Taking the high road

TAKING THE HIGH ROAD…. In a Republican-led Congress, life in the minority was surprisingly unpleasant. Legislation was written without Democratic input; bills were passed without letting Democrats read it; Democrats’ bills were denied hearings and votes; they weren’t allowed to offer amendments to legislation; they weren’t even allowed to use hearing rooms. If Dems managed to win a key vote on the floor, Republicans would simply keep the vote open — literally for hours, if necessary — until enough arms could be twisted and/or lawmakers bribed. For the last several years, it was nothing short of humiliating.

Back in the majority, congressional Democrats have a choice: act like the Republicans acted for 12 years, or act the way a majority is supposed to act. The New York Times noted today that the new Dem leadership has decided to take the high road.

It all sounds very nice. Out of respect, Pelosi made sure Hastert got prime office space in the Capitol. She’s also reached out to House Minority Leader John Boehner on creating some task forces. The Times added that the new leadership has issued a statement of principles that “calls for regular consultation between the Democratic and Republican leaders on the schedule and operations of the House and declares that the heads of House committees should do the same.”

So, how will Republicans respond to these open and democratic conditions? We’ll see.

…Republicans are hoping Democrats stick to their guns and allow the minority a stronger voice on legislation. The opposition leadership said it would take the opportunity to put forward initiatives that could be potentially troublesome for newly elected Democrats in Republican-leaning districts who within months will have to defend their hard-won seats.

“There are going to be days when we will offer alternatives in ways that are going to be very appealing to Democrats in districts the president carried just two years ago,” said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, who will be the second-ranking House Republican in the 110th Congress.

Republicans see the ability to force tough votes — which they avoided in the majority by stifling Democratic alternatives — as having two potential benefits: It can put vulnerable Democrats on record with positions that might not be popular at home, or it can fracture the untested Democratic majority. Mr. Blunt noted that even senior Democrats who served in Congress when Democrats held control had no experience dealing with a relatively thin, 16-seat majority that will not allow many lawmakers to avoid tough votes.

I certainly like the idea of changing the way Congress operates; the last 12 years have been frequently ridiculous. But, as Kos noted, “This is an era of hardball politics, and the GOP clearly has no intention to play nice.” I suspect he’s right — and I hope Pelosi, Hoyer, & Co. keep it in mind.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.