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House Rules Package Finalized Over Democrats’ Protests

House Democrats continued their assault on a GOP package of rules changes Tuesday in what has become the first major floor fight of the 112th Congress.

Incoming Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) circulated a memo to colleagues Tuesday night that said the Republicans’ package “takes a dramatic and fiscally irresponsible approach to implementing their priorities.”

Democratic leaders said earlier in the day that the rules package falls flat in delivering the kind of oversight and reform that Republicans promised on the campaign trail. Several others offered their own ideas to add to the rules package, although those efforts will be fruitless as Democrats move into the minority in the House. A senior Democratic aide said it was still unclear Tuesday afternoon what motion to recommit Democrats would offer to try to delay or change the rules package.

Republicans passed a handful of amendments to the rules package Tuesday night and will bring the freshly honed proposal to the floor for final approval Wednesday. Further amendments will not be allowed. The package’s provisions include a requirement that all bills be available online for at least 72 hours before coming to a vote, a commitment to read the entire Constitution aloud on the House floor Thursday and a limitation on committee chairmen to six years of service.

Some ideas were scrapped during Tuesday’s GOP session. For instance, the Conference approved an amendment by Rep. Louie Gohmert (Texas) deleting a provision requiring that committee attendance records be made public.

Still, the incoming GOP majority emerged from Tuesday night’s meeting in harmony over the rules package and geared up for the opening of the 112th Congress on Wednesday. The day will open with the swearing-in of Members, a vote to install the next Speaker (Rep. John Boehner of Ohio is expected to win handily) and a vote on adoption of the rules package.

“We’ve got a wonderful opportunity tomorrow afternoon to bring back the kind of accountability and transparency the American people desperately want and have a rules package that will be focused on job creation and economic growth,” incoming Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said after the lengthy GOP meeting.

Dreier also defended a scheduled vote next week on repealing the health care overhaul, which has also drawn fire from Democrats because it will be brought up under limited debate and without an opportunity for amendments. He argued that amendments aren’t necessary for a straightforward repeal measure and that the time for amendments would come when Republicans issue an alternative health care proposal.

In a preview of their messaging strategy as the new minority party, Democrats lobbed fierce rhetoric Tuesday over the rules package and the repeal vote. Reps. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Gerry Connolly (Va.) and Ted Deutch (Fla.) sent a letter to Boehner on Tuesday saying amendments to the rules package should be allowed. Dreier pointed out Tuesday that the rules package already includes input from Democratic Reps. Robert Brady (Pa.) and Robert Andrews (N.J.).

Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.) fired off his own letter to Dreier and GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), arguing that a rules provision allowing the Budget chairman to craft a budgetary blueprint without consulting committee members “makes a mockery of our legislative process.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) called on Republicans to make public a “plain language” version of bills three days before they are considered.

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