WASHINGTON -- Congress already closed out the year with the least productive legislative session in history. And now, House Democrats pointed out Monday, House Republicans can add another record to the roster: the most closed session in history.
While Republican leaders began 2013 with the declaration that regular order would be restored, behind the scenes, the majority adopted 44 closed rules over 12 months -- the highest number on record for any year.
A closed rule is a procedural maneuver that prohibits any amendments to bills up for a vote on the House floor, unless they are recommended by the committee reporting the bill. While both parties have used such tactics while in the majority, Democrats will go on the offense Monday to highlight the new records set by Republicans to pursue their own agenda with little input from the minority, according to officials who previewed the strategy for The Huffington Post.
The statistics are detailed in a "Minority Views" article that Democrats will submit to the House record: Republicans adopted 19 closed rules during the government shutdown in October, the most in a single week; the House GOP approved 11 closed rules on Oct. 4, also during the shutdown and the most in a single day; and House Republicans approved 20 closed rules for appropriations bills over the last year, more than any other year on record for the typically open appropriations process.
"Under this closed regime, the majority pursued a partisan agenda with vigor, holding 46 votes to undermine the Affordable Care Act, taking the full faith and credit of the United States hostage and shutting down the government in order to placate an extreme faction of the majority," House Democrats wrote. "Meanwhile, important national priorities such as reforming a broken immigration system, preventing gun violence and extending emergency unemployment benefits went unaddressed."
The office of Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, also released a video Monday to emphasize Republicans' use of closed rules. The video begins by recalling the inaugural address House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivered in January 2011 after Republicans retook the majority.
"We will do these things, however, in a manner that restores and respects the time-honored right of the minority to an honest debate and a fair, open process," Boehner said in the widely televised speech. "And to my friends in the minority, I offer a commitment: openness. Once a tradition of this institution, but increasingly scarce in recent decades, will be the new standard."
The video cuts to a Sept. 30 meeting of the House Rules Committee, hours before the first shutdown of the federal government in 17 years after Republicans insisted on undermining Obamacare in exchange for funding the government. It was later reported that Republicans quietly changed parliamentary rules to prevent any member of the House from bringing up for a vote the Senate's clean bill to fund the government -- thus all but assuring a shutdown.
The video shows Slaughter repeatedly pressing Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) in the meeting about the change from regular order. Sessions acknowledged that Republicans took away the opportunity to vote on the Senate's government funding bill, simply attributing the decision to the GOP's desire to go to conference. At least 28 House Republicans had said they would support a clean continuing resolution to keep the government open if given the chance.
A House GOP leadership aide defended the move, pointing to the series of individual spending bills Republicans pushed to reopen parts of the government.
"After Washington Democrats shut down the government to protect Obamacare, we were acting as quickly as we could to ensure critical government services restarted as soon as possible," the aide said.
Doug Andres, a spokesman for Republicans on the Rules Committee, argued that more than one-third of the closed rules cited by Democrats were the targeted bills to restart some government operations, "over which there was no substantive controversy and a need to move expeditiously."
"Openness cannot be judged solely on the number of closed rules," Andres told HuffPost. "Further, when you consider that the House has returned to consideration of most of the regular spending bills under a completely open process, combined with a more favorable treatment of all members offering amendments, Speaker Boehner's record of openness eclipses the Democrats' record when Nancy Pelosi was speaker."
Democrats are nonetheless hopeful that public frustration with the so-called "Do-Nothing Congress" will play out at the polls in November. They will reportedly spend the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections highlighting GOP obstructionism and subsequent inaction on immigration and tax reform, gun control and other spending measures.
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