Legislative typo sparks drama in House

The dome of the US Capitol is pictured in Washington, DC, on April 6, 2011. Republican US House Speaker John Boehner told US President Barack Obama he was 'hopeful' that talks on sweeping spending cuts would reach a deal to avert a partial government shutdown at week's end. Boehner reiterated that the House's goal is to prevent a government shutdown and make real cuts in spending, which the Speaker has argued is necessary to support private-sector job creation and boost confidence in the nation's economy.' US lawmakers and the White House are racing to make a midnight Friday deadline to have an agreement on legislation funding government operations through October 1, failing which key federal agencies will shut down. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images) JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

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(CBS News) Somewhere in the United States Capitol today, a poor Hill staffer is having a very bad day.

And all over two pesky letters- U and N.

It all started with a bill Republicans call the Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act. It's meant to cut burdensome regulations that House Republicans say get in the way of small businesses being able to expand, hire and conduct every day business.

One provision of the bill would freeze any new regulations until employment improves, which is where things went wrong.

One section specifically says there can be no new regulations until "employment" is at 6 percent or less.

Read that part again- "employment" at 6 percent or less. That means there could be no new regulations until UNemployment hits 94 percent. That would be a very scary day if the unemployment rate, which is already considered stubbornly high, went from its current 8.2 percent to a whopping 94 percent.

Democrats discovered the mistake yesterday and flagged it for reporters covering Capitol Hill.

"The Republicans have made a big typo in their latest message bill to nowhere" emailed Minority leader Nancy Pelosi's press secretary Drew Hammill. "Looks like they should stop harping about 'red tape' and start looking for the white out."

Communications Director for Majority whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Erica Elliott shot back today.

"Unemployment in America has been above 8% for 41 straight months. The fact that the Democrats are making a crusade out of a typo shows their lack of commitment to serious debate about how to get this country back on track."

So why not just change the typo and move on? Because nothing is ever that simple when it comes to parliamentary procedure and rules of the House.

Every bill that comes to the House floor, except suspensions which we will leave for another blog post, requires a "Rule." When leaders want to bring a bill to the floor, it must first go to the House Rules Committee where members on the panel determine which amendments to the package can come to the floor, how long a bill gets to be debated and whether the minority party can offer a substitute bill. The meeting can last anywhere from minutes to hours depending on how many members want to make the case their amendment should be allowed to go to the floor.

The committee is stacked heavily in favor of the majority party 7 to 4 so whatever the party in power wants the outcome to be is typically the end result, but Democrats can use it to slow things down.

The Rules Committee passed a rule for its regulatory freeze bill on Monday and reported the bill to the House and debated the Rule for an hour yesterday. To change any word in that bill, or letters in this case, would require either what's known as a "unanimous consent" agreement where everyone in the House of Representatives agrees that the change can be made or that the House Rules Committee reconvene and report out a new Rule and bill. The House would need to debate the rule over again as well.

An aide to Minority whip Steny Hoyer confirmed that Hoyer told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning that "we're not going to give unanimous consent."

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., told CBS News today that the whole drama is really "much ado about nothing." Dreier said he likes to think, if roles were reversed, that he would have been more understanding and just allow the change rather than hold up the process. "If I had been in that position I'd like to think that I'd say it's obviously some staff person who just left two letters out. Employment when it should have been unemployment."

Dreier was resigned though to doing the work over again. "We've asked, let's just do this staff to staff. You guys understand something like this could happen and the answer was no. So we're going to have to go to the Rules Committee. We'll go to the Rules Committee we'll do it."

Since the committee is stacked for Republicans, there's no doubt the bill will still make it to the Floor, but the drama certainly slows things down and creates a headache for leadership. The House is still expected to vote on the bill tomorrow.

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    Jill Jackson is a CBS News senior political producer.

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