Rules and laws are altered all the time. In Kentucky, for instance, the legislature moved recently to reduce penalties on certain crimes to lessen the state’s burden of incarcerating criminal offenders. In Washington state, voters there approved the decriminalization of marijuana.
So, really, it’s not surprising when things change. But a recent change in the rules of procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives went a bridge too far.
The Republican-controlled House on Oct. 1 pushed through a resolution that would prevent just any member of the House from forcing a vote on a bill when the House and Senate have not come to an agreement. In this case, any member would have been able to call for a vote on a Senate resolution that would have funded federal government operations, possibly ending the shutdown two weeks ago. Instead, House Republicans altered the rules so that only the majority leader, in this case Rep. Eric Cantor, a Republican, can make that call.
Hal Rogers, the long-time representative from Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District, was reportedly among the House members who voted to approve this change.
Rep. Jeff Sessions, who chairs the House Rules Committee, flat out admitted his party made the change to prevent a full vote on the Senate’s funding resolution in an attempt to force a conference committee.
“There could be a motion as early as tonight [and] a conference would be avoided,” Sessions was quoted in The Hill. “And we want a conference. We want to have an actual discussion.”
In other words, Republicans changed the rules to prevent a vote they didn’t want.
No doubt, Democrats have made these kinds of rule changes to prevent votes they don’t want to take place, so it isn’t as if Republicans acted without precedence. In any case a change in the rules to benefit a particular party should be abhorred. In this case the change likely extended a painful shutdown that has affected 800,000 federal employees, and provided an air of uncertainty for countless low-income families who depend on certain government services. And it was all for nothing as of this week, as the Republicans have since dropped from their demands a delay on the Affordable Care Act which sparked the whole shutdown to begin with.
There is a good reason why, according to an Associated Press poll released last week, the approval of Congress rests at a paltry 5 percent. There is a good reason why news organizations are interviewing people on the street who say everyone in Congress should be replaced.
It appears, based upon reports on Tuesday, there is going to be a deal this week that will reopen the government and approve an increase in the debt ceiling, after more than two weeks of a needless shutdown. That’s good, but it isn’t a solution Congress should adopt as it’s only going to be a temporary reprieve, and we’ll likely be right back where we started come January. Kicking the can down the road, just like blatant rule changes, is hardly good budgetary policy.
I suppose, however, that I could suggest a change myself. It’s really a novel idea. How about members of Congress actually play by the rules and do their jobs. I’m not sure that has been tried in the past few years. At this point, it couldn’t hurt.