It’s one of the most dismal rituals in Congress: The minority party bitterly complains about unfair treatment by the majority and promises that, when it’s in the majority, Congress will be run fairly and transparently.
Whereupon, when there is a change in power, the new majority is every bit as arbitrary, high-handed and exclusionary as the old one. And in short order, of course, it accuses the new minority of chronic obstructionism, the majority’s constant excuse for resorting to dictatorial behavior.
Republicans, prior to their 1994 takeover of Congress, accused Democrats of excluding them from the legislative process and promised a new day. Later, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) became the “hammer” who rammed legislation past Democrats and doubters of his own party.
Most infamous was the dead-of-night passage of a Medicare prescription drug bill on Nov. 22, 2003, with the vote held open for three hours while GOP leaders cajoled and wheedled their Members.
Democrats were outraged by their treatment in the Republican years. And on election night in 2006, then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) duly promised “to restore stability and bipartisanship” to Washington, D.C., and that Democrats would run “the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history.”
Now, Republicans on the House Rules Committee have published a report, “The Wrong Way Congress,” alleging that, under Democrats, the 111th Congress is “the most closed Congress in history,” with not one bill considered under an open amendment process.
Most infamously, last June, Democrats rammed through a 1,500-page climate change bill, 300 pages of which were added at 3 a.m. on the day of the vote in order to secure passage by a single vote.
Now, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is promising things will be different if the GOP takes over. Among other things, “the text of all bills should be published online for at least three days before coming up for a vote. No exceptions. No excuses.”
We found much to like in Boehner’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute last week, including his acknowledgment that both parties are to blame for Congressional dysfunction. He called for appropriating funds agency by agency — rather than in clusters — and under open amendment rules.
He promised to work to re-empower committees, rather than having leadership writing bills, and to require all nonclassified committee hearings to be webcast, especially those of the Rules Committee.
Boehner asserted that “in recent years — and not just under the current majority — the minority has been forced to use the motion to recommit, often in ways that are painful for the majority, to insure the minority’s voice is heard.
“And, in turn, the majority has responded by conjuring up new ways to shut the minority out even further. It’s a cycle of gridlock.”
Indeed, it is. Will the pattern stop? Should anyone believe any leader’s promises?