Politics & Policy

The House of Pelosi

"Culture of corruption"?

The official biography of Speaker Nancy Pelosi says:

Pelosi has pledged to restore integrity and civility to the People’s House and preside over the most honest and open Congress in history. As Leader, Pelosi authored principles for civility to reduce partisanship in House operations and to   ensure the rights of the minority in all House activity. 

Pelosi recently had a chance to prove her commitment to these principles. John Murtha (D., Pa.), a Pelosi ally, threatened Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) for objecting to a pork-barrel project. Murtha, chair of the defense-appropriations subcommittee, told Rogers: “I hope you don’t have any earmarks in the defense-appropriations bills because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever.”

This threat seemed to be a clear violation of House rules, which forbid members from granting or withholding an earmark on the basis on a colleague’s vote. Rogers introduced a resolution to reprimand Murtha. If Pelosi really meant to restore integrity and civility, she would have supported the resolution. She didn’t. On a near party-line vote, the House tabled the resolution, thus killing it without debate. According to Politico.com: “During the vote, Murtha sat in a darkened corner of the House floor, laughing with colleagues who surrounded him.”

Murtha (who privately apologized to Rogers after this show of force) had good reason for confidence. Pelosi had never been serious about the high-minded principles that she described. During the 2006 campaign, CBS’s Lesley Stahl reported: “Pelosi has called her Republican colleagues `immoral’ and `corrupt,’ and has said they’re running a criminal enterprise.” In an interview, Stahl also mentioned that Pelosi had called President Bush “incompetent.” She asked: “How does this raise the level of civility?”

Pelosi replied: “Well, this is a — well — we’re in a political debate here. We didn’t come here to have a tea party together, and toss a coin to see who would win on an issue.”

After attacks on GOP integrity helped Democrats win control of the House, Pelosi briefly returned to the theme of fairness. “The principle of civility and respect for minority participation in this House is something that we promised the American people,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

This spirit did not survive the first day of the new session. Without hearings or committee markup, Democrats started ramming through a series of bills on a 100-hour deadline. The rules shut off amendments, except for motions to recommit. Democrats suggested that they would loosen up after the first 100 hours. They didn’t. After a February vote on Iraq, the Washington Post reported: “Democrats initially said they would allow Republicans to propose one alternative to the resolution denouncing a troop buildup but, days later, they thought better of it.” The Post quoted Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: “It sounds like we’re not doing what we said we would do — I understand that.”

Pelosi is also lagging on the integrity front. Current rules ban members and senior aides from lobbying for one year after they leave the House. She and other Democratic leaders promised a two-year ban, but backed off. According to the New York Times, the Democrats thought that a longer ban “would significantly cramp the ability of lawmakers to cash in on their government service for million-dollar paychecks on K Street as soon as they leave office.”

Through a motion to recommit, Republicans did win a rare victory by strengthening a bill requiring disclosure of bundled campaign contributions. But Democrats have been talking about changing the rules to curb such motions. By threatening disruptive tactics, Republicans have managed to stave off such a rules change — for now. But one never knows what’s coming in the House of Pelosi.

Democrats would object that Republicans played procedural hardball during their dozen years in the majority. The point has some merit. But you have to wonder why Pelosi ‘s website is still proclaiming “the most honest and open Congress in history.”

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