House Democrats’ anger at heavy-handed Republican tactics reached a new level yesterday, with the chamber’s top Democrat asking the House speaker to embrace a “Bill of Rights” for the minority, regardless which party it is.
Pelosi’s document, which she vows to honor if Democrats regain the majority, says: “Too often, incivility and the heavy hand of the majority” have silenced Democrats and choked off “thoughtful debate.” She called on the majority to let the minority offer meaningful amendments and substitutes to important bills; to limit roll-call votes to the normal 15 minutes rather than keeping them open to round up needed votes; and to let all appointees to House-Senate conference committees participate in meetings and decisions.
“When we are shut out, they are shutting out the great diversity of America,” Pelosi said in an interview. “We want a return to civility; we want to set a higher standard.”
Democrats and several analysts say recommital votes are largely meaningless. Hastert’s leadership team portrays them as “procedural votes” rather than matters of policy, and unwritten parliamentary rules make it essentially treasonous for lawmakers to vote against their party’s leadership on procedural matters.
The inevitable party-line vote that keeps Democrats from recommitting a Republican bill “is the whole ballgame,” Ornstein said, because it prevents Democrats from having a debate and a vote on the substance of their alternative proposals.
The spirit of bipartisan cooperation didn’t survive the first day of the 111th Congress as House Democrats pushed through a package of rule changes Tuesday that the furious Republican minority said trampled their traditional rights to affect legislation.
The most contentious rule change places new restrictions on motions to “recommit” a bill for new amendments to the committee that approved it. In practice, that motion often meant a lengthy or even permanent delay in passing the measure. Motions to recommit would still be possible, but the new rules allow the full House to reconsider the bill almost instantaneously.
Because of the special rules regarding budgetary legislation, Republicans argued that the new restrictions on motions to recommit will hobble their ability to challenge tax increases that are included in larger, “must-pass” bills.
Unlike in the Senate, where the threat of a filibuster gives the minority strong bargaining leverage, the minority party in the House has relatively few tools to challenge the majority’s will. Mr. Dreier noted that the recommit motion had been in place for 100 years, and he rejected Democratic claims that the new rules were a minor tweak to an obscure parliamentary proceeding.
In Congress, he said, “process is substance.”
It’s a somewhat complicated procedural issue, but the bottom line here is that while Pelosi demanded minority rights and decried GOP procedural chicanery while her party was in the minority, she’s starting the new Congress by pushing through rules changes that would make it much more difficult for Republicans to have any influence on pending legislation.
Pelosi gets a 7 out of 10 on the somewhat arbitrary Hackery Index.
HackWatch installment on Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) here, on former White House Office of Legal Counsel honcho John Yoo here. If you see an example of a pundit, politician, major blogger, or other Beltway creature who’s done a 180 on this or another issue, please send it here, with links, and “HackWatch” in the subject line.