Dems like openness in GOP House

House Republican leaders, who were widely mocked last week, are now attracting praise from both sides of the aisle on how they are running the lower chamber.

The turn of events has coincided with a leadership-endorsed, freewheeling process for allowing Republicans and Democrats to offer amendments to a high-profile spending-reduction bill.

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Controversy on the legislation that would cut $61 billion from 2010 spending levels has subsided somewhat as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants set up a process to allow lawmakers to change the bill if they can get 218 votes.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who is serving his 15th term, praised the open process.

“There’s a refreshing aspect to it,” Berman told The Hill.

By and large, the majority party in the House has previously blocked amendments to continuing resolution (CR) spending bills, which are stopgap measures that fund the government.

Having campaigned on the promise to implement a “more open and transparent process,” Boehner broke with tradition. But legislators said that while previous Speakers vowed transparency, Boehner has actually followed through — at least so far.

Lawmakers were stunned at the beginning of this week when GOP leaders announced that bipartisan lawmakers could offer unlimited amendments to the current continuing resolution — the only restriction being that they be submitted before close-of-business Tuesday.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a confidant of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said the amendment process is “encouraging.”

“It’s rather retro. We haven’t operated this way in probably a decade. But it’s rather encouraging,” he said on MSNBC.

While Democrats are quick to note that Boehner did not allow amendments on the healthcare reform repeal bill last month, most of them acknowledge the House majority has respected minority rights on the CR.

There were exceptions. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) earlier this week defended the Democratic strategy of not offering a comprehensive alternative CR bill.

He said Democrats were denied a chance to offer alternatives when Republicans brought their CR to the House floor without first allowing members of the Appropriations Committee to amend it.

Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami earlier this week said, “This bill was written by Republicans behind closed doors in special conference meetings and in the Speaker’s office. This bill was written in secret.” 

Nearly 500 amendments to the CR were filed by the end of Tuesday.

GOP centrist Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio), a close ally of Boehner, called the Speaker’s handling of the situation “brilliant.”

LaTourette said liberal Democrats tried to test Boehner early on in the process when they went the floor to speak for their allotted five minutes, in an attempt to essentially filibuster. Several years ago, Republicans tried a similar tactic when then-Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) pulled a spending bill. Boehner, LaTourette said, let the situation play out.

“The temperature of the place has been taken down about 40 degrees,” LaTourette said.

Freshman Republican Rep. Michael Grimm (N.Y.) was pleasantly surprised that Boehner kept his word to allow for amendments on the floor.

“I’m shocked and, honestly, I’m proud that Speaker Boehner is doing exactly what he said he was going to do … but he really means it when he says something,” Grimm told The Hill.

But getting to this point wasn’t easy, as GOP leaders heard from members of their conference last week who were furious that the initial CR didn’t cut enough.

Members of the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) demanded changes, and leadership complied — nearly doubling the cuts from $32 billion to $61 billion. Some RSC members called for even more cuts, but were mollified when told they could offer an amendment that would do just that.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) applauded Boehner’s decision to have an open rule for the continuing resolution.

“It’s healthy for the process because everybody gets to participate. … You are having people vent and vet their views,” he said, adding that improves the final product that emerges from the House.

The outcome of the many amendments has been unpredictable.

Liberals and Tea Party lawmakers teamed up to kill a Boehner-backed alternative engine for the F-35 fighter.

But, as Boehner has said, “the House is working its will.”

The relative peace comes after a week in which the new House Republican majority got off to a rocky start.

The leadership called up two bills for consideration on an expedited process that crashed and burned after having to pull a trade bill that wasn’t ready for primetime. And one of their own, former Rep. Chris Lee (N.Y.), resigned unexpectedly after photos of him posing shirtless were published on Gawker.com.

The headlines were a disaster for the GOP, and both Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) subsequently said House Republicans were in “disarray.”

Republican leaders seem to have moved past those missteps. Yet, there are hurdles ahead as the brinkmanship between the White House and Boehner escalated over how to fund the government beyond March 4, when the current CR expires.