House defeats bid to defund Cheney's VP office

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday narrowly defeated a Democratic amendment to deny funds to operate Vice President Dick Cheney’s office next year in a feud over his handling of classified documents.

By a vote of 217-209, the House defeated legislation designed to rebuke Cheney for refusing, over objections by the National Archives, to comply with an executive order that set government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information.

Debate on the measure also gave Democrats another chance to mock Cheney’s recent contention that he was exempt from the rule on executive-branch documents because he also serves as president of the Senate, part of legislative branch. He has since stepped back from that argument.

“The vice president must know that no matter what branch of government he may consider himself a part of on any given day or week, he is not above the law,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat who wrote the amendment to a bill funding White House salaries and expenses next year.

Further needling Cheney, the amendment would have provided money for him to operate his office in the Senate while denying the nearly $5 million for running the vice president’s office and home in Washington.

Emanuel tried to attach the amendment to a bill funding the Treasury Department and other agencies that could have faced a veto by President George W. Bush. The overall bill includes a salary increase for House members that would bring their annual pay to nearly $170,000 next year.

The Democratic attempt to kill funds for Cheney’s vice presidential office and the government-owned mansion he lives in came on the same day Bush said he would not provide documents being subpoenaed by Democrats in Congress related to the firings of federal prosecutors.

Since Democrats took control of the House and Senate in January, they have mounted several high-profile challenges to Bush administration policies and practices, resulting in friction between the two branches of government.

During the first six years of his presidency, Bush’s fellow Republicans controlled Congress and rarely questioned him.

Republicans complained that Thursday’s amendment was nothing more than a political dig at Cheney.

“Because some members may not like the current vice president or any future vice president does not mean Congress should use its power of the purse to eliminate funding for the office,” said Rep. Ralph Regula, an Ohio Republican.

Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has claimed Cheney sought to eliminate the office at the National Archives that made the request for documents. The White House has denied Cheney attempted to close the National Archives and Record Administration’s Information Security Oversight Office.

Democrats and Cheney have been tangling since early into his tenure as vice president. For years, Democrats have tried to gain access to records of Cheney’s meetings with oil and gas industry officials when he was crafting energy proposals early into the Bush administration.