Much of the talk about what Republicans will do, now that they have a majority in the U.S. House, has focused on policy. Policy is important. But there is another element to what angered the public about their elected leaders over the past two years: How elected officials go about making policy.
If there’s any justice in the world, the line “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it” will be carved on Nancy Pelosi’s tombstone one day. That quotation came to symbolize everything the public disliked about the way Washington works. By that point, even some Americans who agreed with the basic premise of ObamaCare had become exasperated with — and therefore suspicious of — the way Democrats were ramming it through Congress.
So, it matters that the presumptive new speaker of the House, John Boehner, addressed the process of government in (what I believe to be) his first published op-ed since the election. It’s in today’s Wall Street Journal, and here is the relevant section:
[T]here are several steps I believe the next speaker should be prepared to take immediately. Among them:
• No earmarks. Earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington, and an entire lobbying industry has been created around them. The speaker of the House shouldn’t use the power of the office to raid the federal Treasury for pork-barrel projects. To the contrary, the speaker should be an advocate for ending the current earmark process, and should adhere to a personal no-earmarks policy that stands as an example for all members of Congress to follow.
I have maintained a no-earmarks policy throughout my time of service in Congress. I believe the House must adopt a moratorium on all earmarks as a signal of our commitment to ending business as usual in the spending process.
• Let Americans read bills before they are brought to a vote. The speaker of the House should not allow any bill to come to a vote that has not been posted publicly online for at least three days. Members of Congress and the American people must have the opportunity to read it.
Similarly, the speaker should insist that every bill include a clause citing where in the Constitution Congress is given the power to pass it. Bills that can’t pass this test shouldn’t get a vote. House Republicans’ new governing agenda, “A Pledge to America,” calls for the speaker to implement such reforms immediately.
• No more “comprehensive” bills. The next speaker should put an end to so-called comprehensive bills with thousands of pages of legislative text that make it easy to hide spending projects and job-killing policies. President Obama’s massive “stimulus” and health-care bills, written behind closed doors with minimal public scrutiny, were the last straw for many Americans. The American people are not well-served by “comprehensive,” and they are rightly suspicious of the adjective.
• No more bills written behind closed doors in the speaker’s office. Bills should be written by legislators in committee in plain public view. Issues should be advanced one at a time, and the speaker should place an emphasis on smaller, more focused legislation that is properly scrutinized, constitutionally sound, and consistent with Americans’ demand for a less-costly, less-intrusive government.
The policy will come later, but that’s an area where the GOP won’t be able to call all the shots for the next two years. If — if — Boehner and his caucus can implement these rules on themselves, they will have taken one step toward regaining public trust in Congress.