Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and other revolutionaries used accusations of arrogant and heavy-handed tactics to stir a populist revolt against 40 years of Democratic domination of Congress before the GOP takeover of 1994.
Now, after 10 years of Republican control, House Democrats are making strikingly similar charges against today's Republicans.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) plans to lash out at the chamber's Republican leaders today with a report accusing them of abusing their power through parliamentary tactics designed to suppress dissent.
The report contends that rules governing major legislation "severely restrict or sometimes even totally block the minority's ability to debate or amend bills." It charges that Republicans on the Rules Committee have intentionally "used emergency meeting procedures and late-night meetings . . . to discourage Members and the press from participating in the legislative process."
Pelosi, a liberal who has few weapons besides rhetoric to use against the conservatives who control Congress, described the forthcoming report as documenting "devastating details of the profound abuse of power that characterizes House Republicans after 10 years in the majority."
"While this Republican administration has spoken strongly about promoting democracy around the world, the House Republican leadership is working feverishly to undermine democracy here at home," she said in a statement to be released with the report.
Pelosi said the leaders "ram bills through committees without full discussion, permit few if any floor amendments, and if need be, hold open floor votes until enough arms have been twisted to ensure passage." In November 2003, the House leadership kept a roll call going for two hours and 51 minutes -- more than double the previous record -- until they could round up enough votes to pass President Bush's Medicare revision and prescription drug bill.
Republicans replied that Democrats just want to slow down the process and that the opposition has procedural guarantees that were routinely denied to the GOP when it was in the minority. For instance, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) has a policy that when a bill will not be available until after 10 p.m., a committee meeting is held early the next morning rather than late that night, aides pointed out.
The 147-page report, by the Democratic staff of the House Rules Committee, is called "Broken Promises: The Death of Deliberative Democracy" and is described on the cover as "A Congressional Report on the Unprecedented Erosion of the Democratic Process in the 108th Congress," which ended at noon on Jan. 3.
"In the 108th Congress, House Republicans became the most arrogant, unethical and corrupt majority in modern Congressional history," the report begins. "When they took control of the House after the 1994 elections, Republicans vowed they would be different than previous Congresses."
The report goes on to say that "what sets the 108th Congress apart from its predecessors is that stifling deliberation and quashing dissent in the House of Representatives became the standard operating procedure."
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, said that the method by which Republicans run the House and their procedures "are moral decisions."
"Over the past two years, the Republican leadership ignored House Rules and the basic standards of legislative fairness and decency with an impunity that is unprecedented in the history of the House of Representatives," she said in a statement.
The report notes that Gingrich said during a January seminar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that the House leadership's tight rein on House proceedings is an "enormous strategic mistake."
The report calls for Republicans to "open up the process by allowing debate and votes on more serious amendments" and give members at least three days to read reports from conference committees.