The House Rules Committee, Hastert and One Party Jihad (07/28/06)

Image reproduced courtesy of HAIL DUBYUS! copyright 2004.

This  cartoon, “Jabba the Hastert”  at Hail Dubyas on December 4, 2004 is  from “Gregorius alexandrinus, pictor mendacrium stultorumque” (Gregory of Alexandria–painter of liars and idiots.)  I found the cartoon after writing my entry, but Gregorious was was reacting to same front page story I read  on House Speaker Dennis Hastert  “majority of the  majority policy ” by Washington Post staff writer  Charles Babington  “Hastert Launches a Partisan Policy” which ran November 27, 2004.

In November of 2004, Hastert ditched the  intelligence legislation  which he, Bush and the majority of Congress supported, doing so in the name of his partisan “majority the majority” policy.  Congress would only pass bills which most House Repuliblicans backed. This policy probably resulted in the time spent debating four amendments to the  reauthorization of the expiring portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When he needed Democrats’ votes  to defeat the amendments and pass the bill in an election year,  rather than be embarrassed, Hastert blinked.

Shortly after 9:30 am yesterday, Bush signed the bill to great fanfare on the south lawn of the White House, surrounded by representatives of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute and the families of  Fannie Lou Hamer and Coretta Scott King, for whom the bill was named.   Civil rights leaders Dr. Dorothy Height, Julian Bond,  Bruce Gordon,  Reverend Joseph Lowery (co-founder of Southern Christian Leadership Conference) , Marc Morial,  Juanita Abernathy,  Jesse Jackson,  Al Sharpton, amd  Dr. Benjamin and Frances  Hooks also attended.

But by 4:54 that afternoon,  it was back to the usual power plays.  Time running out before the House recess, the Rules Committee reported  Doc Hastings (R-WA)  H.RES. 958 by voice vote which would scuttle clause 6(a) of rule XIII requiring a two-thirds vote to consider a rule on the same day it is reported from the committee..  The measures to be considered today:

  • the conference report on H.R. 2830, to amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, changing pension funding rules (The House had refused to accept Senator Frist’s amendment in the nature of a substitute);

  • the bill repealing the sunset provisions of the repeal of the estate tax and increasing the unified credit to exclude $5 million dollars; and

  • the rather vaguely worded description:  “A bill to provide economic security for all Americans, and for other purposes.

The committee had already issued Bishop (R-UT) a similar rule, H.RES.951,  at 11:12 , the previous night to permit consideration of the first two measures on July 27.  

Now, at some time today (Thomas doesn’t have the bill back from the GPO yet, as I write this at 8:10 p.m.)  the House Rules Committee has reported out by a voice vote  H.Res. 966,  

Resolved,  That upon the adoption of this resolution it shall be in order without intervention of any point of order to consider in the House the bill (H.R. 5970) to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to increase the unified credit against the estate tax to an exclusion equivalent of $5,000,000, to repeal the sunset provision for the estate and generation-skipping taxes, and to extend expiring provisions, and for other purposes. The bill shall be considered as read. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill to final passage without intervening motion except: (1) one hour of debate equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Ways and Means; and (2) one motion to recommit.

Sec. 2. Upon the adoption of this resolution it shall be in order without intervention of any point of order to consider in the House the bill (H.R. 4) to provide economic security for all Americans, and for other purposes. The bill shall be considered as read. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill to final passage without intervening motion except: (1) one hour of debate equally divided among and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Ways and Means and the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce; and (2) one motion to recommit.

The text of H.R, 5970 is likewise not yet available.  Now we know the vaguely worded lanuguage about financial security for Americans is H.R. 4, also unavailable.    

Today,  MacArthur “genius award” fellow  Robert Greenstein, founding Executive Director of Austin’s  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released his analysis, “House leadeership invokes ‘martial law’ forcing members to vote on key bills without full knowledge of what they are voiting on: move reporesent erosion of the democratic process.”

The report is well worth reading.  In it he speculates  that H.R. 4  

 could combine a controversial health insurance proposal with an increase in the minimum wage (there also are reports that the estate tax, minimum wage, and expiring tax provisions may be combined into a single bill. 

What a difference time makes.  Remember Hastert’s speech January 6, 1999, after taking over his position from Newt Gingrich?   

Solutions to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness. They can be found in an environment in which we trust one another’s word; where we generate heat and passion, but where we recognize that each member is equally important to our overall mission of improving the life of the American people. In short, I believe all of us – regardless of party – can respect one another, even as we fiercely disagree on particular issues.

He told Democrats,

I will meet you halfway – maybe more so on occasion …These are not Democratic or Republican issues. They are American issues. We should be able to reach agreement quickly on the goals. Yes, we will argue about the means, but if we are in earnest about our responsibilities, we will find common ground and get the job done. In the process, we will build the people’s faith in the United States Congress

 The New York Times‘s Katharine Seelye’s article that date “Hastert Is Sworn In as 51st Speaker and Puts Forth a Conciliatory Tone” which ran on page A25 detailed the Democrats’s hopes for the new regime.  (The Times charges for this article, but Virginians with library cards can access the text from  E’Library at  Find it Virginia.  Check to see if your local library or college subscribes to eLibrary or another media database, if you live elsewhere.) Hastert had invited  Dick Gephardt (D-MO)  the Democratic leader to remain at the podium during his speach.  As he  the gavel to  Hastert, Gephardt said,

Let’s bury the hatchet.

Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) was even warmer.

I’m encouraged because I know Dennis Hastert.  the rancor and raw partisanship and nastiness to which the House sunk in December shocked members of both parties. And I think that many on both sides of the aisle want to start reaching out to deal with the issues that voters sent us here to talk about.

But  his handling of the intelligence bill was, according to Babington’s Washington Post story,  the   

latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats’ influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year’s intelligence package.

The steps continue.  Hastert doesn’t listen to Democrats.  Which Republican, priviledged by this one-party jihad, has the guts remind  Hastert of his inaugural comments and vote “no” on these special rules and return the House to its purpose as the representation of the people?

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