Share this article

print logo

CONTROL OF HOUSE RULES PREVENTS CRITICAL DEBATE

The link between the cute rules of the House of Representatives and violent crime, broken streets and higher taxes at home seems obscure. But it is very real all the same.

The way the House Republican majority runs the place helps explain why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in urban America, according to a research paper put out by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport.

Tight-fisted control by "the most abusive and unethical" leadership "in modern history," says Slaughter, is the way more financial burdens get shifted from Washington to hard-pressed states and local governments.

This dumping of national problems on localities seems unfair because federal policies on trade and currency have much to do with the loss of industry and jobs and local tax base.

Slaughter has House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, in mind when she calls the GOP leadership "abusive and unethical."

A case in point was the vote the House took just before Easter recess to gut spending for a decades-old program called Community Development Block Grants.

Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls and cities and their suburbs all over the country will lose billions over the next few years as a result of the House budget vote, if the Senate goes along.

The federal money is used by Erie County to fix streets, sewers and other infrastructure. Buffalo uses it to encourage private business construction.

Almost all of these repairs and projects are going to be built anyway, or abandoned. If completed, local and state government will have to pay for them with higher taxes.

The same with community police services once used by local governments to add 100,000 police to the streets. Loss of this money translates into more drug markets, murder and addiction.

The block grant cuts never would have passed were it not for the way DeLay manipulates House rules through the House Rules Committee. Slaughter is now the top Democrat on that committee.

In a way that is not possible under the Senate's more collegial procedures, the House Rules Committee wields absolute control over legislation bound for the House floor.

So before the 2006 budget went to the House floor, the Republican-dominated Rules Committee barred any amendments from anyone, Republican or Democrat, to allow a separate vote on the cuts to the block grant program.

The "closed rule" became standard fare when DeLay took control of the House leadership from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., seven years ago. Gingrich promised two-thirds of the bills would be considered under an "open rule" that allowed amendments and plenty of debate.

Now only a handful of bills reach the floor under the "open rule," sometimes as low as 7 percent, the report says.

As a result, almost no meaningful business gets done on the House floor these days. The real work is done in secret. Sometimes the bills that are rammed through are written within the walls of the Capitol itself by lobbyists representing big Republican contributors.

Because floor fireworks are so rare, less of what Congress does gets into the news these days. This explains why Congress can get so self-righteous about baseball and football players using banned substances.

This is legislating the people's interests in the dark, literally.

Under DeLay, when the Rules Committee has a controversial bill to consider it meets with little advance notice to Democrats, in the evening, sometimes in the wee hours of the night when few, if any media representatives are around.

This is more like the Politburo than an American Congress.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com