Posted on January 6, 2009
Ironies abound in Washington this day.
As American gets ready to swear in its first African-American President, the Senate refuses to seat an African-American to replace him in the Senate.
As the President-elect promises the most ethical Administration in history, it is bedeviled by ethics problems from his home state governor and from his Commerce Secretary pick.
And as the President promises to reach across the aisle to Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi closes the door on full, bipartisan cooperation and open debate.
Pelosi is making a familiar mistake in her second term as Speaker. She seems to be afraid of open debate, so she has rigged the rules to close it down.
She has taken away, for all intents and purposes, the right of the minority to offer one last, best chance to amend legislation. The so-called “Motion to Recommit” was a reform put into place by progressives at the beginning of last century to break the iron grip of legendary Speaker Joe Cannon.
It might be counterintuitive, but this is the best gift that Pelosi can give her colleague John Boehner, because nothing will radicalize the Minority more than procedural unfairness. And a radicalized Minority is much more willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get back the Majority than a fat and happy Minority.
The Rules process might seem arcane and silly, but the rules protect the rights of all Americans to participate in our democracy. Process matters. Process bestows dignity and honor to the laws of the land. Process creates buy-in for the citizenry.
When a legislature abuses the process, it debases the laws that it tries to enact.
Republicans made several mistakes when they were in the Majority. They all too often didn’t give the Democrats the amendments they wanted, and by doing so, they radicalized them.
But the Republicans never dreamed of taking away the Motion to Recommit.
This is a big deal, although it won’t get much coverage. The Obama machine preaches the gospel of inclusion, but the Pelosi gang practices the politics of power. But they are abusing that power, and that abuse may come back to haunt both the President-elect and the second term Speaker.