When House Republican leaders offered a motion to recommit during recent debate on legislation to overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, they set the stage for a familiar scene of Democrats scrambling to save a high-profile measure.
Republican leadership aides concede the motion, which would have made the FISA changes not applicable to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, was ultimately meaningless from a policy standpoint.
But the politics and procedural tactics behind the move were nearly foolproof and had, for the short-run at least, the effect Republicans desired.
Democratic leaders pulled the measure from a floor vote at the last minute, when it appeared certain they would lose enough support from conservatives and moderates in the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition to give the GOP a win on the motion and would result in killing the overall bill.
"You've got to give them credit," said one senior staff member for a liberal Democratic lawmaker. "It was an absolutely brilliant [motion]. I don't remember us being this good."
Similar attacks have been effectively unleashed throughout the year, to the continued consternation of the Democratic leadership.
First, GOP leaders come up with a purely political motion on a prime piece of Democratic legislation or a must-pass bill.
Or they use procedural delaying tactics on the floor. Either gambit has the potential of bringing action on the bill to a halt.
The tactics are clearly aimed at producing picture-perfect attack ad copy against Blue Dog Democrats or Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the majority leadership team.
The goal, GOP aides said, is to entice enough Blue Dogs to defect for political reasons to either derail a bill or cause whipping problems for the majority.
When Democrats have problems getting enough votes to kill the motion, the bill is either yanked from the floor or the vote is delayed while members are coerced into voting the party line.
The resulting delay gives Republicans at least one news cycle's worth of attacks on Democrats. At their best, the Republicans get enough fodder for the conservative talk-radio machine for even longer.
On several occasions, Republicans get an even longer time to control the story as Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other Democratic leaders retreat to come up with a strategy.
One high-profile example came earlier in the year, when GOP leaders effectively undercut Hoyer's plan to change House rules on the germaneness of motions to recommit. Democrats huddled behind closed doors and offered little information, from either the leaders or staffers, until the next day.
Democrats also seemed caught short during the FISA maneuvering. Soon after he pulled the bill from the floor, Hoyer ran from a meeting in Pelosi's office to the floor, dodging questions from reporters trailing behind him. Even the usually unflappable Majority Whip James Clyburn ignored questions as he hurried from Pelosi's office.
Some Democrats issued statements later in the evening, but not until after Republican leaders held a self-congratulatory news conference.
The absence of an immediate and forceful response from their leaders was met with consternation by some rank-and-file Democrats, some of whom wondered why the bill was pulled in the first place.
Staffers and lawmakers alike argued the motion should have been labeled a political trick and dealt with immediately, with the bill brought quickly to the floor that same night.
Such a rapid response would have denied Republicans two more weeks worth of attacks before the bill moved back onto the schedule. GOP aides seemed gleeful that such a response was not forthcoming.
"They seem unwilling to pull the trigger to do what needs to be done," said one senior GOP aide, echoing comments from some Democrats.
Democratic leadership sources said such a response would not have been practical because returning the matter to the Rules Committee would have resulted in a vote on the bill the next day and would have detracted from the attempt to override President Bush's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program bill.
As some Democrats see it, Hoyer's effort to change the rules about the germaneness of such motions must be made, even though it would not take away all of the GOP's weapons.
"It's frustrating," said the chief of staff for one moderate Democrat. "The first mistake was bringing [FISA] up in the first place. ... [FISA] doesn't expire 'til February. It could have waited another week."