House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is a lightning rod for antipathy to the Democratic Party. And she’s a great fundraising opportunity for Republicans, who are using her possible restoration as Speaker to rally the GOP to keep the House, just as they used Ted Kennedy as a fundraising bogeyman years ago. But Republicans aren’t the only ones critical of Pelosi.
Many younger Democrats, chafing at the bit in pursuit of leadership opportunities, are waging war against the 78-year-old legislator from San Francisco. Ten Democrats are trying to increase the number of votes needed to elect a Speaker from a simple majority of the Democratic caucus to a majority of the whole House. This is a dangerous gambit. A bitter party battle over the Speakership, before the Democrats even regain control of the House, could diminish enthusiasm for tipping the House prior to the November election. And it’s so unnecessary.
What’s really needed is opening up House procedures, a return to regular order, the normal way of doing things. And that’s where Worcester Congressman Jim McGovern and other good guys with seniority come in. “When the process stinks, so does the legislation,” he recently told the New England Council. If the Democrats do retake the House, McGovern is in line to chair the House Committee on Rules.
Reflecting lessons learned from his mentor Joe Moakley, a masterful Rules Chairman, McGovern says all members need access to the process, whichever side of the aisle and wherever on the political spectrum. That means holding actual hearings in committees with jurisdiction over proposed legislation, debating different sides of an issue and allowing amendments from the floor. Giving everyone a say in the process is the way compromise used to be achieved and legislation would get passed on a bipartisan basis.
None of that happens today. Republican Speaker Paul Ryan has jettisoned these procedures so his members don’t have to be recorded on votes. That’s how they’ve avoided accountability on matters like the tax cut, health care repeal and other important issues. As McGovern aptly put it, if they don’t want to vote, maybe they should be doing something else with their lives. “If you could sue politicians for malpractice, they’d be sued.”
Just for the record, McGovern thinks Pelosi has been “one of the greatest Speakers,” perhaps one of the best ever. She certainly was the decisive voice in producing a more significant Affordable Care Act and may be the party’s most prolific fundraiser, helping Democrats to take back the House. Even if some Democratic backbenchers challenge Pelosi’s right to the gavel, her Congressional opponents don’t have a credible alternative.
Clearly, the public rightfully perceives Congress as dysfunctional. Restoring regular order and opening procedures could undercut that perception, give younger members an opportunity to make an impact and improve the quality of governance.