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Boehner Promises to Reform House Rules and Earmarks

Updated: 4:28 p.m.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said Republicans would alter House rules to restore “order” and reform the earmarking process if the GOP takes the majority in November.

The speech to the American Enterprise Institute is the fourth in a series of major public addresses Boehner has given this year that outline how he would run the House if elected Speaker.

Boehner reiterated several of the government reform planks of the GOP’s new “Pledge to America” agenda and accused Democrats of routinely altering the rules in order to ram through their agenda.

“Leaders overreach because the rules allow them to. Legislators duck their responsibilities because the rules help them to,” he said. “And when the rules don’t suit the majority’s purposes, they are just ignored.”

Boehner acknowledged his party had abused the rules in the past, but promised the GOP had seen the error of its ways after their numbers were slashed in consecutive election cycles.

In response to questions, Boehner said that under existing procedures, “there are about five people who determine the outcome of the legislative process” — basically the chairman and ranking member of the committee, and the speaker and staff. “Four hundred and thirty of us stand on the sidelines and watch and we vote — I just think it’s reprehensible,” he said.

Republicans have hammered House Democrats over the past few months for failing to introduce a budget, saying it is a symptom of a larger spending problem within the majority party.

Boehner said Republicans might seek to rewrite the 1974 Budget Act in order to ensure that spending is reduced drastically.

“The ‘pay as you go’ rule has been repeatedly ignored to justify billions of dollars in new spending and tax and fee increases,” he said. “So we ought to start at square one and give serious consideration to revisiting — and perhaps rewriting — the 1974 Budget Act.”

He also proposed implementing a rule that each bill that comes to the House floor contain a clear citation of constitutional authority, taking bills up one at a time in order to avoid large omnibus legislation.

“We should also consider developing a ‘cut as you go’ rule that would apply to any member proposing the creation of new government programs or benefits,” Boehner said.

“Very simply, under this ‘CutGO’ rule, if it is your intention to create a new government program, you must also terminate or reduce spending on an existing government program of equal or greater size — in the very same bill,” Boehner said.

Boehner did not offer any specifics as to how the GOP would reform the process of earmarking, an issue that was only mentioned briefly in the pledge, but promised to “bring fundamental change to the manner in which Washington spends taxpayers’ money” if he is elected Speaker of the House.

“I believe it is our obligation to end earmarking as we know it and bring fundamental change to the manner in which Washington spends taxpayers’ money, and I will continue to be an advocate for reforms to ensure that happens,” he said.

“Don’t assume I’m singling out the appropriators; I’m not,” he added. “Over decades, in my view, authorizing committees in the House and Senate have also abdicated their responsibility, often authorizing billions of dollars, knowing full well they will never actually be appropriated.”

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was unconvinced by Boehner’s pledge and said the Republican record pointed to another reality.

“Leading independent advocates for Congressional reform credit House Democrats for taking tough action that ensured unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency,” Elshami said in a statement.

“No speech or pledge by Mr. Boehner is going to change the Republicans’ dismal record.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Christopher Van Hollen (Md.) hammered back against Boehner and the Republican agenda, saying it demonstrates the GOP’s continued close ties with special interests since the K Street Project, an effort that then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay started in 1995 to install Republicans into top-tier lobbying jobs.

“This fusion between special interests on K Street and the legislative agenda of the Republican Party and what we’re finding out when we’re looking at their platform and their recommendation is that fusion remains to this day,” Van Hollen said.

He also criticized Republicans for not including earmark reform in their agenda. “I challenge anyone to find anything in there about earmark reform,” he said of the 47-page document.

Van Hollen said Democrats have made progress by significantly reducing the number of earmarks, making them transparent and banning earmarks to for-profit companies. “It’s very clear they would return to that since they did not mention it in their document,” he said of appropriating earmarks to companies.

Anna Palmer contributed to this report.