Repeal of terms limits for House chairs irks GOP

Republicans say changes will undercut Obama's efforts at bipartisanship and allow the rise of a tyrannical speaker.

House Democrats approved rules Tuesday for the 111th Congress that repeal six-year term limits for committee chairmen and prevent Republicans from using a procedural gambit to disrupt floor action. The vote was 242-181.

Republicans were particularly peeved at losing the minority's right to offer an alternative to legislation on the floor through a motion to recommit that "promptly" forces the underlying measure back to committee.

The change means that if GOP lawmakers want to deal with tax provisions in any legislation, their alternative versions must comply with Democratic pay-go budget rules, which Republicans oppose.

Rules ranking member David Dreier sought to put the changes into the context of President-elect Obama's pledge to work in a bipartisan fashion, saying during debate on the measure that it "shreds the Obama vision" by making the rules of the last Congress even more restrictive on the minority.

He said the changes could help lead to the rise of a tyrannical speaker.

"We cannot have a good outcome without a good process," Dreier said.

Democrats argued that Republicans abused the floor process in the 110th Congress by using motions to recommit to stop bills from moving rather than changing or improving them. House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., said the GOP's use of "procedural gimmicks" stifled debate and ensured partisanship.

Republicans had made effective use of the motion by offering alternatives with amendments that appealed to moderate and conservative Democrats, effectively derailing, if only temporarily, major pieces of legislation.

"What they can't do is pretend to be amending the bill," Frank said. "It is a legislative Ponzi scheme."

The rules package repeals a rule preventing a floor vote from being held open for the "sole purpose" of reversing the outcome of the vote.

The displaced rule had been adopted by Democrats in response to a three-hour vote in 2003 enacting Medicare prescription drug coverage and was a major tenet of the ethics reforms enacted by Democratic leaders when they took control of the House two years ago.

Repeal was suggested by the bipartisan select committee empowered to investigate the failed 2007 agriculture appropriations vote, which prompted Republicans to walk off the House floor.