Parties Spar Over Memo on Rules

Posted June 5, 2007 at 6:38pm

A Democratic memorandum touting the bipartisanship of House operations had the opposite effect Tuesday, sparking a new round of partisan snipping on Capitol Hill.

In a letter to be distributed at today’s Republican Conference meeting, Rules ranking member David Dreier (Calif.) will dispute Democrats’ claims of managing a House that provides greater equality to the minority party.

“Don’t fall for it. The report put forward by Majority Leader Hoyer’s office is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors attempt to conceal their sorry chain of broken promises,” an excerpt from the letter, provided to Roll Call, states.

In the memorandum, issued Tuesday by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Democratic leaders sought to highlight the majority’s bipartisan efforts at each stage of the legislative process, ranging from committee action to the rule-making process to the House floor. The memorandum comes as Democrats push back against Republican charges that the majority is abusing its newfound power.

“Democrats are operating the House of Representatives in a more bipartisan, fair, and civil manner than it was run during 12 years of Republican rule,” the document states.

Among the highlights, Democrats point to their use of “open rules,” parameters for debate that allow the consideration of unlimited amendments on the House floor.

According to the Democratic tally, eight of the 43 rules approved through May 15 were “open,” compared to only three in same period in 2005 under GOP control.

But Republicans dispute the statistics used by Democrats, asserting that the majority should not be allowed to count “modified open rules,” or those that require amendments to be pre-printed in the Congressional record.

“They are touting eight open rules, but seven of the eight are restricted,” said GOP Rules spokeswoman Jo Maney. “They have changed the definition from modified-open to open with a pre-printing requirement.”

“They’re altering definitions to justify their promises,” Maney later added, citing Democratic complaints about such pre-printing requirements used in the 109th Congress.

In addition, Republicans offered their own statistics, showing that the then-Republican majority offered 22 open rules — including appropriations measures — and two modified open rules through May 25, 2005, compared to Democrats’ combined total of eight such rules in the same time period this year.

Democrats countered those assertions, however, arguing their statistics included a fair comparison. “We consider open rules with the pre-printing requirement to be open rules because anybody who wants to submit an amendment is free to do so,” said Democratic Rules spokesman John Santore.

He added: “Regardless of how you define it, if you take away appropriations measures … they only had three open rules in the entire 109th Congress. … We have already had eight so that record is very clear.”

Democratic aides did acknowledge their document could have offered a broader picture of minority-party-sponsored amendments made in order by the Rules Committee, but were excluded because the Democrats’ cutoff date was May 15, when the research on the report was compiled, and not May 25, the final day before the Memorial Day recess.

While the Democratic-provided statistics count a total of 60 GOP-sponsored amendments made in order through May 15, Republicans note those figures would rise to 63 of 271 amendments submitted when taken through May 25.

Similarly, under those parameters, Republicans had made in order 75 minority-sponsored amendments in the 109th Congress of 298 submitted, significantly more than the 51 cited in the Democratic report.

Nonetheless, Republicans have offered a host of related complaints tied to the Rules process as well as appropriations and earmarks.

The Democratic memo “conveniently excludes their list of closed rules, their turning away members at the door of the Rules Committee, and their redefinition of what is an open rule,” Dreier’s letter states. “The truth is, 98% of what the Rules Committee has reported this Congress has been closed or restricted. They have become in less than 5 months everything they campaigned against.”

In addition to complaints over the Democratic majority’s use of five closed rules on the opening day of the 110th Congress — measures that Democrats have asserted were fully vetted in the 109th Congress, and had GOP support — Republicans also have pointed out that the only bill to be approved to date in the 110th under an open rule without pre-printing requirements was passed on suspension in the previous Congress, asserting it is not an example of legislation that requires significant debate.

“A lot of these bills that they are doing are bills that would normally be suspensions,” Maney said. “They’re really noncontroversial things.”

But a Hoyer spokeswoman largely dismissed Republican complaints as sour grapes.

“Republicans lost the election in part because of their total lack of bipartisanship and ability to run the House in a civil manner,” said Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Farnen Bernards. “They are now doing what they can to say that Democrats are cut from the same cloth that they are, which is to be expected, but is certainly not an accurate reflection of Democratic leadership.”