constitutional amendment authorizing Congress to enact laws on succession or allowing representatives to designate temporary replacement, when they are elected.

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