House GOP Backtracking on Promised 'Reforms' Before They Even Get Started

Back when he was the leader of the House minority, John Boehner's salty tears were shed over the many indignities he had to suffer, just because his party was oriented toward pointless obstruction, which forces the Democrats to use every procedural weapon in their arsenal to simply pass the legislation they were elected to deliver. Boehner took his case to the American Enterprise Institute, where he promised to reform the "cycle of gridlock" and restore "a functioning civil society in the House" by "focusing on our collective responsibility to govern."

"Let's let legislators legislate again," Boehner said, summarizing a year's worth of complaints over the Democrats' use of procedural maneuvers like the so-called "Demon Pass."

It's worth pointing out that all of these promises gave Washington Post high priest of centrism David Broder a chubby:

I'd like to see Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leaders take Boehner up on the challenge he has raised, not try to demean it. He said, for example, that rather than stifling debate through the manipulation of rules, "we should open things up and let the battle of ideas help break down the scar tissue between the parties. ... Let's let legislators legislate again."

It would be great if the leaders could engage each other seriously at the start of the next Congress on rules and procedures for doing the nation's business. There's no excuse for the House failing to pass a budget resolution, as happened for the first time this year. As Boehner said, it boggles the mind that spending bills for major government departments are lumped together in an indigestible mass.

When large majorities of the nation's voters voice disdain and distrust for a Congress that is supposed to represent them in writing the laws, it is not just a problem for one party or the other. It is a threat to our system of government.

As it turns out, nobody should have taken Boehner seriously. For example, remember that time you were warned that the GOP don't really care about reducing the deficits? You should, because when I say "that time," I mean, "all of the time." But the editors of the Washington Post only just got the news Monday, so for the benefit of anyone else who's been living beneath a rock lately, here's another reminder, from Brian Beutler:

Republicans' deficit reduction platform, which may have helped catapult them into the majority, is about to run headlong into a hard reality: Many of their key policy goals will increase the deficit dramatically.

To get around this fact, they've included measures in their new rules package to exempt some of their biggest legislative priorities from deficit consideration. Among the exceptions, which the House is likely to consider in the 112th Congress, are the health care repeal bill (scheduled for a vote a week from Wednesday), the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, an AMT patch, extending the estate tax, and more.

The GOP had also previously taken aim at making substantial spending cuts, to the tune of $100 billion worth of federal spending in their first year. Given the fact that their own spending priorities don't make that easy, and that they're already redefining the word "earmark" because they can't even bring themselves to keep their promise to eliminate even that teensy sliver of spending, you might wonder where their $100-billion promise stands today. As it turns out, it stands broken:

The incoming House majority has touted their plan to cut the federal budget back to pre-Obama era levels since the mid-term elections, a feat that would involve slashing $100 billion, they've said.

But Monday, House Republicans suggested their budget challenge might require a cut of only $50 to $60 billion.

This was one of the big showy items in their "Pledge To America," so what excuse could they possibly give for backtracking?

But the task, in turn, will be made more difficult because nearly half of the fiscal year will be completed by the time Congress acts--assuming the Senate reaches an agreement with the House and Obama signs the spending measure. "The goal of FY11 is to get as close as we can to FY08 spending, given that the year is half done. Going forward, we are headed to FY08 in the FY12 spending bills," the Appropriations aide said.

Oh, apparently the standard is slipping because no one told the GOP how a calendar works. Neat.

Well, beyond the budgetary issues -- which the American people want solved by raising taxes on the rich, not that anyone listens to them -- another matter that Boehner wanted "reformed" was the overall tone and tenor of the debate itself. More debate, more amendments, more time, and fewer procedural shenanigans. Remember back when Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) floated the idea of using a procedurally-arcane resolution to surmount the latest roadblock that opponents of the deficit-reducing health-care reform package had thrown in the way? Reform opponents went bonkers, and the media spent an undue amount of time demonstrating how little they knew about the legislative process.

Ultimately, Democrats didn't have to resort to the "deem and pass" procedure to complete their work, but the lines were pretty well drawn: surely a Boehner-led Congress would never put anyone through a dark period of deeming resolutions, right?

This week, House Republicans will resurrect an arcane tool that will give its Budget Chairman temporary, but unilateral authority to set federal spending levels for part of this year.

Welcome back to the so-called "Demon Pass", which is scheduled to make its return to the Capitol Hill on January 5.

Because Democrats didn't pass a budget, and because spending authority expires in early March, there's a strong chance that the government will run out of money before the House and Senate agree to new spending levels. When that happens, under the new House rules, spending will continue -- but at levels no higher than those chosen by the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan.

As soon as those rules are adopted on Wednesday, Ryan's spending levels will be considered -- or "deemed" -- adopted by the full House as if they'd passed a budget with a floor vote.

Yes, it's as if words have no meaning. Other words that apparently have no meaning were the ones that escaped from Boehner's lips at the American Enterprise Institute when he said, "Let's let legislators legislate again." As the new House preps for their show-pony health-reform repeal vote, they've already indicated that this pageant will take place without hearings or amendments.

One wonders when David Broder might notice any of this!

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