The House Rules Committee has a long and fabled history in the Congress. It is the committee that distinguishes the House from the Senate. In its past, it has been an expeditor to legislation, a huge road block to progress, an extension of the Speaker’s office and all places in between. Currently, it is a mess.

When I worked for Speaker Hastert, we had a very capable chairman of the Rules Committee, David Dreier. Dreier was loyal to the Speaker, but he was no pushover. When he sensed discontent on his committee, he went to the Speaker’s office to work out the problems.

The new chairwoman of the Rules Committee, Louise Slaughter, apparently hasn’t read the manual left behind by Chairman Dreier. When she has trouble on her committee, she bulls forward. Instead of trying to work it out with her Speaker, she basically brings legislation forward, knowing that its failure will embarrass her publicly.

That is what happened last night, when a package of ethics reforms, supported by Speaker Pelosi, was given the back of the hand by just about the entire Rules Committee. I don’t disagree with the result. It was dumb legislation that had little support except for those “ethics” experts who think the flagellation of House members should be mandated at least once a month. But the process was a fascinating glimpse into the dysfunction that now rules the House.

A revolt on the Rules Committee speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the Democratic leadership. If they can’t get the Rules Committee to do its job, how can they convince the American people that they can take care of the nation’s business?

This not just an academic exercise. The fact that the House is holding up the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act may actually put American citizens at risk. That’s not just my opinion. That’s the opinion of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, no right-winger he, who believes that the Senate bill needs to get done ASAP.

Supposedly, House Democrats are holding up this bill because they have some constitutional concerns. Actually, they want to make it easier for their trial lawyer buddies to file lawsuits against the big pockets of the telecommunications firms. Confused? Me too. But that is the dysfunction that rules the House.

The collapse of the House Rules Committee is a symptom of a bigger problem that dogs the House Democrats. Their dysfunction is putting the nation at risk.