By: Brian Sikma
The mantra of hope must now be converted into the policies of change. Riding the tide of continued dissatisfaction with Republicans, particularly the incumbent President, and the very long coattails of a charismatic presidential candidate, Democrats solidified and increased their hold on the United States House of Representatives in November of 2008. They now hold a 256-178 advantage over the minority party.
After the formal ceremonies that accompany the start of every new Congress were over, the majority party brought up as it’s first item of business in the 111th Congress a series of modifications to the House Rules. These rules govern proceedings of the House and, although of limited direct importance to the American people, can dramatically impact how and what gets done in the House. In some instances the success or failure of legislative proposals that impact millions of Americans hinges directly on what the rules do and do not allow.
If it was Speaker Pelosi’s desire to use her power, and the power of her majority, to broaden the discussion in Congress and allow for a level of transparency and openness in government that would be equal to the importance of the business they are conducting, one would never know. By passing H. Res. 5, the changes to the House Rules, the Democrat majority effectively returned the House to the era of backroom deals among powerful committee chairmen who wielded power based on their longevity of service and not their competence or clarity of purpose.
H. Res 5. contains two very important changes to the House Rules:
1) It removes the three term, six year, limit imposed on committee chairmen. After decades in which committee chairmen were able to expand their power as a result of holding a key position for so long, and after the House Banking scandal that revealed these chairmen and other members were abusing their position at the expense of the public, Republicans imposed term limits on committee chairmen. The reason was simple: a limited term would prevent too much power from going to one member of Congress and would stimulate new ideas and fresh insights in the committee process. More than anything, term limits on committee chairmen are about openness and honesty in government.
2) It prevents the minority from making serious changes to bills that either raise taxes, spend money, or both. A motion to recommit is a procedure that the minority uses to keep the majority accountable and honest. When Democrats were in the minority, they used this tool, and when Republicans were in the minority, they used this tool too. By not allowing the minority to offer alternatives to tax increases, unwise spending, or flawed new programs, House Democrats are depriving millions of Americans of their voice in the House (minority party members will not be able to request changes to legislation being voted on) and positioning themselves to ramrod their proposals through without the contributions of the minority.
If your Congressman voted “Yes” on Roll Call 4, the vote to pass H. Res. 5, take action today by writing your local newspaper and condemning their actions and the actions of the majority party in choosing to let committee chairman possess an excessive power with little accountability and in choosing to shut down the voice of the minority party, a voice that represents well over 113 million Americans.