Pelosi’s ‘Bill of Rights’

The Roman Senate had nothing on our House of Representatives when it comes to quashing minority opinion. The Publican majority has, to all intents and purposes, treated the Democrats as if they didn’t exist. They’ve gone as far as locking them out of debates by declaring their concerns ‘irrelevant’, they’ve shut them down in committees, shut them off on the House floor, and held conference committees without notifying them. Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert have been treating the House like their own private kingdom, changing the rules whenever it suited them and passing huge bills without bothering with opposition consultation. They routinely kill Democratic amendments without debate or even a hearing, and it has reached the point where a Democrat has to fight even to be recognized to speak.

Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, has begun to fight back, issuing what she called a ‘Bill of Rights’ for the minority party.

House Democrats’ anger at heavy-handed Republican tactics reached a new level yesterday, with the chamber’s top Democrat asking the House speaker to embrace a “Bill of Rights” for the minority, regardless which party it is.In keeping with the general atmosphere of the House these days, aides to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said he will not respond to the two-page proposal from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Pelosi’s document, which she vows to honor if Democrats regain the majority, says: “Too often, incivility and the heavy hand of the majority” have silenced Democrats and choked off “thoughtful debate.” She called on the majority to let the minority offer meaningful amendments and substitutes to important bills; to limit roll-call votes to the normal 15 minutes rather than keeping them open to round up needed votes; and to let all appointees to House-Senate conference committees participate in meetings and decisions.”When we are shut out, they are shutting out the great diversity of America,” Pelosi said in an interview. “We want a return to civility; we want to set a higher standard.”

Not a lot to ask, you might think, and less than the Democrats allowed the Pubs when the Dems were in the majority–for 50 years. But Hastert denies that. In a breath-taking bit of historical revisionism, he said, ‘I have looked at our record over the years…I will hold up our record any day.’ Then he hasn’t looked at it.

In their decades in the majority, Democrats consulted with Republicans regularly, allowed their amendments to be heard, never even tried to shut them out of debates or shut them up in committees, and often compromised with them–sometimes to the point of allowing Republican stealth amendments to make bills all but meaningless, as they did in the 70’s and 80’s when Republican amendments set the eligibility requirements for food stamps, Section 8 housing, fuel assistance and Medicaid for children so low that tens of thousands of the poor were refused help. It was Republican amendments that made the welfare rules and regulations so complicated and contradictory that nobody even knew how to fill out the application forms. And that’s just one area where the Pubs made their presence felt; they played much the same game in international relations, environmental law, economic policy, you name it. For them to be claiming now that none of that happened and that they’re giving the Dems more than they got isn’t just absurd, it’s obscene.

Pelosi’s gesture is remarkably generous–she’s offering them protection when the Democrats come back into the majority, an event that seems more and more likely with each passing day. For them to throw her offer back in her face and and spit on it is an act of supreme arrogance that is bound to anger a lot of Dems.

Payback is a bitch, Denny.

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