House Could Spend $1.5M Defending Marriage Act, Congressman Fights Back

Rep. Honda calls for a hearing on the growing cost of defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court

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The cost to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, could balloon to $1.5 million, and Democratic Rep. Mike Honda of California wants none of it. Honda is calling for a hearing to address what he said is an "irresponsible, backdoor use of taxpayer money" on the part of House Republicans, who have agreed to increase the pay cap for an outside firm defending the law, as first reported by LGBTQ Nation.

"The speaker of the House has been on the job for 288 days and has not created a single job for the American people," Honda said in a statement Thursday. "Instead, the House Republican leadership wastes precious resources by putting the American taxpayers on the hook for a $1.5 million legal tab in defense of discrimination."

After a February announcement by the Obama administration that it would no longer defend DOMA—which defines marriage as between a man and a woman—in court, Republican leaders decided the House would take up the case itself. So the House general counsel hired lawyer Paul Clement, who served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush, to do what the Department of Justice would normally have done: defend the law.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Clement and his firm, Bancroft PLLC, were first given a $500,000 cap, but they are now authorized to charge the legislative branch "a sum not to exceed $750,000.00," but that the "cap may be raised from time to time up to, but not exceeding $1.5 million, upon written notice of the General Counsel to the Contractor." This means the costs could now triple, and the contract also leaves room for future increases, if the parties come to a written agreement.

"How long are we going to let this Republican political exercise go on, and at what cost to the American tax payers?" Honda asked, adding that GOP leaders have not been clear about where the money would come from.

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Other House Democrats have also called the price tag "unconscionable" in such tough economic times, suggesting the taxpayer funds and congressional energy should be spent creating American jobs instead.

But Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, counters that the House is defending the law because "the Justice Department chose to shirk its constitutional duty to do so," he said in an E-mail. "As we have always said, the entire cost should be borne by that department."

A House GOP aide added that the effort is not detracting from Republican efforts to improve the economy. "Despite Democrats' feeble attempts to demagogue this issue, the House's lawyer is doing his job," the aide says, "and House Republicans remain entirely focused on jobs."

Honda said he is hopeful his Appropriations subcommittee's chairman, Florida Republican Rep. Ander Crenshaw, will call for a hearing, but indicated he lays more of the responsibility on top House Republicans. "I recognize the tough spot [Chairman Crenshaw]'s in with his leadership on this issue," Honda said.