Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS vs. DEMOCRATS....The Boston Globe ran an excellent 3-part series earlier this week about how Republicans have abused their majority position in Congress to rule the legislative process in the House with an increasingly iron and often corrupt fist. Backroom deals, closed debates, abuse of legislative traditions, and procedural skullduggery are now the rule rather than the exception.

Needless to say, these are all things that Democrats were guilty of when they were in power too. But are Republicans just returning Democratic favors or are they really worse than the Democrats ever were? You should read the whole story to get the true flavor of what's happened, but to me the real strength of the Globe analysis is that they dug up hard numbers to answer that question. Here they are:

  • For the entire 108th Congress, just 28 percent of total bills have been open to amendment barely more than half of what Democrats allowed in their last session in power in 1993-94.

  • Congressional conference committees, made up of a small group of lawmakers appointed by leaders in both parties, added a record 3,407 "pork barrel" projects to appropriations bills for this year's federal budget, items that were never debated or voted on beforehand by the House and Senate and whose congressional patrons are kept secret. This compares to just 47 projects added in conference committee in 1994, the last year of Democratic control.

  • The Houe Rules Committee frequently decides bills in hastily called, late-night "emergency" sessions, despite House rules requiring that the panel convene during regular business hours and give panel members 48 hours notice. So far in the current Congress, 54 percent of bills have been drawn up in "emergency" sessions, according to committee staff members.

  • Historically, bills have been given a three-day delay in between the time the Rules Committee reports them out and the House takes them up; that requirement has been waived on numerous occasions in recent years.

  • While the House typically meets for 140 or more legislative days each year reaching a recent historical high of 167 days in 1995, the first year of the Newt Gingrich-led GOP majority it has met for legislative business just 97 days this year, with only five more days of work scheduled for the year. If no additional days are scheduled, the 102 days would be the lowest in decades.

And we can add to that the Republican habit of keeping House votes open long past the normal 15-minute maximum. Democrats did this once in 1987 and Republicans screamed foul, even though that vote was held open for a mere extra 20 minutes and was due to an odd mixup, not a desire to bludgeon holdouts into changing their votes. Since the Republicans took over in 1994, they've held votes open past the 15-minute limit over a dozen times, climaxing in the infamous 3-hour vote at 3 am on the Medicare bill last year.

So: are Republicans (a) just giving Democrats a taste of their own medicine? Or are they (b) genuinely more corrupt, more secretive, more bullying, and more power hungry than Democrats ever were?

Answer: B. And it only took them ten years, rather than the 40 it took the Democrats.

POSTSCRIPT: Conservative policy analyst Bruce Bartlett who still has three weeks to change his mind about voting for George Bush! is only willing to go so far as to say "Republicans have become the Democrats they overthrew in 1994," but he's pretty disgusted nonetheless.

Kevin Drum 6:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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