The more things change, the more they stay the same. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved to shut out Republican ideas in the first hours of Democrat control, bringing the Democrats’ 100-Hour Agenda to the House floor shrouded in secrecy. This means legislation affecting a broad range of national policies is being written behind closed doors by a select few in the Speaker’s inner-circle.
This is not altogether surprising given the Democrats’ record during 40 years of majority control before the Contract with America swept them from power. Those 40 years were plagued with consistent, systematic efforts to usurp the rights of the Republican minority and their constituents. But it takes a special kind of hypocrisy for the Democrats to campaign on “openness” then govern by padlock.
More importantly, the dangers of making decisions of national consequence outside the regular legislative process should be noted—especially within the realm of national security.
Today, without any meaningful debate, House Democrats will vote to fundamentally alter America’s national security apparatus by implementing some—but not all—of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. If you will remember, the Democrats campaigned on a promise to implement ‘ALL’ 9/11 Commission recommendations, a pledge which fell by the wayside—less than one week in power.
According to the 9/11 Commission, restructuring congressional oversight of intelligence agencies is critical to prevent future terrorist attacks. The commission recommended that the House and Senate each create a single committee to authorize and appropriate funds for the intelligence community. However, the Democrats’ plan to create a subcommittee within the House Appropriations Committee falls woefully short of the Commission’s explicit recommendation.
By neglecting the normal legislative process—including the thoughtful deliberation of Republican and Democratic members of Congress—Speaker Nancy Pelosi virtually guarantees catastrophic mistakes will be made. Some of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations—like declassifying the annual intelligence budget—are unwise, if not altogether dangerous.
Furthermore, implementing the commission’s recommendations for transportation and infrastructure security will require countless billions in new spending and major changes to numerous federal agencies. These are not trivial issues to be tossed around like the Democrats’ empty campaign slogans. They deserve debate. They deserve analysis. Yet they receive neither.
Last week, Republicans gave Pelosi an opportunity to honor her campaign promise to "lead the most honest, most open, and most ethical government in history" by introducing then-Minority Leader Pelosi’s own 2004 proposal—the Pelosi Minority Bill of Rights—during debate over the rules package for the 110th Congress.
The Minority Bill of Rights guards against the pitfalls of a closed process by protecting regular order, the committee process, and by giving members time to review legislation before voting on it. Apparently, Speaker Pelosi thinks Minority Leader Pelosi was wrong—and so do the House Democrats who defeated the bill on a straight party line vote.
Speaker Pelosi argues that shutting down the legislative review process allows the Democrats to pass their 100-Hour Agenda without impediment. Today, Democrats are so preoccupied with whether they can pass the 9/11 Commission legislation—that they never stopped to think whether they should.
Faced with a clear choice between open government and shady backroom arrangements, House Democrats unanimously chose to shut down the legislative process and cut deals behind closed doors. Granted, there’s no smoke in those rooms anymore but the cloud of duplicity remains. The more things change, the more they stay the same.