Speaker John Boehner said late Friday that he had no regrets about using a largely open process for debating a fiscal 2011 continuing resolution, insisting it was necessary to reverse 20 years of damage done to the House by more controlling Speakers.
“It was just 20 years of watching leaders tighten down the process, tighten down the process, tighten down the process, trying to reconfigure all the rules in order for them to pass their agenda, the leader’s agenda. That is not my job,” the Ohio Republican told reporters.
By Friday night, the House had worked through hundreds of amendments and held scores of votes during a four-day marathon that stretched late into the night and often hinged on arcane provisions of the federal code.
Republicans did restrict amendments from the outset to proposals that would cut spending. Even so, hundreds of amendments were accepted, from Democrats and Republicans alike.
The debate has had a number of heated moments, but the two parties have largely been cordial in hashing out their philosophical differences over spending and federal regulatory controls.
“We’re different than any other country in the world. All the strife and all the differences all get fought out right on the floor of the House. And when they don’t get fought out there, it’s like allowing the steam to build up in a teakettle. And then you’re going to have a real problem,” Boehner said, referencing the tea party movement.
Boehner has been pleased with the results so far, he said.
“This is democracy in action,” Boehner said late Friday as his colleagues slogged through more than a dozen votes on the floor.
He acknowledged that the decision to use an open process on the continuing resolution resulted in a steep learning curve for the new Republican majority. He quipped that it was like “diving off the 50-foot diving board on your first dive.”
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had hoped to complete the bill by 3 p.m. Thursday in order to meet his scheduled adjournment time for the President’s Day recess. But after Members filed more than 500 amendments, it quickly became clear that the schedule would not be realistic. Although there had been some early discussion of curtailing votes on amendments, Republicans opted to let the process play itself out and blow past Cantor’s deadline.
The decision means the House is all but certain to be in session Saturday — forcing a rare weekend session that the GOP has criticized Democrats for holding in the past — but Boehner insisted it was worth it.
“I think everybody recognized that allowing all the Members to go through this exercise and this process and this debate was more important than hitting the time or the schedule,” he said.
“I’ve had not one Democrat nor one Republican say one negative thing about the whole process,” Boehner added, noting that “dozens and dozens” of Members have expressed support for the open amendment process.
“Here it is, a Friday night at 9 o’clock, and almost nobody is complaining. ... Yes, there was a lot of pent-up demand. A lot. More than anyone could have expected,” Boehner said.
Whether the process was a success remains to be seen — the bill would also have to work its way through the Senate. The two chambers are expected to engage in a difficult conference committee to work out a compromise, and it is far from clear whether Boehner and Cantor will be able to sell their ideologically strident Conference on anything that falls short of their promised $100 billion in cuts to President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request.
But for now, Boehner is pleased with his process.
“I’ve never believed anything otherwise,” he said. “I’m proud of this moment.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.