In setting the rules, the Republicans’ first act as the majority in the House was to set the tone.
By a vote of 240-191, the House Wednesday passed a package of rules incoming Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said will “change how this institution operates.”
“Legislation will be more focused, properly scrutinized, and constitutionally sound,” Boehner said during a speech moments after outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., handed him the gavel.
Boehner was referring to three key changes: all bills must be available online three days before a vote, must have a statement of Constitutional worthiness attached, and must fall within a new “cut-go” budget system instead of “pay-go.”
“Cut-go” means that in the House, tax cuts are no longer forced to be off-set by spending cuts elsewhere, while spending increases still do.
The budget change drew the most ire from Democrats. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said that this will create “a legislative process that goes back to exploding the national debt.”
The changes also drew immediate ire from other Democrats and the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), which claimed the new rules would “enable the House to expand tax loopholes for multinational corporations and wealthy investors without paying for those tax breaks at all.”
Despite positioning on both sides, there won’t be any immediate effect on the budget, of course – that would require some Senate rule changes as well.
So the rules package is perhaps more important as a symbol of the new House’s style and focus. “We will start by cutting congress’ own budget,” Boehner said in his speech, immediately after describing the new rules.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also hinted that the changes were about sending a message: “Why is it important to have a rules package? Because structure dictates behavior.”
The vote was strictly partisan. No Democrats voted for the rules package, and no Republicans voted against it.
House rules changes were also pretty contentious two years ago. Democrats moved to make it easier to push bills through congress, claiming Republicans had used “abusive” tactics to slow down the process. California Republican David Dreier claimed it would lead to “the most closed Congress in history,” according to the Washington Times.
Meanwhile, the Senate began discussing its own proposed changes, which would eliminate secret holds preventing legislation from going through. The proposed changes would not end the filibuster rule, meaning that most laws would essentially need 60 votes to pass.