House Speaker John A. Boehner’s lofty pledges to break with precedent and run Congress in a more inclusive, transparent manner ended up a mixed bag over the past two years, as he fulfilled many of his vows, but had others fall to political pressure or circumstances.
The Ohio Republican oversaw the end of spending earmarks, but occasionally fell short of his pledge to give lawmakers the promised three days to read bills before they were scheduled to vote on them.
His chief vow, though, was to open the legislative process to amendments. He wanted to reverse a trend under the previous Democratic majority that offered limited opportunities for individual lawmakers to propose their own measures on the House floor.
“H.R. 1 was really quite remarkable,” said Sarah A. Binder, a specialist on Congress and legislative politics at the Brookings Institution. “They did let the process open up. It’s rare that parties have that leisure, and it’s rare they want to give up that kind of control.”
Ms. Binder, however, also described that first piece of legislation as an “aberration” and that other measures of the 112th Congress — such as the deal in the summer of 2011 to raise the federal debt ceiling — did not receive the kind of freewheeling debate of decades ago.
“The Republican majority did not pull us back to that period,” she said.
Mr. Boehner, who was re-elected as speaker on Thursday, called on members to devote themselves to service for the sake of the public. He avoided grand pledges about how he would run the chamber for the next two years.
His first address after taking the gavel two years ago focused heavily on the kinds of parliamentary changes that he said were necessary to free the chamber.
“Legislators and the public will have three days to read a bill before it comes to a vote,” he vowed. “Legislation will be more focused, properly scrutinized and constitutionally sound. Committees, once bloated, will be smaller with a renewed mission, including oversight. Old rules that have made it easy to increase spending will be replaced by new rules that make it easier to cut spending. And we will start by cutting Congress‘ own budget.”
The speaker lived up to many of those goals. The chamber’s rules do make it easier to cut spending, and every bill introduced in the House now must include a statement pointing to the specific constitutional authority that backs it up — though many lawmakers still don’t take the requirement seriously.
The three-day rule has fallen victim to circumstance. On Friday, the House leadership will push through a $9 billion package of aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy on the second day of the 113th Congress. Also, the final text of the “fiscal cliff” deal that Mr. Boehner pushed through the House on Tuesday was written less than 24 hours earlier.
The 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling also was made available to lawmakers less than a day before it was put to a vote.
Staffers said the three-day pledge didn’t apply to back-and-forth amendments between the House and Senate.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland wasn’t buying it.