NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 11, 2004

When Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, it was widely hailed as a revolution. Now, 10 years later, it is looking more and more like a coup d'etat that only changed the leadership while leaving everything else unchanged. In particular, the problem of an "Imperial Congress" seems little different today than it did under Democratic control, says Bruce Bartlett.

An Oct. 3 report in the Boston Globe recounts many of the ways in which the old Imperial Congress is back with a vengeance. It explains how bills are brought to the floor with no hearings or mark-ups by the committees of jurisdiction, no committee reports, and in many cases without even a printed bill that members can study. It tells how the House Rules Committee routinely rewrites bills, bottles up those opposed by the leadership even when they have majority support in the House, and often meets in secret in the dead of night to prevent Democrats from knowing what is going on.

According to the Globe:

  • Democrats are often prevented from attending conference committees, where differences between House and Senate bills are resolved.
  • Contrary to standard procedures, Republicans routinely add costly pork barrel projects that did not exist in either the House or Senate versions of the legislation.
  • Republicans stifle debate by severely limiting the amount of time a bill can be on the floor; the 2001 tax bill, for example, had only 3 hours for debate, and the controversial USA Patriot Act was passed in a single day.

Yet, as budget expert Stan Collender notes, the Republican leadership hasn't fulfilled its primary responsibility of passing a budget, enacting appropriations bills, or raising the debt limit.

It looks more and more like the Republicans have become the Democrats they overthrew in 1994, says Bruce Bartlett.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "The Power of the Majority," National Center for Policy Analysis, October 11, 2004.


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