Friday, December 03, 2010

Welcome Changes

Politico reports on some of the procedural changes that the Republicans are planning to implement in the House. John Boehner is going to change the budgeting process so that we don't get these huge omnibus bills where everything is rolled into one ginormous bill that no one reads. Congress delays and stalls passing the 12 Appropriations bills all year long and then, minutes before the government is going to shut down, they put all the bills into one large omnibus bill and stick in all sorts of pork sweeteners to gain the votes of individual members. We don't find out what is in the bill until months later when someone reports on the more egregious elements. Instead Boehner is planning to break the appropriations bills down into many smaller bills. Members would have to go on record for each one of these funding bills and it would not be as easy to hide in extra spending.
House Republicans seem intent on blowing up the staid appropriations process when they take power in January — potentially upending the old bulls in both parties who have spent decades building their power over the federal budget.

The plans include slicing and dicing appropriations bills into dozens of smaller, bite-size pieces — making it easier to kill or slash unpopular agencies. Other proposals include statutory spending caps, weekly votes on spending cuts and other reforms to ensure spending bills aren’t sneakily passed under special rules.

On some level, their plans may create a sense of organized chaos on the House floor — picture dozens of votes on dozens of federal program cuts and likely gridlock on spending bills. And don’t forget that a lot of these efforts will die with a Democratic-led Senate and a Democrat in the White House.

But the intent is to force debate as much as to actually legislate — and make Old Guard Republicans and Democrats uncomfortable with a new way of thinking about the size and scope of government.
Those members whose power base comes from being on the Appropriations Committee are warning dire fates if they no longer have the ability to decide for everyone how money should be spent.
Insiders who have made a living under the old system are sure to push back, and many fear that Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) may not understand what he is doing.

“John should talk with the professional appropriators about the complexities, rather than talk off the top of his head. His plans would take a huge amount of the House’s time, but what would it accomplish?” said a dubious former House Republican member of the Appropriations Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ed Morrissey comments,
“Professional appropriators”? Houston, we’ve found our first problem. We don’t need “professional appropriators,” nor do we need “12 Cardinals” directing all of the spending — and aggrandizing their own personal power. It seems Boehner has a better idea of what he needs to do to reform the system than some on his team.
They don't get the budget passed under the procedures now in place. We're a few weeks away from the end of the session and they still haven't even brought up the budget for next year. So please don't try to convince us that any alteration in the present system is Armageddon. Let the House debate how it spends money. That's what people want - clarity and transparency. If the politicians are embarrassed in how they spend money, let them face the music.

And here's another welcome change. The House is going to do away with all the meaningless feel-good resolutions.
And next week the GOP plans to adopt a rule that will block a bill from coming to the floor if it "expresses appreciation, commends, congratulates, celebrates, recognizes the accomplishments of, or celebrates the anniversary of an entity, event, group, individual, institution, team or government program; or acknowledges or recognizes a period of time for such purposes."
Under Pelosi the House would spend time passing these empty resolutions, but then wouldn't have time for a full debate of bills such as the health care bill which was rushed through with minimum debate.
To understand the need for such a rule, it helps to better understand the status quo. Take March 19, 2010, which was a pretty important Friday: It was an ObamaCare turning point, with Speaker Pelosi locking down the final votes to pass the bill later that weekend. But the House wasn't debating health care.

Instead, Ms. Pelosi had packed the schedule with pointless resolutions. These included decrees honoring African-American scientists; the 50th anniversary of the exploration of Mariana Trench; the Detroit Catholic Central High School Division I state champion hockey team; and "the goals and ideals of National Women's History Month." It also named a post office in Virginia for Clarence D. Lumpkin and inducted a "national day of recognition" for the novelist Donald Harrington.

Republicans insisted on talking about the largest new entitlement since the Great Society, which resulted in more than a few beyond-parody moments. "The fact is we are honoring a great American novelist, but we have to divert that important conversation to focus on health care," said Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, according to the Congressional Record.

This kind of filler has become a routine Pelosi gambit so Democrats can avoid controversy, while sometimes it is simply a lack of quality control. The lame-duck Congress is moving all kinds of last-minute bills, but yesterday the House spent the better part of an hour on a resolution "honoring and saluting golf legend Chi Chi Rodriguez for his commitment to Latino youth programs."
Ending such silliness is a welcome change.

Now that the Republicans are altering the procedures, let's get down to debating the substance.