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Open Rules

Jeff's right, we should be talking more about the long report (PDF) out from Rep. Slaughter's office documenting the broken promises and abuses of power that have taken place under the Republican congress. This stuff is outrageous, and as Slaughter's team meticulously details it really is worse than it has been at any time in recent history. Openrules
This chart shows the proportion of bills considered under the open rule that "allows Members with germane, properly-drafted amendments to bring their amendments to the floor, debate them under the five-minute rule, and call for votes on them if they desire." After taking power in the 1994 elections, the GOP Rules Committee chairman promised to try and bump the number of open rule votes up to 70 percent. Instead, it's gone consistently down. For all the vast, stinking piles of ink that have been spilled bemoaning the decline of bipartisanship in Washington, remarkably little attention has been played to the role of these kinds of antics in making it happen. How are deals supposed to get made if members can't offer deal-making amendments? More ot the point, if you're a member and you know that amendments important to you and your district won't even be considered -- ever -- unless the leadership wants to let you, then you're never going to break with the leadership. The ability to have debates on germane amendments is absolutely vital to the sustainance of a healthy legislature.

March 9, 2005 | Permalink


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Looking at what Democrats thought were "germane" amendments during the debate on the Lawful Commerce act last March, I can't say I'm suprised. But, still, there's no denying that a lot of promised procedural reforms never happened, or even got rolled back.

As you may have noticed, the bunch who organized that takeover in '94 are no longer in power.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Mar 9, 2005 1:47:30 PM

Brett: Indeed, many of the '94ers have lost power, but if you bother to, say, look at the chart, you'll see that the decline began immediately and the proposed reforms were never implemented at all. They promised to make things better, took power, re-iterated their promises, then made things worse, then lost power to people who made things even worse.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Mar 9, 2005 1:56:32 PM

Mmmm... stinking piles of ink.

Posted by: infirm | Mar 9, 2005 2:00:17 PM

Frankly, I don't understand why they promised all of these things in '94 anyway. Much better to have simply said that Democrats abused their majority status for 40 years, now it's payback time; and maybe 40 years after 1994, when the Democrats have been paid back in full, people can talk about improving the process.

Instead, Gingrich et al tried for this lofty, feelgood rhetoric about improving the process, which every so often comes back to bite the Republicans on the behind. Luckily, nobody but nobody outside the beltway cares about open or closed rules.

Posted by: Al | Mar 9, 2005 2:07:08 PM

this lofty, feelgood rhetoric about improving the process, which every so often comes back to bite the Republicans on the behind.

Well, if you don't actually believe in what you are spewing, that can happen.

Posted by: Adrock | Mar 9, 2005 2:25:24 PM

Matt, you've been had.

You'll notice that this graph doesn't include the 103rd Congress, which was the last one run by Democrats. The percentage of open rules in the 103rd Congress: 30%.

So the graph, expanded to include one additional piece of relevant data, would show a sharp increase in open rules in the 104th, followed by the decline that we see in the chart above.

To say that the proposed reforms were never implemented at all is a horrible misreading of the facts. As is a suggestion that the Gingrich Congresses were worse than those preceding Congresses--they weren't. In fact they were better every time.

And to suggest that a decline from 30% open rules in the 103rd to 22% open rules in the 108th is something important and worthy of comment seems ridiculous.

Posted by: Thomas | Mar 9, 2005 2:25:57 PM

Yeah, Matt, a lot of the reform promises were lies, (Look at the way the ballanced budget amendment, and term limits amendment, were staged so that people could vote for them, without any risk they'd ever get enough votes for the states to have a shot at ratifying them. Pure theater.) but it's also that the reformers never had that solid a grip to begin with. The Empire Struck Back almost immediately.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Mar 9, 2005 2:30:48 PM

Thomas -

Do you have a cite for the 30% figure? I'm curious.

Posted by: Jon K | Mar 9, 2005 2:38:57 PM

Other than the unwarranted hysteria surrounding 9/11 (it changed nothing, nukes in terrorist's hands has always been the fear; securing USSR's and stopping the Pakistanis has been neglected by Dems and Repubs) the increasing uncivility in civic life, starting at the top, will be recalled as the hallmark of the Bush years.

