“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Monday, February 21, 2011

John Boehner's New House Rules

I was pleasantly surprised by Kim Strassel's recent Wall Street Journal editorial which detailed the newly-newsworthy voting activities of House under John Boehner. She wrote,

"In sharp contrast to his recent predecessors, Speaker John Boehner is sticking to his vow to make the chamber more open and accountable. His committee chairmen having presented a base spending bill, Mr. Boehner threw open the floor for full discussion. Some 600 amendments came pouring in.

"Chaos," "a headache," "turmoil," "craziness," "confused," "wild," "uncontrolled" are just a few of the words the Washington press corps has used to describe the ensuing late-night debates. There's a far better word for what happened: democracy. It has been eons since the nation's elected representatives have had to study harder, debate with such earnestness, or commit themselves so publicly. Yes, it is messy. Yes, it is unpredictable. But as this Presidents Day approaches, it's a fabulous thing to behold.

And about time. The Democrats' style of management—on ObamaCare, cap and trade, financial regulation, stimulus—was to secretly craft bills and ram through a vote, denying members a chance to read, to debate, to amend. They learned this from former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who infamously micro- managed his GOP majority from 2003-2005. The House had become a place where the leadership called all the shots and the majority saluted.

But this week the country witnessed the House coming together to argue over and exercise its foremost responsibility: power over the purse. And from the look of the amendments, both sides were eager to use that funding authority to put the Obama policy machine on notice."

It's difficult to recall a time when there was such open and visible discussion of how Congress spends our money. Strassel continued,
"Americans got to see what happens when members of Congress exercise their collective knowledge of the federal government. Mr. Issa put forward amendments to prohibit the National Institutes of Health from spending money studying the impact of yoga on hot flashes in menopausal women. Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum offered to strike funding for the Department of Defense to sponsor Nascar race cars. Indiana Republican Todd Rokita proposed getting rid of money provided for dissertation research under a 1970 Housing Act.

The nation witnessed Democrats—the members not in the majority—offer their own amendments, a courtesy Speaker Nancy Pelosi never extended. In the main, that meant seeing that nothing much has changed on that side of the aisle. Most Democratic amendments were to restore funds for even the most minor GOP cuts. Texas's Sheila Jackson Lee even went to the mat to continue funding for those road signs bragging about the stimulus.

Remarkably, voters saw Republicans disagree vehemently with each other. Just as remarkably, the world did not stop spinning. To the contrary, these arguments helped flesh out differences and proved it is possible for gentlemen to have honest disagreements. Nowhere was this more clear than in this week's vote to defund a second (duplicative) engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The engine is being developed in a town near Mr. Boehner's Ohio district, and the speaker is a supporter. Yet 100 Republicans joined 123 Democrats (and Defense Secretary Robert Gates) to oppose the second engine and save taxpayers $450 million this year and $3 billion in the long-run.

Mr. Boehner didn't have to allow that vote. Mrs. Pelosi wouldn't have. But in opening the House, Mr. Boehner has done far more than put reform above his own priorities. This week's exercise forced members to read the underlying spending bill; to understand the implications of hundreds of amendments; to remain on the floor for debate; and to go on record with votes for which voters will hold them accountable."

Perhaps the best part of that passage is that Boehner allowed his own pet second jet engine project to be defeated. It's heartening to see a Speaker not use his powers to tilt the playing field for his own district. And not to punish his own party's members for voting against it.

Reading that list of petty, indefensible uses of tax dollars as we are borrowing 40% of them, should do wonders for making Representatives newly-accountable. I suppose the liberal Democrats who are mentioned as trying to restore every sliver of spending the Republicans are cutting may be re-elected in their districts. But maybe not. Perhaps even those voters will begin to see the stupidity of allowing so much money to flow to Washington, only to be wasted in favored, lavish, unnecessary projects nobody would pay for in the private sector.

There are things I don't like about Boehner, but Strassel's piece made me feel much better about him so far.

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