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Getting the atmospherics right

In a profile of John Boehner, the Washington Post reports that the likely Speaker to-be is committed to allowing Democrats greater freedom to have their say on the House floor and to letting them bring their proposals to a vote. I hope so. I also hope that he will end the practice of dumping massive pieces of legislation in Representatives’ laps and holding votes before they can read, analyze and digest the proposals. This practice takes the minority party — and many members of the majority — out of the process and, of course, tends to promote defective legislation.
Americans disagree profoundly about what substantive course the country should take. But nearly everyone agrees that the legislative process, whatever its outcome in a given case, should be fair. Americans believe, for example, that the Representative they send to Congress should be able to participate in the legislative process regardless of his or her party. They find it appalling when they hear of procedural antics that effectively shut out 40 percent or more of the members.
These kinds of antics are one of the reasons that Congress’s approval rating is so abysmally low – lower than the rating of even a reviled president (e.g., George W. Bush at his low ebb) or an unpopular ideology (e.g., liberalism right now). If they gain control of the House, the Republicans will end up taking some unpopular positions; the country is unhappy with the Democrats but it has not suddenly become a hard-the-line conservative nation. That’s why it’s particularly important to get the atmospherics right, so that the Party’s inevitable wounds are the result of principled conservatism, not unforced errors.
It’s encouraging that Boehner seems to understand this. However, the temptation to stick it to the Democrats procedurally will be hard to resist when push comes to shove.
Earmarks are another big reason why Congress is so unpopular. So it was encouraging to hear that Rep. Jerry Lewis, a notorious proponent of earmarks who may become the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, says he favors continuing a Republican moratorium on earmarks. Of course, Lewis is taking this position with an eye towards gaining the chairmanship, so his long-term commitment to the anti-earmark position is subject to question.
The other thing the House should do to get the atmospherics right is to vote itself a pay cut. But I don’t think we should have our breath on that one.
UPDATE: I’ve been reminded that the 27th Amendment states: “No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of tepresentatives shall have intervened.” So Congress can only vote to reduce the pay of the next Congress, which it should do.

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