Incompetence in the House

Last night, while the Republicans were debating in New Hampshire, House Democrats were demonstrating again that they were the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Legislation that should be non-controversial, HR 811, a bill to reform how Americans vote, was pulled from the legislative calendar. 

Apparently, Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said that not only would she vote against the bill if it came to the floor, she would vote against both the rule that her committee was charged with writing and the wishes of her leadership, especially her Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Now, the Rules Committee chairwoman serves at the pleasure of the Speaker. That is part of the deal about being the chairman or -woman of that committee. It used to be that the Rules Committee chairman had lots and lots of power. In the early part of the 20th century, the Speaker was the Rules Committee chairman. In the middle of the 20th century, the Rules Committee chairman took orders from nobody, and held up legislation, including civil rights legislation, for decades. But for the last 40 years or so, the Rules Committee chairmen, who serve at the pleasure of the Speaker, have done what the Speaker asked, largely because they had to in order to keep their jobs.

Now, apparently, Louise Slaughter has said that while she would do what the Speaker has asked, she would protest by voting no.

These are very interesting times in the House of Representatives.

The Democrats have lost more than a dozen motions to recommit, or MTRs, as the kids call them these days, this year, which means that the Republicans have had a winning coalition to get their best version of legislation through the House, an unusual situation in the chamber that is set up to let the ruling majority rule.

Speaker Pelosi, on several occasions, has voted against legislation that has eventually become law, such as on war funding and on terrorist surveillance.

And now the Rules Committee chairwoman has openly defied the Speaker.

Speaker Pelosi often gets credit for her ability to play power politics within her caucus, often by scaring the bejesus out of members to bend to her will.

But that reputation may be overblown. Time after time, the Speaker is acting more like a minority leader and less like a powerful Speaker. That may be because she simply doesn’t have the votes to get her way. Or it may speak to the larger issue of competence and the inability of the House Democrats to get their act together, which may explain their abysmal ratings in the polls.

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