Oh my: Boehner to introduce House rules giving minority party more power?

I’d bet cash money that whatever reforms he has in mind are either mostly symbolic or will quickly be abandoned once he and Pelosi start to butt heads, but since stories like this are always good for a five-alarm freakout in the comments about the GOP selling out, let’s do it.

On Wednesday the new speaker of the House of Representatives plans to offer a package of rule changes that, he says, will give minority-party members more of a say and decentralize power. In short, Ohio Republican Mr. Boehner is promising he’ll be a different figure from many speakers throughout history—from Republican Joseph Cannon a century ago to his immediate predecessor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi—who kept a tighter leash…

“New speakers always say they want to have a more open process,” says Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat. “Then the sheer demands of making the trains run on time and getting things passed requires that you change your mind.”…

Mr. Boehner has promised to give more power to committee chairmen, and to put cameras in meetings of the powerful Rules Committee, which sets guidelines for congressional debate…

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican in the new Congress, acknowledges that Mr. Boehner’s proposed changes could make the chamber harder to manage, at least in the early going. “You will have some tough times,” said Mr. McCarthy. “People will play games with it. People will use it for mischief. We’ll just have to work through that.”

What powers, specifically, will Boehner be granting the Democrats? Oddly enough, the Journal doesn’t say. Presumably the leadership doesn’t want that leaking out on the eve of tomorrow’s festivities lest it spoil the mood among the base. But we can probably guess based on this open letter to Pelosi from House Republicans published two years ago protesting her own rules changes that cut them out of the process.

The American people … stand to pay a price if the Majority further shuts down free and open debate on the House floor by refusing to allow all members the opportunity to offer substantive alternatives to important legislation — the same opportunities that Republicans guaranteed to Democrats as motions to recommit during their 12 years in the Minority. The Majority’s record in the last Congress was the worst in history when it came to having a free and open debate on the issues.

This proposed change also would prevent Members from exposing and offering proposals to eliminate tax increases hidden by the Democratic Majority in larger pieces of legislation. This is not the kind of openness and transparency that President-elect Obama promised. This change would deprive tens of millions of Americans the opportunity to have a voice in the most important policy decisions facing our country.

I.e., more amendments and more floor debate, a perennial demand from the minority caucus. So perennial is it, in fact, that Pelosi herself proposed a “Bill of Rights” for the House minority back in 2004, before the Democratic takeover, calling for both of those powers plus greater participation for members in conference committees. Actual quote from then-Minority Leader Nancy, now glazed with irony: “When we are shut out, they are shutting out the great diversity of America.” And a fun reply from Republican David Dreier, who was chairman of the Rules Committee at the time and will be chairman again come tomorrow: “Yes, we have done, as we have had the responsibility of governing, some of the things we criticized when we were in the minority.” Looks like Boehner’s going to try to correct that mistake. For a little while, at least.

Speaking of rules changes, Dan Foster at NRO notes that the GOP’s new budgeting rules require offsetting cuts for any new spending increases — except, er, in case of “emergency” — and gives the Budget Committee chairman the power to exclude the deficit impact from the Bush tax cuts and ObamaCare repeal from any budget estimates. That’s a horrible first step to take if they’re serious about fiscal responsibility, even granting the fact that the “savings” from O-Care are smoke and mirrors. Once you start exempting expensive programs from the ledger on political grounds, I don’t know where you stop. The one saving grace here: The Budget Committee chairman is Paul Ryan, a guy who’s built a national reputation upon his willingness to look at hard realities that other alleged deficit hawks run screaming from. I can’t imagine him hiding any huge costs just to make his numbers look pretty; if he does, then it’s advantage: Reason.

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