Defending her record of leadership last summer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Politico she would defend “every grain of sand” of what she’s built in Congress. Truer words were never spoken — having passed a slew of bills no one read, with bipartisan opposition and little public support, Pelosi’s agenda increasingly looks like a House built upon sand and vulnerable to the shifting political tides.
Republicans should learn a lesson from Pelosi’s tenure: legislation must have a solid foundation of bipartisan and public support. Strong-arm tactics from the majority party undermine public confidence and undercut support for the legislative agenda. Should Republicans regain the House on Tuesday, we cannot afford to follow Pelosi’s example of silencing minority input and ignoring public feedback.
Speaker Pelosi’s low favorability rating among voters indicates widespread rejection of her efforts to ram unpopular bills through Congress. Rasmussen polls six weeks before Election Day showed Pelosi to be the most unpopular of the four top Congressional leaders, with only 12% of voters saying they view her very favorably. Without a broad foundation of support, Pelosi’s agenda may get swept away when voters have their say next week.
The democratic process was meant to be a consensus-building exercise — slow and deliberative, but producing legislation with a solid underpinning of support. Relying instead upon the unstable footing of her 39-vote majority, Pelosi has had the luxury of drafting and passing landmark legislation without securing a single vote from the minority party. Without input or buy-in from the minority, Pelosi’s extreme versions of once-popular reforms like health care have not been able to pass muster with the public.
Pelosi herself seemed to acknowledge the critical role of minority input in 2004 when she introduced the Minority Bill of Rights — a document now conspicuously absent from any official Democratic websites. The process by which legislation passes matters as much today as it did in 2004.
The ability of the minority party to amend bills on the House Floor, to recommit them to committee, or to play any significant role in shaping the final conference version of a bill is important. The use of these tools can broaden the appeal of landmark legislation and enhance bipartisan collaboration. On the other hand, procedural shenanigans like those we’ve seen during this 111th Congress undermine the faith of the people in their elected representatives and can result in legislation with no real mandate.
Should we be fortunate to win enough seats on Tuesday to retake the majority, we must be committed to allow bills to be amended from the Floor during debate (the so-called open rule). During the 111th Congress, I have yet to see a bill come to the Floor under an open rule. We should restore the Motion to Recommit to committee — a longstanding tool removed by Speaker Pelosi last year. And we must do a better job than Democrats have done of holding regular conference committee meetings, which enable minority input during the final draft of a bill.
Voters may not necessarily pay attention to every vote or provision in each bill. But they do expect certain things from the United States Congress. They want us to read the bills we pass. They want us to work together to support bipartisan solutions. And they want us to listen to them instead of forcing legislation through a manipulated process “so we can find out what’s in it.”
Instead of a collaborative effort to address problems, voters see a winner-take-all system which rewards partisanship over problem solving. If we do not take the time to build broad coalitions of support for our agenda, our efforts to lead will be no more successful than Speaker Pelosi’s fast-dissolving House upon the sand. We must not fall for the quick fix that leverages tomorrow’s prosperity to pay for today’s problems. Instead, our job is to assure the American people that we will build strong support to embrace solid solutions to long-term problems.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz represents Utah’s Third Congressional District.