With an expanded majority in the 111th Congress Speaker Pelosi has decided to revisit a fight she lost in May of 2007.
At the time it was only a few months into the new Congress, but Democrats had become frustrated with the Republicans success in forcing votes on tough issues. Unable to maintain control under the same rules Hillary Clinton had famously accused Republicans of using to run the House, "like a plantation ... in a way so that nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard," they decided to take the extraordinary step of altering the rules mid-session to limit debate.
As Politico described the plan,"Democrats suggested changing the House rules to limit the minority's right to offer motions to recommit bills back to committee -- violating a protection that has been in place since 1822." This power grab provoked an immediate backlash, with Republicans essentially shutting down the chamber by forcing a series of procedural votes on the House floor. In the face of such a strong response the Democrats backed down and withdrew the proposal.
But it appears that Speaker Pelosi was merely biding her time. With the start of the 111th Congress this week Democrats unveiled a package of rules changes that go far beyond what they were attempting in 2007. While clearly outling their opposition House Republicans were unable to prevent the rules from being adopted on a nearly party line vote of 242-181 with only 6 Democrats finding the courage to vote against their party.
These new rules: limit the right of the minority to offer motions to recommit; abolish term limits on Committee Chairs, returning the House to the pre-1995 status quo where powerful chairs refused to relinquish power, serving until death or retirement; weaken the pay-go rules that Democrats campaigned on in 2006; and reverse the prohibition on votes being held open for the purpose of changing the outcome.
This is in stark contrast to the many promises Democrats made before taking power, such as Steny Hoyer's statement that, "We intend to have a Rules Committee … that gives opposition voices and alternative proposals the ability to be heard and considered on the floor of the House" (CongressDaily PM, 12/5/2006) and Nancy Pelosi's pledge, "...to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history." It also violates the spirit of their campaign document 'A New Direction for America' published in June of 2006 that outlined a Congress that would work for all Americans instead of simply a narrow constituency.