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Constitution is focus of new GOP House rules

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Republicans take over the House next week, they will do something that apparently has never been done before in the chamber's 221-year history:

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They will read the Constitution aloud.

And then they will require that every new bill contain a statement by the lawmaker who wrote it citing the constitutional authority to enact the proposed legislation.

Call it the tea party-ization of Congress.

"It appears that the Republicans have been listening," said Jeff Luecke, a sales supervisor and tea party organizer in Dubuque, Iowa. "We're so far away from our founding principles that, absolutely, this is the very, very tip of the iceberg. We need to talk about and learn about the Constitution daily."

These are two standout changes on a long list of new rules Republicans will institute in the House when they assume the majority on Jan. 5. After handing out pocket-size Constitutions at rallies, after studying the document article by article and after demanding that Washington return to its founding principles, tea party activists have something new to applaud. A pillar of their grass-roots movement will become a staple in the bureaucracy that governs Congress.

"On November 2nd, voters called for an end to reckless spending and a renewed commitment to the Constitution," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a tea party favorite. "These new rules show that Republicans are serious about respecting the Constitution."

But the question being debated in legal and political circles off Capitol Hill is whether the constitutional rules are simply symbolic flourishes to satisfy an emboldened and watchful tea party base.

"I think it's entirely cosmetic," said Kevin Gutzman, a history professor at Western Connecticut State University who said he is a conservative libertarian and sympathizes with the tea party.

"This is the way the establishment handles grass-roots movements," he added. "They humor people who are not expert or not fully cognizant. And then once they've humored them and those people go away, it's right back to business as usual. It looks like this will be business as usual - except for the half-hour or however long it takes to read the Constitution out loud."

House Republican leaders announced dozens of new rules, including several measures designed to increase transparency in the legislative process. Committees will broadcast their hearings and mark-up sessions online, lawmaker attendance will be recorded for each committee hearing and the debt limit will no longer be automatically increased with each new budget resolution.

The reading of the Constitution will occur on Jan. 6, one day after the swearing in of Speaker-designate John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). The 4,543-word document, including all 27 amendments, could be read aloud in just 30 minutes. But the exercise probably will last longer.


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