Pelosi’s power move leaves House Republicans fuming
House Democrats are poised to approve new rules that will significantly increase their authority while taking the bullets out of the few legislative weapons Republicans have in the lower chamber.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has approved the changes from the last Congress, when House GOP members frustrated their Democratic counterparts by winning over two dozen amendment battles on the floor.
Pelosi’s move has set up a divisive mood on the first day of the 111th Congress, which Republicans say runs counter to the tone set by President-elect Obama.
Republican leaders intend to fight the rules changes, which would curtail their ability to delay legislation by forcing Democrats to take politically difficult votes.
“This is not the kind of openness and transparency that President-elect Obama promised,” the GOP leaders wrote Monday in a letter to Pelosi.
Republican leadership aides say the changes will make it easier for the Speaker to run the House and protect vulnerable House Democrats.
But Democratic leadership sources dispute the GOP characterizations, noting that Republicans will still have an opportunity to offer an amendment to bills on the floor, though they won’t have the ability to invoke an arcane rule that would in effect kill the entire underlying measure.
Democrats say GOP assertions that Republicans would not be able to offer a “motion to recommit” are false. They say they are removing the “Catch-22” that Republicans have exploited to force embarrassing votes on issues such as gun control and illegal immigration.
The rules package also calls for the end of six-year term limits for committee chairmen. This move is not popular with younger members, but panel chairmen have been pressing for the change since Democratic leaders surprisingly kept the six-year limits intact in their rules package for the 110th Congress.
The change means that House chairmen could be in their posts until they retire or die.
The six-year limit was initially adopted after House Republicans took control of the lower chamber in 1995. That ended the seniority-based system that Democrats had embraced for decades.
Democratic aides argue, however, that term limits under Republican rule meant that the committee member who raises the most money would be rewarded with a chairmanship.
Seniority was a factor in the awarding of GOP committee chairmanships between 1995 and 2006, though fundraising is seen as vital on both sides of the aisle. For example, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee will apply political pressure on members who are lagging in their committee dues.
Democrats were scheduled to meet Monday evening to discuss the rules package before an anticipated vote on Tuesday. Democratic aides at press time said there could be changes made to the package before the vote.
Republican leadership aides expect that their members will strongly contest the rules package.
Opposition tactics could include offering motions to adjourn and walking out of the House chamber.