By Jared Allen - 04/13/10 10:00 AM EDT
House leaders from both parties appear content to move on from the name-calling and uncivil behavior of the healthcare vote.
When House members return to Washington on Tuesday, they won’t convene any hearings on the subject, nor will they find themselves subject to new rules or guidelines governing their own behavior.
Republican leadership aides also said they don’t expect to have to deal with the issue of decorum or take any new steps to reduce threats made to members of Congress.
Just a few weeks ago, the conduct of individual House member, threats to lawmakers and verbal and physical altercations between members and protesters appeared to be taking on crisis proportions.
The final week of the House debate on the healthcare bill brought with it a rash of member-on-member insinuations and accusations, and the bill’s passage provided little immediate relief.
The week after the vote, members received new threats — many of which have resulted in police investigations and arrests — and House leaders traded accusations about which side was responsible for an increase in dangerous behavior.
The top three House Democrats even called the House’s top two Republicans to a special meeting on March 24 to discuss the possibility of dealing in a bipartisan manner with a debate that had spiraled out of control.
The March 24 meeting was a bust, and there will not be a second meeting anytime soon, as neither party has an interest in focusing on the issue.
“It doesn’t do either party any good to be having behind-the-scenes fights about who’s being mean to who,” a Democratic leadership aide said.
The issue is particularly dangerous for Democrats because any changes to House rules or policies would immediately be met with Republican charges of oppression and the trampling of minority rights — a trap Democrats said they are aware Republicans are ready to spring.
At the same time, a default agreement to move on doesn’t mean the two parties have reconciled their differences over who is to blame and whether anything should be done to prevent the next debate from erupting so acrimoniously.
Republican leaders have blamed “some stupid people” — as Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele put it — for a small number of highly publicized incidents in a mostly civil debate and, while condemning violence, have brushed off suggestions that they need to do more to change the tone and manner of political discourse.
At least one Republican leader — Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) — counter-accused Democrats of inciting violence by publicizing threats against members and using those threats to their political advantage.
Democrats see things differently, and were appalled when their attempts to secure a bipartisan statement in response to threatening incidents was rebuffed by the House’s top two Republicans. Republican leaders have refused to discuss the private March 24 meeting.
“There are sufficient rules in place,” a senior Democratic aide said. “The question is, Are you going to respect the rules and are your leaders going to demand that their members respect the rules?
“Hopefully there’s a heightened sense with all members of the need to follow the rules,” the aide continued. “But we’ll see what the future brings. This isn’t necessarily resolved.”
Democrats have made it clear they intend to focus on job-creating measures when the House resumes its business this week.
They view the issue as critical to completing the picture they hope to paint for voters in November.
For their part, Republicans would prefer to focus on highlighting the reasons they believe the Democratic agenda is bad, not on those visceral reactions it causes among certain groups of Americans.