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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And that's the way it's going to be from now on - no exceptions! Well, except this one time.

News Item from the NYT today:

Representative John A. Boehner, who on Wednesday will be sworn in as the new speaker, has made serious alterations in the rules. Members will vote on Wednesday on changes that ostensibly increase the transparency of lawmaking, but also consolidate Republican power over the budget process.

Mr. Boehner seeks to do away with large omnibus spending bills, preferring to break them into smaller bills, and to allow for more amendments on bills generally, and more extensive debate.

Members offering bills for new programs will have to explain how they will pay for them, not by raising new revenues but by finding other ways to cut costs. Each bill introduced will also have to cite the specific constitutional authority for its contents.

For the first time under the House rules, all bills will be required to be placed online. Committees will post their rules and their votes, as well as information about testifying witnesses in an effort to make public any conflicts of interest.

In an unusual grab of budgetary power, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee will be able to unilaterally set limits for categories of domestic spending until a budget resolution is passed this spring, as a budget enforcement measure.

Some of Mr. Boehner’s more notable proposals concern the transparency and speed with which bills are going to be considered. The Republicans are committed to making all legislation available to lawmakers, and the public, at least three days before a House vote; in large part, this is a response to the late-night revisions made to the energy bill, among others, that was decried by Republicans.

Before bills are marked up — a sacred practice that allows lawmakers to change the content of bills — three days’ notice must be given, also to stave off dark-of-night revisions.

Requiring bills to be placed online is “very, very unusual and groundbreaking,” said Muftiah McCartin, a former staff director of the House Committee on Rules.

Republicans have also pledged to have an open rule on all spending bills, which means that members of both parties will be able to offer more amendments and have more debate, which in theory would lead to more scrutiny for each government agency seeking financing.

Let the record show that I strongly agree with all these ideas. And I hope they stick to them. Nancy Pelosi said she was going to do many of the same things, but not right away, when she became Speaker. But then she told us that there were some things she wanted to get done right away before she made substantive changes. But John Boehner is going to be different.

Or is he? Read on:

A big exception will be the bill to repeal the health care law that House Republicans plan to bring up next week. That bill will not be subject to amendments, nor will Republicans have to abide by their own new rules that compel them to offset the cost of new bills that add to the deficit; the health care repeal and tax cuts are not subject to this new rule.

Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, had hoped to propose an amendment to the health care repeal legislation to provide for an up-or-down vote on several major components of the law. The components include elimination of lifetime limits on care, coverage of individuals up to age 26 on their parents’ health care plans, the banning of discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions and free preventive care for older Americans.

Democrats are displeased.

As should everyone else be.

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