Yesterday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gaveled in the GOP takeover of the House. Christening his rein in tears, the self-proclaimed “most transparent person in this town” promised an era of more “honest” and “accountable” government with a set of new House rules to match. But that was yesterday afternoon. By nightfall, the House GOP leadership had already broken key pledges of transparency and accountability. Republicans have already walked back three key promises they touted up through the end of 111th Congress:
— Open Amendment Process Now Closed: Republicans have long complained that Democrats “abused their power in bypassing regular debate” by ignoring “the open rule” which “allows for nearly unlimited amendments and debate.” After a victorious November election, GOP leaders promised “to treat the Democratic minority far differently” by ensuring an open rules process. After all, they had included it in their “Pledge to America.” But now, with their first legislation to repeal the health care law, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is suggesting the GOP will skip the open rule to avoid potentially embarrassing Democratic amendments. The excuse? It’s a “straightforward document” of a “two-page, straight repeal” so “there’s nothing to amend.” According to Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), “there’s no ability” to have open rules because “if you want to have an up-or-down vote, this is how you have to do it. And that is what our pledge was: an up-or-down vote.” Despite demanding the same of the Democrats last year, Republicans now think “some things you don’t need a hearing on.” In response to backlash over his backtrack, Boehner said, “I promised a more open process. I didn’t promise that every single bill was going to be an open bill.”
— $100 Billion Spending Cuts Now “Hypothetical”: Confidently touting their “Pledge to America,” Boehner and his Young Gun squadron reiterated the promise that they’d “save $100 billion dollars in the first year.” Just yesterday, Cantor told reporters that Republicans will soon “spell out” the cuts to obtain that number. But, according to Republican aides, that promise is more “hypothetical” than literal and the actual number “is about HALF the original estimate.” When asked by how much, Ryan said “I can’t tell you by what amount.” When Fox News pressed Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) about GOP waffling, Pence said anyone who focuses on the $100 billion figure is just “number crunching” and trying to “parse words.”
— Public Access Committee Attendance Now Unfair: In the name of transparency, the initial rule package the House GOP proposed included a provision to make committee attendance public. But (fittingly) “behind closed doors” in the House GOP conference meeting yesterday night, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) stripped the provision. The excuse? Committees have to stop scheduling hearings at the same time first. Also, “some GOP lawmakers were concerned about getting slammed for missing hearings when they may have extenuating circumstances.” “That’s not a matter of transparency. It’s a matter of inherent unfairness,” Gohmert said.
On top of closing the amendment process, the GOP also will exempt the health care repeal bill from their own requirement that all bills be fully paid for. Because the health care law would reduce the deficit by $143 billion through 2019, not only are they backtracking on their own rules, but also their promise to reduce the deficit. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the repeal will increase the deficit by $230 billion over the next ten years. Of course — as Republicans prove time and time again — if any policy benefits the wealthy, that lower-deficit banner gets shredded.
But the GOP shows no sign of stopping its self-imposed hypocrisy. The visceral hatred of federal health care has only compelled a few Republicans to match rhetoric with action by forgoing federal health care, while members like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) leave it to others to “stand on principle.” The GOP instead voted down the idea to disclose whether members accept federal health care plan. And despite pledges of greater transparency and fewer backroom deals, House Republicans avowed Ryan, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, with the power to implement spending levels without ever having them voted upon. Another rule allows Republicans to reallocate the spending cuts that Republicans intend to make (whatever the amount) rather than pay down the deficit, a move some GOP members lambasted as “Washington-style gimmicks.”
The GOP is even undermining its own distorted understanding of the Constitution. Despite promising to include clauses citing the constitutional authority of each bill, not one of the three bills the GOP plans to introduce this week — health care repeal, congressional budget cuts, and instruction for new health care legislation — currently include the constitutional citation. Whether the citations will be available when the bills hit the floor remains to be seen.
While remarkably brazen, the hypocritical actions of the House GOP are not surprising. “That’s what they were going to do. Wasn’t it?” said former House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY). “It’s the first day, and they’ve violated everything they said they were going to do.” Who knows what day two will bring.