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New House GOP Majority Wins Changes to Rules

The House adopted a sweeping rules package almost entirely along party lines Wednesday, marking the first partisan fight of the 112th Congress.

The resolution requires that legislation be publicly posted online three days before it receives a vote, that committee chairmen be limited to three terms, that each bill include a clause citing its Constitutional authority and that Congressional spending be decreased by 5 percent.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hailed the broad measure in his maiden speech earlier in the day, but it nevertheless drew fire from Democratic ranks.

“What I’d like to see is an honest attempt to create a set of rules that provide for openness, transparency and good government,” Rules Committee ranking member Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said on the floor. “This set of rules is not that document.”

More debate on House rules is likely to come. “No Member should consider this vote as the end of the reform efforts of this Congress,” Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said on the floor.

“We will not be wed to the way we used to do things,” he added. “Rather, we will be looking for new and different ways to do our jobs and do them in the most transparent and accountable way possible.”

The final rules resolution was approved 240-191. The Democrats’ first voting defeat of the 112th Congress came earlier in the day, when an effort by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to refer the resolution to a select committee for further study was killed. Norton had hoped to block a provision in the package that ends the right of the five delegates and the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico to vote in the Committee of the Whole.

Slaughter blasted the rules package for taking away the delegates’ limited voting power and for replacing the Democrats’ favored pay-as-you-go budget method. The GOP’s “cut-as-you-go” method requires mandatory spending increases to be offset by slicing “an equal or greater amount elsewhere” from the budget.

“The other side now wants to adopt the posture of budget cutters,” Slaughter said. “They want to make sweetheart deals without having to pay for them.”

Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) also criticized the provision, citing a loophole that exempts tax-cutting measures from needing offsets. Budget provisions have drawn the most fire all week, with Democratic leaders taking particular aim at a section that allows Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to draft and move a budget blueprint without consulting the committee. 

The new package also exempts Rules Committee bills from the public posting requirement, prompting Democratic charges that Republicans can simply gut and replace legislation in the powerful committee before pushing it to the floor.

While Republicans were broadly behind the rules package, some significant changes were made Tuesday night. Specifically, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) won his attempt to scrap a requirement that committee attendance records be made public.

Boehner hailed the rules resolution for setting a tone of openness and transparency for the next two years.

“Reforms that promote fiscal responsibility have supplanted rules that protected and enabled runaway spending,” Boehner said in a statement. “These reforms recognize that fixing our economy requires changing Congress itself.”

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