This is a report written in 2006 by the then-minority Democrats on the House Rules Committee. Entitled “Broken Promises: The Death of Deliberative Democracy,” it reads like an indictment of Republicans for much of the very same conduct we’re seeing now from the majority Democrats.
Over the course of the day and into tomorrow, I plan on ripping apart the gripes and suggestions put forth by the Democrats in 2006. For the time being, though, read what you can of the report. If it isn’t evidence enough that we need true change on Capitol Hill, I don’t know what is.
It begins like this:
In the 108th Congress, House Republicans became the most arrogant, unethical and corrupt majority in modern Congressional history. When they took control of the House after the 1994 elections, Republicans vowed they would be different than previous Congresses. They promised they would manage the House in a way that fostered what they called “deliberative democracy,” which they defined as “the full and free airing of conflicting opinions through hearings, debates, and amendments for the purpose of developing and improving legislation deserving of the respect and support of the people.”
This report documents how, ten years after their “revolution,” House Republicans have completely abandoned this standard of deliberative democracy they set for themselves. Furthermore, they have abandoned any other principle of procedural fairness or democratic accountability. In the opinion of many non-partisan observers of Congress, the 108th Congress not only matched the worst abuses of earlier Congresses; it set a whole new benchmark.
Yeah, the report is that good. If hypocrisy was an energy source, and if the Democrats were willing to even do so, I’d say they struck oil.
In their own words, some of the charges leveled by the minority Democrats:
- Despite their vows to open up the rules process and restore deliberative democracy to the House chamber, House Republicans took unprecedented steps in the 108th Congress to make the House floor a “democracy -free zone.” They used closed and highly restrictive rules to prevent Members from offering amendments that would have provoked real debate and forced Members to go on the record on real issues.
- In the 108th Congress, Republican leaders apparently decided that the House should spend two out of the three days of its already abbreviated legislative week on non-
- controversial legislation, such as bills that name post offices and congratulate sports teams. At the same time, they allowed less time and fewer amendments and votes on the serious, substantive legislation the House considers.
- Rules Committee Republicans intentionally used emergency meeting procedures and late -night meetings in the 108th Congress to discourage Members and the press from participating in the legislative process. These tactics not only discouraged Members from bringing amendments to the Committee and participating in the legislative process; they also appeared to be drive Republican Rules Members off the Committee.
- House Republicans repeatedly embarrassed the House by granting blanket waivers to conference reports and rushing them through the House before Members could read them. The 108th Congress was repeatedly ridiculed for the special-interest provisions Republican leaders stuck into conference bills, such as the infamous “Hooters” provision in the Energy bill and the provision allowing Congressional staffers to snoop on American citizens’ tax returns.
By far, my favorite part of the report is the “modest recommendations” proposed by the Democrats in order to “curtail the most egregious abuses” and “restore a small measure of accountability and democratic deliberation to a legislative body that is supposed to be a model of those two values.” See if the now-majority Democrats can check any of these modest recommendations off the list:
- Open up the process by allowing debate and votes on more serious amendments. The Republican leadership should heed the advice of former Speaker Newt Gingrich and “open up the House Rules more.” They should allow, and even encourage, serious amendments that enjoy the support of a “substantial number of Members” to come to the House floor for debate and up-or-down votes.
- Allow more bills to be considered under open rules. In the 109th Congress, the Republican leadership should increase the percentage of bills it allows to be debated under an open rule process, and decrease the percentage of bills it jams through the House under closed rules.
- Spend more time on major, substantive legislation and less time on suspension bills. Instead of using the suspension of the rules procedure to crowd out debate on major legislation, the Republican leadership in the 109th Congress should expand debate time and the consideration of amendments by restricting suspensions to Mondays and Tuesdays. The House should spend the majority of its time in session debating and voting on the major policy issues of our day, not naming post offices and congratulating sports teams.
- Bring back regular order and reduce the number of late-night or early-morning “emergencies.” The House Rules Committee should only use the “emergency meeting” procedure in the small number of cases, before recesses or at the end of sessions, when the House moves legislation more quickly through the process than regular order allows. Regular order should be the rule, not the exception. Instead of meeting late at night or early in the morning, the Rules Committee should do its business during regular “business” hours so that Members and the press can attend and participate in the House rule-making process.
- Give Members three days to read conference reports. The Rules Committee and Republican leadership should end its practice of granting “blanket waivers” to conference reports. The Committee should protect Members’ rights to know the content of conference reports by waiving only those provisions that are absolutely necessary for the orderly consideration of the conference report. The three-day layover requirement should be waived only in the most exigent circumstances, and then only by a two-thirds vote of the House.
From a party which has worked overtime to stifle debate and force unwanted and unconstitutional legislation through the House and Senate, this 147-page list of complaints is absolutely laughable.
Bookmark this post and check back from time to time, as I hope to find the time to explode this document and extract every ounce of hypocrisy from its pages. It was written by Democrats, so such a proposition certainly won’t be difficult.