Power Centers

GOP House's New Rules Include Substance, Style

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Va., left, and House Speaker in waiting John Boehner of Ohio, second from left, with other top House Republicans. i i

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Va., left, and House Speaker in waiting John Boehner of Ohio, second from left, with other top House Republicans. Harry Hamburg/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

itoggle caption Harry Hamburg/ASSOCIATED PRESS
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Va., left, and House Speaker in waiting John Boehner of Ohio, second from left, with other top House Republicans.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Va., left, and House Speaker in waiting John Boehner of Ohio, second from left, with other top House Republicans.

Harry Hamburg/ASSOCIATED PRESS

With so much attention on the whirlwind legislating being done in the not-so-lame-duck Congress of recent weeks, mostly ignored have been the new rules House Republicans will run the chamber by after they take control in January.

Some of the changes are of substance, some more stylistic. They are meant to appeal to voters of the view that, during prior Democratic management, the House was rife with backroom deals and flouted the Constitution.

One reform of the substantive variety would be a change that would repeal the so-called "Gephardt Rule" that allowed lawmakers to increase the federal debt limit without actually voting, per se, to increase it.

Under the existing rule, if House members approved a budget resolution, voila, the debt limit simultaneously increased.

The new GOP rule would require a separate vote to increase that limit, the thinking being that will increase transparency.

Another substantive change would be that spending bills would need to show their costs out beyond the current ten-year window. Legislation that would balloon the deficit beyond ten-years would then be more obvious, according to the House's new GOP leaders.

The new rules also seek to open up the legislating and committee process to the public. How committee members voted on legislation would need to be posted within 48 hours the bill was "marked up" by lawmakers on the panel.

More along the lines of stylistic changes would revisions to the names of some committees.

For instance, the House Committee on Education and Labor will have "Labor" stricken from its name and replaced by "Workforce."

The use of the "labor" goes back to the committee's origins in 1867. But "labor" presumably sounds a lot like it has to do with unions which are seen as the enemy in certain Republican circles. (Disclosure: As a line employee at NPR, I am a dues-paying member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists or AFTRA.)

Another stylistic change: every piece of legislation introduced would have to cite as justification for its existence the specific part of the Constitution that permits it.

For any decent lawmaker, getting by that hurdle should be like the proverbial ability of a good district attorney to indict a ham sandwich.

Constitution Tea Party movement, which supported many of the new Republican House members, often charged President Obama and lawmakers with abusing the Constitution.

Partly for that reason, the House's new Republican majority is relying on a sort of constitutional fundamentalism that resembles the biblical kind. Thus, the GOP reforms include a provision calling on the Speaker to read aloud the Constitution on the floor of the House on Jan. 6.

If you have time over the holidays, you can read the legislation containing the new rules. Or, if you prefer, you can read the summary, which is what I recommend.

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