Democratic rebellion in the House, in more ways than one

Congress just started the 111th Session just four weeks ago, and already some Democrats have had enough of Nancy Pelosi’s ham-handed tactics.  A rebellion has begun to brew among moderates in Pelosi’s caucus that wants a return to “regular order”, in which the committees return to their normal process of crafting and modifying legislation instead of a select group of elites ramming it down their throats.  They may draft Steny Hoyer, the Majority Leader, as their savior:

A group of more than 50 House Democrats has penned a letter to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) imploring him to “restore this institution” and see that the House returns to a “regular order” process of legislating.

The letter, signed by a large number of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and the centrist New Democratic Coalition, has not yet been sent. Members are still gathering signatures in an effort to send the strongest signal possible to all top House Democrats that the caucus is up in arms over the top-down method of legislating employed by Democrats since late last year. …

Since last year, many senior House Democrats — many of them subcommittee chairmen — have grown overly frustrated with how only small and select bands of legislators have been responsible for writing bills, such as the $700 billion Wall Street bailout as well as much of the $819 billion economic stimulus bill.

Democratic leaders have acknowledged that the “regular order” process of methodically developing and writing bills in subcommittees and committees has been abandoned recently. But they have defended the handling of such sensitive and important legislation by only an exclusive group of leadership and senior lawmakers as a necessary tactic during exceptional times.

Pelosi campaigned for a Democratic majority in 2006 in part on the argument that Republican leadership had locked Democrats out of the legislative process.  Pelosi promised a more cooperative, collegial approach that allowed for dissent and debate.  Unfortunately, as the Democrats remind her in this letter, she not only adopted the very same tactics against which she campaigned, she’s begun locking fellow Democrats out of the process now, too.

Consider this a lower-case D democratic rebellion.  Having a small group of party elites (of either party) writing and forcing legislation through Congress and bypassing the committee process rejects the very democracy that sustains Congress itself.  The House exists to give the people a voice in all legislation, not just the people of a district in San Francisco and another in Maryland.  The entire notion of representative democracy and the buy-in of the people it governs rests on the ability of everyone to have some power in shaping the laws that we must obey.  While few bills of any consequence will get unanimous approval, the ability to amend bills and to negotiate their final form is an important function of ensuring respect for the results.

The rebellion is still rather small, if The Hill’s numbers are correct.  So far, it’s only a quarter of her caucus.  Still, Pelosi’s dictatorial rule insults more people than it benefits, and this could snowball into a real rebellion against her leadership if it continues.