Bush has honed the strategy of finding fault lines in the electorate that distinguish Dems from Repubs and exploiting them.

Posted by: epistemology | Mar 9, 2005 2:55:07 PM

Thomas --

The percentage for open rules in the 103rd House was 58%. The rate that year for all non-appropriations bills open to amendments was 30, but that's not what this chart is showing -- it's showing percentages for open rules on both approps- and non-approps-related bills. So, from the 103rd and 104th congresses, the open rules figure dropped from 58 to 45%.

If you want to focus on non-approps open rules, fine: The figure was 30% under the dastardly Dems of the 103rd. Under the Republicans in the 108th, the figure is 5.7%.

Posted by: Sam Rosenfeld | Mar 9, 2005 3:27:16 PM

How about some specific, sourced examples of abuses committed by the majority Democrats so we can compare them to the current Republican abuses?

Without them this is just the typical troll whine that "well they did it first." I look forward to the examples but it seems highly doubtful that they rise to the level of trying to have Democrats arrested by the Capitol police for disagreeing in committee, or the Speaker threatening political retribution against the son of one of the House members in order to pass the Medicare bill. Or purging the entire staff entrusted with investigating the ethics violations against Delay, not to mention the committee chair. Or physically preventing Dems from reading the bills they're being asked to vote on. Et alia.

Posted by: glitter | Mar 9, 2005 3:46:03 PM

How hard is it to make a graph with the Y-axis crossing at zero? The recent chart of African life expectency was similarly flawed. At first glance it appears the open rules percentage here is almost at zero. Sets off my spin alarms.

-John I

Posted by: John I | Mar 9, 2005 4:28:17 PM

"Or physically preventing Dems from reading the bills they're being asked to vote on."

Sorry, THAT one has been fairly common for quite a long time. Not in the sense that if you got your hands on a copy of the bill they'd tackle you and take it away, but simply in the sense that the vote would be held without the text of the bill having been destributed to everyone, or often even written out.

Another Democratic abuse I can testify to, having watched it on CSPAN, was the practice of holding fake voice votes. "All in favor say Aye, all opposed say Nay, the Ayes have it!" being one word... Again, something Republicans do, too, but they learned it from you.

Then there's the longstanding practice, of calling the Senate "into session" without warning during a break, or in the middle of the night, and conducting business by "unanimous" voice vote to keep the absense of a quorum from being recorded. Once again, Republicans do it, too, but they learned from the masters.

The only peculiarly Democratic abuse I can recall, and this dates back to when you REALLY dominated Congress, was that business of not bothering to invite Republicans to committee meetings. But that stopped with you lost your filibuster proof majorty some time ago.

There's a bit of an asymetry here, of course, since all the Democratic abuses were over a decade ago, pre-internet, and require anyone who wants to research them to do a huge amount of physical accessing of records at libraries, reading yellowing old newspapers, and the like, while the Republican abuses, (Which are very real, and I've raged at them myself.) are post-internet; You can document them in a matter of seconds with a search engine.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Mar 9, 2005 4:34:15 PM

Sam Rosenfeld-

In the report, on p12 they quote, without contradicting, an R congressman who says 70% of the rules in the 103rd congress were closed or restricted (implying 30% open).

Posted by: Ugh | Mar 9, 2005 4:34:17 PM

John -- I think the same thing every time I see a market report on the NY Times website. The way they skew the chart always makes dips look less severe and gains look more massive.

Posted by: mdk | Mar 9, 2005 4:53:10 PM

John -- How hard is it to read a graph whose origin is not (0, 0)? Did you also expect the X axis to begin with the 0th Congress? And the Y axis to end at 100%? The graph is presented in the way it is because the data of interest lies in the range [20%,70%], the domain [104th Congress, 108th Congress]. Data outside of those intervals are spurious, which either requires the graph to be physically larger or more cluttered.

