- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2014

Republicans won the House in 2010 with their “Pledge to America” vowing a more transparent legislative process, but they broke many of those rules in this month’s end-of-year push to pass spending bills and a massive package of land deals.

The Pledge committed House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and fellow House Republicans to providing ample time for lawmakers to read bills and assured Americans that the party, if given the reins of power, wouldn’t cram unpopular measures into must-pass bills to sneak them through.

But the $1.1 trillion spending bill, spanning 1,600 pages of legislative text and another 1,200 pages of explanation, was passed in just 48 hours. About one-quarter of the pages in the annual defense policy bill had nothing to do with defense and instead were devoted to establishing 250,000 acres of new national park sites and land swaps, mostly in Western states.

“Under normal order the House sticks to those [pledges] pretty well, but as soon as the pressure is on they throw all those things out the window, especially in the last couple [of] weeks,” said Matthew Rumsey, director of the advisory committee on government transparency at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group.

Mr. Boehner’s office insisted they adhered to the three-day rule despite posting the bill at about 9 p.m. on a Tuesday and having colleagues vote on it 48 hours later, at about 9 p.m. Thursday. It would have been only 41 hours, but a rebellion among House Democrats pushed the vote back by seven hours.

They hit the three-day mark by counting the three hours Tuesday night as one day.

SEE ALSO: Congress fast-tracks bills loaded with special interest projects in year-end rush

“The bill was available all or part of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That is the requirement under the three-day rule,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

That’s not how Mr. Boehner described it in 2010, when he said if he was “lucky enough to be the speaker, I will not bring a bill to the floor that hasn’t been posted online for at least 72 hours.”

“So let’s bring more transparency and accountability to how Congress works, and let’s get rid of these 2,000-page bills that nobody can read and understand,” he said in quotes that are still available on his campaign website.

The spending bill came in at 1,600 pages, while the defense policy bill ran to nearly 1,650 pages.

Mr. Rumsey of the Sunlight Foundation said the Republicans had found a “loophole.”

“It meets the technicality of what they set out in their rules, but it obviously does not match the spirit of the rhetoric that they were pushing,” he said.

They fell short on the 72-hour waiting period for 18 bills and 13 spending measures during the 113th Congress, according to a count by Democrats on the House Committee on Rules.

New York Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter, the committee’s ranking Democrat, noted that the Republican majority had pushed through 83 bills in the last session without allowing amendments, which, in the case of the omnibus, breaks the GOP’s pledge to accept amendments on spending bills.

“With no opportunity for public input, no committee hearings, no committee markups and no time to fully consider this legislation, this bill been brought to us under an onerous, blatantly political process, and its contents are troubling as well,” she said during the floor debate of the spending bill. “It seems to me that, with every passing hour, a new alarming provision comes to light.”

The spending package included a slew of policy riders that also could be considered unpopular legislation under the one-issue-at-a-time pledge, including:

Repealing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law’s ban on banks trading in federally insured derivatives, or high-risk loans, which outraged liberal lawmakers like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and nearly derailed the spending package;

Raising the cap on individuals’ contributions to the national political parties tenfold per election cycle;

Blocking the Obama administration from giving Endangered Species Act protection to the sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that, if protected, would stand in the way of economic development and oil drilling projects across the West;

Prohibiting the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana.

Mr. Boehner has blamed the Democrat-run Senate for not passing the 12 individual spending bills and forcing Congress to pass an omnibus or allow the entire government to run out of money and shut down.

“This is exactly the way I don’t want to do business,” Mr. Boehner said after the massive spending bill passed the House. “I want to do 12 appropriations bills. I want to do them one at a time, and I want to do them before Oct. 1. But when the Senate does nothing, they put us in this box.”

The House did pass seven of the 12 appropriations bills, including accepting amendments, before resorting to the omnibus in the final days of the session.

The test will come next year, when Republicans have majorities in both the House and the Senate and will exert complete control over the appropriations process.

Still, House Republicans fulfilled most of the items in the pledge, including putting a cap on federal spending, reducing deficits and making permanent most of the President George W. Bush-era income tax cuts.

They also passed legislation that would keep their promises to repeal Obamacare, reduce federal regulations and provide tax relief to small businesses. But those measures, and many more House-passed bills, languished in the upper chamber.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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