By EDWARD EPSTEIN
San Francisco Chronicle
January 25, 2007
Instead, three weeks into a session in which the strong-willed Pelosi has rammed through important legislation and major rule changes, increasingly exasperated and angry Republicans are asking when the new Democratic speaker and her leadership team will keep their pledge to create a less-partisan, more-open atmosphere.
Democrats counter that their much-ballyhooed "Six for '06" legislative package, which included items such as raising the minimum wage and fostering embryonic stem cell research, was a hurried exception to the deliberative, inclusive fashion in which they expect to run the House over the next two years. They also say that the same Republicans guilty of heavy-handed behavior when they ran the House shouldn't be so quick to criticize the new majority just getting its feet wet.
"Whine me a river," one senior Democratic House aide said, referring to GOP gripes.
Republicans remain skeptical. "Yeah, the check is in the mail," joked Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the House's No. 2 Republican, when asked if he expects Democrats to start acting in the respectful manner they said the GOP should act during the 12 years Pelosi and her colleagues spent chafing in the minority.
Pelosi made restoration of civility in the often-stridently partisan House a keystone of her campaign. She sent then-Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., a letter last fall laying out how she would treat the minority if her party took power. And she made congressional manners a separate section in the "New Direction for America," her campaign manifesto.
The Californian promised that bills "should be developed following full hearings" in committees and "open, full and fair debate" with a full amendment process.
Pelosi's stand for better behavior came after years in the minority in which Democrats said Republicans pulled all kind of stunts designed to marginalize them - barring them from offering amendments on the floor, rewriting bills without the minority's participation, giving members little or no time to study or even read bills before voting, holding votes open for lengthy periods to twist arms and blocking Democrats from participating in the all-important conference committees that reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation.
But in the early rush to adopt new rules for the 110th Congress and push through the initial legislative agenda, Pelosi's pledge of good government standards have gone by the wayside at least temporarily, providing fodder for the Republicans.
"I've done everything I can to reach out to the speaker and the majority leader," House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio said on the House floor Wednesday just before the final vote on the latest bill that the GOP cried was being pushed through without committee hearings. "But it seems that over the last three weeks, every time we offer the hand of bipartisanship it is slapped way."
Wednesday's bill, which drew heated Republican opposition, gave partial voting rights on the House floor to the elected delegates from the four U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as well as the District of Columbia. It passed 226-191 on a mostly party-line vote.
Democrats had enacted a similar bill, the first time a congressional vote was given to representatives other than those from the 50 states, when they held the majority in 1993-94. But when Republicans took over in 1995, they rescinded the territories' vote.
Democrats say giving the five representatives the right to vote when the House sits as "a committee of the whole House on the state of the union" is an extension of voting rights and an issue of basic fairness.
They also pointed out that the delegates' votes are partly symbolic because, to satisfy the Constitution, the bill provides that if any vote falls within the five-vote margin created by adding the new members, the House would immediately vote again without the five delegates to make a final decision.
Republicans say giving the four delegates from the territories a vote is "representation without taxation" because residents of the territories don't pay federal income taxes. Washington, D.C., residents do.
But again their main objections were procedural.
"My plea to the majority is to simply let us go through the process of deliberations. Let us go through committee hearings. Let us hear from thoughtful scholars on issues," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., GOP Rules Committee chairman until this year.
This was too much for the Democrats. "I could stand here all day, all year, listing occasion after occasion on which the then-majority broke the rules of this House," said Rules Committee member Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.
House committees are still getting organized and have just started to debate and vote on bills that will be sent to the House.
An early test of Pelosi's promise will come Wednesday when House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the chamber will consider a sweeping continuing resolution. The legislation will pay for much of the federal government's operations for the rest of the fiscal year, through Sept. 30, because the old Congress failed to complete work on most appropriations bills.
Hoyer said the bipartisan leaders
of the Appropriations Committee are working together on the bill
and seemed to pledge there wouldn't be any surprises for the
minority when the debate occurs.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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