It took aabout 10 or 12 yeasr for people to start charging that the House GOP was running the institution much as the Democrats had prior to 1994. It's clear that House Democrats were out to beat that record. The Washington Post suggests they've already accomplished it:
Of nine major bills passed by the House since the 110th Congress began, Republicans have been allowed to make amendments to just one, a measure directing federal research into additives to biofuels. In the arcane world of Capitol Hill, where the majority dictates which legislation comes before the House and which dies on a shelf, the ability to offer amendments from the floor is one of the minority's few tools.
Last week, the strong-arming continued during the most important debate the Congress has faced yet -- the discussion about the Iraq war. Democrats initially said they would allow Republicans to propose one alternative to the resolution denouncing a troop buildup but, days later, they thought better of it...
"They're on thin ice now," Norman J. Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said of the new Democratic leaders. "I'm getting uneasy about this lack of amendments. . . . They're getting to the point where you're past the initial period where you've got an excuse to operate with a firm hand. It's going to be increasingly difficult to rationalize."
In May, months before her party won control of Congress and she became speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said "bills should generally come to the floor under a procedure that allows open, full and fair debate consisting of a full amendment process that grants the minority the right to offer its alternatives, including a substitute." After the election, Pelosi told the Associated Press: "The principle of civility and respect for minority participation in this House is something we promised the American people. It's the right thing to do."
In the first weeks of the new Congress, however, Democrats bypassed the usual legislative committees, refused to allow any amendments and took their agenda straight to the floor for passage. They said they needed a clear path to pass a handful of popular measures that were the basis of their successful November campaign, including expanded money for stem cell research, an increase in the federal minimum wage and implementation of recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission...
Republicans hoped to introduce a bill similar to one written by Rep. Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican who flew combat missions in Korea and Vietnam and was a prisoner of war in Hanoi. It says Congress would not cut off money for soldiers in the field. But Democrats worried it would place some members of their party in a difficult position.
The only way to avoid that was to limit discussion to one narrowly worded resolution, Hoyer said.
He said it left no room for "Well, I don't like that 'whereas' " or "I don't like that 'therefore.' " "It's very simple," Hoyer said. "If you've seen the resolution, you can read it in about 60 seconds. We support the troops, we're going to protect the troops, we disagree with the president's proposal."
Last week's debate on the Iraq war, culminating in its passage Friday by a vote of 246 to 182, was conducted under a "closed rule," which means Republicans could not offer alternatives. "I understand what they did on their agenda," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). "But to do a closed rule on something like this is a huge mistake. We're talking about war and peace. You don't play politics with war."
It's nice to see Hoyer admit that Congressional Democrats were trying to avoid difficult votes. It also says a lot about how they view this war and the war on terror.
War's are messy and complicated things. Trying to forge a consensus position among a majority of 435 people is likely to lead to lots of argument and back and forth. You'd need to have a free-wheeling discussion to accomplish that.
That's not what Congressional Democrats were trying to achieve of course - a consensus voice about a messy process. They were simply trying to deliver a politicadl embarrassment in the guise of a 'debate' on Iraq.