House Stages Its First Partisan Brawl of Year

Posted January 6, 2009 at 4:04pm

Despite vows of bipartisanship just hours earlier by party leaders, the House passed its first bill of the 111th Congress in an atmosphere charged with partisanship and critical attacks.

Republicans spent Tuesday afternoon howling at provisions in the House rules resolution, which sets the chamber’s internal rules. Namely, they raised concerns that it strikes committee chairmanship term limits and restricts their ability to use motions to recommit to send a bill on the floor back to committee for changes.

The package, which also includes ethics tweaks and housekeeping items, passed largely along party lines: 242-181.

Rules ranking member David Dreier (R-Calif.) blasted Democratic leadership for considering “as its very first legislative act a rules package that literally shreds” the vision of bipartisanship pushed by President-elect Barack Obama.

Pitting Congressional Democrats against the president-elect, Dreier said he “whole-heartedly” agrees with Obama’s pledge to create an environment “that replaces bitterness with bipartisanship.” By contrast, the rules package brought forward by Democrats will only “stifle debate and perpetuate partisanship,” he said.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the rules resolution “strangles democracy” because motions to recommit allow Republicans to send measures back to committee to improve them.

Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) countered that the rules resolution will “in no way impede minority rights.” The reality, she said, is that Republicans want the ability to use motions to recommit to kill Democratic legislation.

“We would have to be Alice in Wonderland, to be able to believe six impossible things before breakfast, if we gave serious thought” to the idea that motions to recommit are not “anything other than a way to kill a bill,” Slaughter said.

Ironically, Dreier made a motion to send the rules package back to committee to amend it to allow Republicans to make motions to send bills back to committee for changes. It failed, 174-249.

Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) said he planned to file a resolution this week to amend House rules to allow any amendment on the floor as long as it has at least one Democratic and one Republican sponsor.