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Posted by: Jon Henke on Thursday, November 30, 2006

George Will points out that, for all their criticism of 'divisive' politics and partisan warfare, the Democrats are retaking Congress with a chainsaw...
Many Democrats are eager to pay Republicans back for their overbearing behavior when they were in the majority—behavior that Republicans say was retribution for Democrats' behavior before 1994.

Last year, Michigan Rep. John Dingell, the most senior House member (he just won a 26th full term), told The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin that when Democrats regained control, some of them would say: "We're not going back to the fair way of doing things. Democrats will say to [Republicans], you did it, now you bastards enjoy it."
"Leadership, Not Partisanship" is what they say when they're campaigning. And that's the last you hear of it.
anybody who thinks that bitterly divisive partisanship, power grabs and slimy politics is somehow unprecedented is a fool
Let's be clear: anybody who thinks that bitterly divisive partisanship, power grabs and slimy politics is somehow unprecedented is a fool. Yet, you hear it in every cycle. Aggrieved partisans complain about the character flaws of their opponents, promise to be better stewards should they be given power...and then, upon taking power, quickly put the heel of their boot on the neck of the new minority party. Surely somebody started it, but recorded history only goes back so far.

At any rate, for Democrats who will attempt to justify their new bitterly divisive partisanship, power grabs and slimy politics — 'The Republicans started it! We have no choice!' — George Will recounts some recent recorded history.
  • [I]n her new book "Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship Is Poisoning the House of Representatives," Eilperin notes that before Republicans captured the House in 1994, Dingell's "fair way" was to give Democrats 82 percent of the staff and 77 percent of the budget of his Energy and Commerce Committee. So Republicans, having won 52.4 percent of the House seats in 1994, retaliated by giving themselves about two thirds of all committee seats.

  • In the 1980s...Speakers Tip O'Neill and then Jim Wright..."limited opportunities for debate, publicly mocked members of the minority and frequently denied Republicans the chance to make their mark on legislation." In 1987, Wright passed a budget bill by adjourning the House and then calling it back into session a few minutes later, and calling it a "new" legislative day. Republicans were enraged when Wright held open a vote for 10 minutes longer than the normal 15 minutes. But in 2003, Speaker Dennis Hastert, needing time to browbeat reluctant Republicans, held open the vote on the prescription-drug entitlement for two hours and 51 minutes, until almost 6 a.m.

  • Democrats began the practice of routinely bringing bills to the floor under closed rules, meaning the legislation could not be amended. Republicans smoldered when in the 103rd Congress (1993-94) 70 percent of all rules were partly or completely closed. But in the Republican 108th (2003-4), 78 percent were.

Will suggests that, by "restoring some of the procedural civilities that both parties have traduced, [Nancy] Pelosi could revive the House to fulfill its intended role as a rival to the executive." George Will should know better; depending upon the sustained kindness of opponents is a fool's game. Democrats and Republican can talk all day long about how Congress should behave, but until they take legal steps to make structural steps that limit their own power, "procedural civilities" are just words to be used during campaign season.

Frankly, I don't expect the Democrats to take steps to limit their own power. They are temperamentally unwilling to restrain their new powers, and they are ideologically opposed to limitations on their ability to be "do-gooders" with the power of the State.

We know where that highway goes.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

While I doubt that such a tyranny of the majority is unique to periods during which the House is actually rather evenly split, I suspect that resentment about it is.
Written By: Dave Schuler
Where are we going, and why am I in this handbasket?
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
File this along with the sky is blue and the sun rises in the east in the obvious file.
Written By: shark
URL: http://
I know partisanship has been incredibly vitriolic at times for a long while now (Jefferson-Adams, anyone?), but have we lost some institutional restraints on how much the party in power could abuse the minority party?

Or have the instruments just changed?
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
I don’t think there’s been any change in restraints, OrneryWP, quite the opposite in fact. But I think there’s a lot more at stake than there was in 1808.
Written By: Dave Schuler

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