On First Day, Republicans Vote To Make House Less Representative

January 06, 2011 11:22 am ET — Walid Zafar

As the Associated Press reports this morning, House Republicans have already dropped some of their most important promises. For instance, after hammering Democrats for not allowing for an open rules process, the new majority's first legislative move — the repeal of health care reform — will be brought up in closed rules, meaning no amendments will be offered. A proposal to cut $100 billion in spending, as Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) made clear yesterday, was nothing but election campaign fodder. All the talk about deficits and spending, it seems clear already, was empty rhetoric.

House Republicans, however, did keep one of their promises: making the House less representative. The new rules they adopted yesterday strip away the ability of delegates to vote in the Committee of the Whole.

The GOP decision to rescind the ability of delegates to vote on amendments on the House floor was the predictable outcome of a longtime party divide. Democrats extended the voting rights in 1993 when they controlled the House, Republicans disenfranchised the delegates when they became the majority in 1995 and Democrats restored delegate rights when they regained control of the House in 2007.

"This is a very undemocratic way to start the 112th Congress," said Virgin Islands Del. Donna Christensen. With the new GOP rule, she said, "there are over 4.5 million Americans who don't get input into shaping the final bill."

In what became the very first vote of the new Congress, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a motion that would have had the rule studied in a special committee. On a straight party line vote, the motion was tabled, effectively killing it and stripping more than 4.5 million Americans of what little representation they enjoy in Congress. As Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) observed, the vote to disenfranchise the residents of American territories and the tax-paying residents of D.C. came just moments after newly-minted Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) promised to work towards fulfilling the will of the people.

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