Elections have consequences

ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES…. Just last week, the New York Times ran a lengthy item about how much better Congress, and particularly the House, will function under the new Democratic majority. It all sounded quite pleasant — no more middle-of-the-night votes on key bills, no more restrictions on the minority offering amendments, no more single-party conference committees.

It’s a new day in a new Congress, and Democrats are poised to run the place as it should be run. That is, just as soon as Dems check a few items off their to-do list.

As they prepare to take control of Congress this week and face up to campaign pledges to restore bipartisanship and openness, Democrats are planning to largely sideline Republicans from the first burst of lawmaking.

House Democrats intend to pass a raft of popular measures as part of their well-publicized plan for the first 100 hours. They include tightening ethics rules for lawmakers, raising the minimum wage, allowing more research on stem cells and cutting interest rates on student loans.

But instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.

The context of the 100-hour rules matters. Dems spent the better part of the 2006 campaign cycle promising to anyone who would listen that they’d pass a modest-but-popular legislative agenda at the outset of the 110th Congress. The bills on the agenda aren’t exactly new — they’ve been part of the policy debate on the Hill literally for years. It’s not as if the new Democratic majority was going to overhaul the national health care system without any committee hearings; the 100-hour agenda items have already been part of the legislative process.

There’s obviously a bit of a conflict. House Dems promised to use certain procedural rules, and they promised to pass certain bills. In the very short term, they can’t do both, so they decided to pass the policy agenda first. I can’t say I blame them.

Also keep in mind, the 1,500-word front-page piece in the Post was noteworthy for what it didn’t include: a single complaint from a congressional Republican. Some conservative blogs aren’t happy, and maybe the Post reporters didn’t try hard enough, but not one GOP lawmaker was quoted expressing outrage at the Democrats’ plan to push through a relatively modest 100-hour agenda. I’m not surprised — House Republicans no doubt expected this, and for that matter, they can’t very well complain about Dems using the rules temporarily exactly the way Republicans used them permanently.

Ultimately, as the GOP said quite a bit over the last six years, elections really do have consequences.