112th Congress kicks off with partisanship, as chambers clash over rules

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Jan. 5 - With the 112th Congress sworn in Wednesday afternoon and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) elected House Speaker to replace former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), both the Senate and House turned to debating new rules.

Even before the floor debate began on new rules, new Speaker Boehner (elected with 241 votes versus 173 for Pelosi and 19 for others) put in a pitch for the new Republican-proposed rules. He said the rule changes will increase transparency and be “Constitutionally sound.” In his opening speech, Boehner explained that the new rules are designed to create “a government that respects individual liberty” and make it easier to cut government spending. He said that the rule changes reflect the fact that in last November's elections, “the people voted to end business as usual and today we begin to carry out those instructions.”

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One clear sign of change came when Pelosi spoke from the Speaker's chair before handing the gavel over to new Speaker Boehner in what she called “a peaceful transfer of power.” Before making the transfer, she first listed the new heathcare law, the Don't Ask Don't Tell law, the Food Safety law and other bills as important achievements of the last Congress. Then she passed the gavel to new Speaker Boehner - who has pledged to repeal healthcare, with the Republicans' healthcare repeal legislation already on the agenda for House debate next Wednesday.

Over in the Senate, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell also focused on proposed rule changes - in his case blasting new rules proposed by Senate Democrats which he warned would undermine Constitutional government by giving the Senate's Democratic majority even greater ability to suppress minority views. He said that instead of introducing new rules to limit the minority's ability to filibuster, Democrats should “respect the rules of the Senate” and “the voice of the people” expressed so loudly in the November elections.

In his opening remarks to the new Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for bipartisan cooperation in order to deal with serious challenges facing the country. Listing the Democrats' legislative priorities, he said “We have to do even more to help middle-class families, to create jobs, to hasten our energy independence, to improve our children's education and to fix our broken immigration system.”

Reid said rules changes are needed “because the current system has been abused, and abused gratuitously. The filibuster in particular has been abused in truly unprecedented fashion. . . The recent abuses we've seen have hurt the Senate and they hurt the country. They hurt our economic recovery and they hurt middle-class families. They hurt the institutions that lead and shape America because they keep public servants and judges from their posts for no reason other than mere partisanship.”

Reid concluded that “The most important change we can make in the 112th Congress is to work better and more closely as teammates, not as opponents - as partners, not as partisans - to fulfill our Constitutional responsibility to pursue a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

McConnell responded by saying the problem hasn't been Republican obstructionism but instead the Democrats' determination to pursue “the most partisan legislation possible.”

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