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Go Nowhere Faster!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

In the rush to pass their Six for '06 in the first 100 hours, House Democrats allowed speedy governance to trump smart governance.

As promised, Democrats successfully passed six key bills through the House of Representatives within 100 hours of the start of the 110th Congress. They claim that this legislative success shows that they can govern. But this successful public relations bauble was a policy-making failure.

It is easy for the majority party in the House to get its legislation passed; the majority can limit both legislative debate and the ability of the minority to offer amendments. House Democrats, who have been complaining for years that these powers lead to less thoughtful lawmaking, nonetheless have been quick to use them.

327_2710 by Flicker user dbkingThough the Democrats have great power in the House to implement their agenda, their power is significantly less in the Senate and Republicans control the White House. Because the views of House Republicans were not taken into account, the Democrats have given Senate Republicans and the White House ample reason to seek substantial changes to the legislation passed in the House or to oppose it altogether, either through filibusters in the Senate or through a Presidential veto. Indeed, Presidential vetoes have already been promised for two of the six bills passed (a bill raising taxes on domestic oil companies and a stem-cell research bill). Republicans also used the recent debate over an ethics package to push for earmark reform—with help from sympathetic bloggers—and to reintroduce the idea of giving the President line-item veto authority.

The Democrats’ 100 hour agenda would have had a greater chance of becoming law if they had been more accommodating to the concerns and ideas of House Republicans. We’ll never know, but it couldn’t have hurt to have tried.

There is no reason to boast about the way in which legislation was passed through the House. Despite having promised to work with Republicans in a bipartisan fashion, the Democrats decided early on to sideline Republicans from the legislative process by preventing Republicans from offering alternatives to Democratic proposals. And while Democrats promise that they will be more inclusive now that the 100 hours phase of legislation has come to an end, this beginning does not bode well for bipartisan cooperation in the House.

When they ran the House, Republicans ruled with the same iron fist the Democrats are using now. But the voting public can perhaps be forgiven if they feel a little betrayed by the Democrats’ already-broken promise to include the Republican minority in the legislative process. After all, it wasn’t long ago when Democrats were complaining about being an “oppressed minority.”

Not a single committee hearing was held on complicated topics like the minimum wage and the cutting of student loan interest rates. While sentiment in the House was overwhelmingly in favor of those proposals—who wants to be portrayed as having voted against paying the working poor more money or giving students a break as they struggle to pay back their loans?—perhaps committee hearings should have been held to give minimum wage opponents a chance to make the case against a wage hike, or to show how cutting student loan rates may not be the best of ideas, whatever the intentions behind those ideas may be. Would it have hurt to have had this kind of debate? Is it really right that very complicated legislative proposals should have been allowed to sail through the House of Representatives without even a cursory examination regarding the impact of such legislation?

Now that all the hoopla surrounding the first 100 hours has subsided, maybe we can ask why it is that so many people—including members of the press corps—equated speedy legislating with smart legislating.

Image by Flicker user dbking

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