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House GOP to Require Legislation Meet Constitutional Standard

Boehner holds 'pledge to america'

FILE: House Minority Leader John Boehner holds a copy of the GOP agenda, "A Pledge to America," in Sterling, Va., on Sept. 23.AP

House Republicans introduced a draft set of House rules for the 112th Congress on Wednesday which seeks to offer a "sea change" in the way the House operates -- with greater openness, deliberation, efficiency and a closer adherence to the U.S. Constitution.

The rules package being touted as expansive in its reach, focused in its purpose and an attempt to honor the promises made in the Pledge to America to reform Congress, including reducing operating costs of the House itself. 

"These reforms represent Republicans' first step in keeping the promises we outlined in the Pledge to America to change the way Washington works and address the people's priorities: creating jobs and cutting spending," said House Speaker-designate John Boehner of Ohio.

The reforms largely reflect the work of the GOP transition team led by Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon and House Rules working group chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah. Supporters claim it sets a new standard for transparency and accountability and makes budget process reforms that will help end the culture of spending in Washington. 

It also sets up a high bar that could send Republicans soaring or fumbling depending on their adherence to the package's principles.

As promised in the pledge, members will not be able to introduce a bill or joint resolution without "a statement citing as specifically as practicable the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact" it. The point aims to require members to refocus every bill on the Constitution they take an oath to support and defend.

Once distributed to lawmakers, the package will be posted online for all Americans to view. On Jan. 4, House Republicans will hold an organizational conference meeting where amendments to the package can be offered. The new Democratic minority will have an opportunity to offer an alternative rules package.

The package will have to be adopted on Jan. 5, the first day of the new Congress. In it, it orders for the entire Constitution to be read aloud in the House on Jan. 6.

As for other reforms to the budget process, in place of the pay-as-you-go rules established by Democrats to ensure new spending is offset with funds raised, Republicans want to insert cut-as-you-go rules. That would mean that all mandatory spending should be offset with cuts in spending of equal or greater amount elsewhere. Tax increases cannot be used to pay for new mandatory spending

The rules also will eliminate an existing provision that provides for an automatic increase in the debt limit upon the adoption of a new budget resolution.

While current statutory pay-go rules require budget windows to determine how much a bill will cost in the first, fifth and 10th year, the new budget projections must be made for four additional 10-year budget windows. If mandatory spending increases the deficit by $5 billion or more in any of those 10-year windows, the bill can be challenged as violating House rules.

Among the other package elements:

-- A six-year term limit on committee chairmen, one of the central congressional reforms of the 1994 Contract with America that was eliminated under Democratic control of the House, will return.

-- While the first 10 bill numbers have traditionally been reserved for the majority party, as a courtesy the new rules reserve bill numbers 11 through 20 for the minority party.

-- Delegates and resident commissioners -- those not representing states -- will not be able to vote in the full committee.

-- For the first time under the House rules, "electronic format" will be the standard by which bills are made available. No bill will be voted upon without being available online for at least three calendar days -- the intent is to ensure members, media and the American people have an opportunity to read the bill before any vote.

-- In hopes of increasing transparency and openness, Boehner has vowed to restore bill-writing power to the committees. That would require posting online the committee's rules, any conflicts of interest for witnesses at hearings, three-days notice of coming votes, text of legislation beforehand, amendments made, attendance records and votes made by committee members. 

-- Committees will be required to file activity reports twice annually, up from the current one report per Congress. The goal is to summarize legislative and oversight activities, actions taken and recommendations made on oversight plans.

-- The newly named Office of Congressional Ethics will have no other changes and Republicans will keep the ethics rules of the current Congress. Former members of Congress who are now registered lobbyists will be banned from using the member gym.