John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Regular Order Guy

Posted on February 29, 2012

When David Dreier co-chaired the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress in 1993, Bob Michel assigned me to keep an eye on the process for him.

Even back then, Dreier was a regular order guy.

He believed in the best possibilities of open rules, open debate and an open process.

Of course, back then, Republicans in the Minority, and an open process was the only shot we had at influencing legislation.

When Dreier first came to Congress in the early 80’s, Tip O’Neill was the Speaker and open rules were more of a regular occurrence.  But Jim Wright ascended to the throne, and soon it became harder for Republicans to offer amendments.

Wright wasn’t much of a fan of open debate, and he used all kind of parliamentary shenanigans to impose his will on the House of Representatives.  Wright’s abuse of the process begat the radicalism of Newt Gingrich, which begat an era in the Congress that can only be described as dysfunctional.

The Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress was effort to bring that era of dysfunction to an end.  Sadly, it failed to achieve its goals.

But Dreier believed then and believes now that allowing everybody to have a chance to participate in the dance of democracy would help create a better legislative product.

House Republicans tried to incorporate some of the suggestions that came from the JCOC, (get rid of proxy voting, make all the laws passed by Congress apply to Congress, limit Committee assignments, guarantee the right of the Minority to offer an amendment), but they didn’t really work.  The House is about as dysfunctional as it ever was.

Dreier, though, remained consistent in his support for an open rules process, even when his leadership team would over-rule him.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes the Minority (on both sides) would use the process to achieve political goals, rather than use the process to achieve policy goals.    And sometimes the Majority (on both sides) would rather avoid tough votes, either because they don’t have the numbers to win or because they don’t want their Members to face tough 30-second commercials.

Dreier didn’t have much patience for those who wanted to duck votes.  And he has fought valiantly and consistently for an open process, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.

David Dreier is an avid defender of an institution that just doesn’t have many fans these days.  And I think that he is right in his theory that an open process is better for democracy.

John Boehner has adopted the Dreier philosophy of democratic debate.  Let the House work its will and live with the consequences.  That is what Sam Rayburn did.  That is what Tip O’Neill did.

The problem, of course, is that when you let the House work its will, sometimes it doesn’t come to any real conclusions.  Sometimes, the House collapses in a heap of recrimination, partisanship and confusion.

The Speaker’s job is to find a balance respecting the rights of the Minority and expediting the will of the Majority.  And sometimes that means listening to the advice of your Rule Committee Chairman, the man who usually wants an open process, and sometimes that means listening to the advice of your whip, the man who usually wants to close down the process.

David Dreier as Chairman of the powerful Rules Committee was always a proponent for an open process.  His departure is a serious blow to the House of Representatives.

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