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Democrats: House Rules Changes Hark Back to Old GOP

House Democrats charged Monday that a set of GOP changes to chamber rules mark the return of the hard-driving leadership style carried out the last time Republicans were in the majority.

The 112th Congress begins Wednesday with Democrats in the minority after four years at the helm. The Republican and Democratic conferences will each hold meetings Tuesday afternoon to discuss the rules package that the GOP unveiled last month, as well as their agendas for the year ahead. A House vote on the rules package is expected Wednesday.

“The real issue here is literally the first day of the new majority … they’re reverting back to their old selves,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “And I think that’s what you’re going to hear Democrats say over and over again.”

Democrats on Monday specifically blasted a rules change that would allow the Budget chairman to draft a budget blueprint and deem it passed by the committee without a markup. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is the incoming Budget chairman.

“Allowing incoming Budget Chairman Ryan to have unilateral power to set spending limits — instead of subjecting those limits to a vote on the floor of the House — flies in the face of promises by House Republicans to have the most transparent and open Congress in history,” said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). 

Thornell’s boss is the incoming ranking member for the Budget Committee. In a statement Monday, Van Hollen also made the transparency argument. “The more we learn about the House Republican rules package, the more it is apparent that GOP leaders are abandoning their campaign Pledge to have the most open and transparent Congress in history,” he said.

While the budget provision drew the most fire Monday, other changes are also drawing Democrats’ attention. Another top Democratic aide noted that a provision will allow Republicans to push tax-cutting measures for wealthy Americans through the chamber without financial offsets. The aide further blasted the GOP’s “cut as you go” provision, which requires mandatory spending increases to be offset by slicing “an equal or greater amount elsewhere” from the budget. The provision replaces the Democrats’ favored “pay as you go” method of budgeting.

Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah), a member of the GOP transition team who helped craft the rules package, defended the Budget Committee provision and noted that Ryan would only be able to push a budget blueprint —not a budget bill — out of committee. Bishop also said the sweeping rules package is “designed to embolden the committees and the committee process.”

“If this is a criticism of being less transparent than past years, I just find that mind-boggling,” he said.

The first order of business on the floor Wednesday will be the election of a Speaker, and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to win handily. Members will then vote on the rules package, and Republicans are expected to win with ease. 

“There’s very little we can do,” one of the Democratic leadership aides acknowledged. “I think this is a way for us to lay the narrative that Republicans are again reverting back to the way things were when they were last in the majority.”

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