House GOP Cries of "Foul" on Rules Fall on Deaf Ears
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Feb 07, 2007 at 11:23:25 AM EST
Having wholly failed at attempts to block or stall the Democrats' 100 Hours agenda in the House -- even, in fact, failing to maintain the semblance of unity within their own caucus in early House votes -- House Republicans have turned to decrying the tactics used by the new Democratic majority in the chamber to help pass their widely popular agenda in a prompt manner. The Hill's Jackie Kucinich has a good run down of the Republican complaints.
During the first month of the Democratic-controlled Congress, Republicans held numerous press conferences on Capitol Hill to vent their frustration over being locked out of the legislative process. Many accused Democrats of violating House rules to push their legislation through.
In order to get the GOP message out, [GOP Rep. John Campbell said], members must break down information to communicate clearly how the process impacts constituents and their pocketbooks.
[House Republican Conference spokesman Ed] Patru acknowledged that Republicans are likely to lose the inside-the-Beltway debate because of the heavy Democratic majority. But outside Washington, he said, Republicans have an advantage because of their ability translate the debate into understandable analogies.
To begin, it's clear that the Republicans have been extremely ineffective at making an issue about the House Democrats' use of the chamber's rules to speed their top legislative priorities to votes on the floor. The latest Gallup Poll, for instance, finds Congress' approval rating to be 37 percent, with 55 percent disapproving -- not great numbers, certainly, but higher than they have been in the poll in close to two years and up 16 points since late December. What's more, despite almost continuous attacks on Speaker Nancy Pelosi for being a "San Francisco liberal", her approval rating is sky high at around 50 percent, trumping both that of George W. Bush and that of Newt Gingrich at any point in his speakership.
But not only have these lines of attacks not hurt the Democrats whatsoever in the first month of the 110th Congress, both as a result of the popularity of the Democratic platform and the fact that process attacks are generally too abstract to matter to voters (at least this early in the game), they are extremely disengenuous -- and Republicans know it.
The House GOP has spent quite a bit of effort highlighting the fact that Democrats did not allow open rules during the debate over 100 Hours legislation, which could have allowed seemingly endless amendments that could have changed the essence of the Democratic bills. But what the Republicans fail to mention in these tirades is the fact that they allowed only one open rule -- only one -- on a non-appropriations bill during the 109th Congress. That's right. Of the 22 open rules allowed by the GOP majority in the House last Congress, which accounted for just 16 percent of all rules (meaning 84 percent of all rules were closed), just one, H.R. 255 (Federal Deposit Insurance Reform), was not an appropriations bill, which traditionally come to the floor with open rules.
Now the Democrats are already allowing their first open rule on legislation, just six weeks into their reign over the House. With the open rule agreed to today for H.R. 547 (Advanced Fuels Infrastructure Research and Development Act), the House Democrats have already matched the number of open rules on non-appropriations legislation that the Republicans allowed during the previous Congress. It will be pretty difficult for the GOP to argue with that.
In short, complaints about House rules aren't likely to help the Republicans swing the momentum away from the Democratic majority any time soon, not only because the Democrats' agenda is so popular and that voters don't tend to care about the internal rules of Congress, in general, but also because the Republican attacks on the Democrats' use of rules simply have no merity whatsoever.