Anyway, no doubt: had they extended the Y axis in the way you request, someone else would've come along asking, "How hard is it to restrict the graph to the area with data points of interest in it?"

Posted by: dak | Mar 9, 2005 5:23:39 PM

Of course the daddy of all abuse of majority was the Republicans' impeaching of Clinton. Did they learn that from the Democrats?

Posted by: epistemology | Mar 9, 2005 5:27:51 PM

From the pdf, a quote from these "reformers of the 108th:

108th Congress Republicans vow:

“the full and free airing of conflicting opinions through hearings, debates, and amendments for the purpose of developing and improving legislation deserving of the respect and support of the people.”

It is not just the Congress that has failed to live up to this, Bush has been the most anti-democratic president in memory. From detention without trial, to torture, by proxy and by US intelligence, phony reporters, the disappearance of documents from websites, and outright lying to Congress (as in the Medicare bill's costs), to bullying opponents with charges of treason, to the treasonous use of secret info to discredit opponents (Plame), attempts to minimize the number of Americans who vote, rare news conferences, etc, etc. This administration and its supporters have done exactly the opposite of the honest airing of conflicting opinions. It will take years to collate the anti-democratic abuses. Indefensible.

Posted by: epistemology | Mar 9, 2005 5:44:45 PM

Ugh --

I know they do, and that's too bad! They probably thought it was too small-bore to belabor the fact that the Republican was referring to non-approps rules. They do note, however, in footnote 19 on that same page, the distinction between approps and non-approps-related rules, and the fact that their chart includes both. As the Globe series reported in October:
But the number of bills open to revision dwindled to 57 percent overall and to 30 percent for nonappropriations bills in 1993-94, the last Congress controlled by Democrats, a denial of process so serious that it led the late Representative Gerald Solomon, a New York Republican, to pledge that the incoming Republicans would make the vast majority of bills open. But the opposite has happened.I meant 57 and wrote 58 in the last comment -- apologies for that.

Posted by: Sam Rosenfeld | Mar 9, 2005 5:48:26 PM

"Bush has been the most anti-democratic president in memory. " Of somebody who's fairly young, or suffering from Alzheimer's, maybe. He's got a ways to go before he's anywhere near as bad as FDR.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Mar 9, 2005 5:55:13 PM

Sam Rosenfeld-

Appendix V says 36% for the 103rd.

I don't disagree with you, you're obviously much closer to all this than I am, it's just that I would have thought that they would have highlighted the fact that 103 was much better than 104 (using the same counting method) if the difference was so stark (maybe they do in some other section of the report, I haven't read it all).

Especially because it was the R's first congress after complaining so vociferously about how they were treated under the D's, and given all the promises they made about treating the minority better.

And the two data points I reference seem much more obvious to me, reading without much knowledge of the House's operations, than your point about fn 19 (again, not saying you're wrong).

Posted by: Ugh | Mar 9, 2005 6:08:29 PM

This document seems to indicate that the number was at about 34 percent during the 102nd Congress. In the 95th, it was as high as 85 percent. Portman implies that the decline was steady until the date he makes this report (1994). I would really like to see this graph run back about twenty years before anyone draws rash conclusions.

Posted by: tbrosz | Mar 9, 2005 8:34:06 PM

"Bush has been the most anti-democratic president in memory... the disappearance of documents from websites..."

To be completely fair, the Website Era has seen only two presidents thus far.

Posted by: Grumpy | Mar 9, 2005 9:34:25 PM

Though I'd be a bit more impressed with the Republicans if they'd change the robot.txt files for all the government's web domains so that they're not telling search engines to stay away...

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Mar 9, 2005 9:53:51 PM

"but simply in the sense that the vote would be held without the text of the bill having been destributed to everyone"

Bullshit, Brett.

True, very few legislators read the actual text of any bills, so it is rarely "distributed to everyone."

BUT, staff reads conference or committee reports, and refers to actual text, which has ALWAYS been AVAILABLE before the floor vote.

Posted by: Brautigan | Mar 9, 2005 10:21:04 PM

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