Don’t be bamboozled by the mainstream media’s snarky coverage of the overthrow of Speaker John Boehner. It is not “chaos,” nor a brawl among politicians with oversized personalities and ambitions. The battle is over a key American principle, and the outcome will affect you.
Right now, newly elected members of Congress — meaning anyone serving a first, second, or even third term — is powerless. Members lacking seniority are told to shut up and vote the way the Speaker dictates or be punished. Those who dare refuse are dumped from committees and threatened with a primary opponent (funded by the Speaker and his clique) at the next election. As Former Speaker Newt Gingrich observes, “in free societies, it’s very difficult to try to govern by punishment.” But that’s Boehner’s M.O.
It’s humiliating for members of Congress, and worse for you. If your representative is powerless, you’re not represented. No wonder, some 62% of GOP primary voters across the nation feel betrayed by their party’s politicians. In 2010, these impassioned voters produced the biggest GOP gain in House seats since 1938, with marching orders to thwart Obama’s liberal agenda.
But the House’s top bosses have kept these newly elected members — more than half their party have been elected since 2010 — in servitude. The top committee jobs are closed to them, and existing rules prevent them from introducing bills or amendments and doing what their constituents elected them to do: govern.
That’s the birth of the Freedom Caucus, about forty conservative Republicans who are demanding a change in how the House is run. Not for their own egos. But to serve the people who elected them. Rep. Louis Gohmert (Texas) calls the Caucus’s demands a “Power to the People” platform. Among the leaders: Jim Jordan (Ohio), Mark Meadows (NC), John Fleming (LA), and Tim Huelskamp (Kansas). They are calling for an end to Boehner’s authoritarian reign.
For starters, allow each committee to elect its own chairman. Right now, the Speaker gives that plum job to someone who has raised a lot of money and banged a lot of heads for him.
Allow each committee to decide when to hold hearings, what bills to put on the floor, and what amendments to offer.
End the reign of terror. Meadows, who led the charge to oust Boehner, said the Speaker “uses the power of the office to punish members who vote according to their conscience instead of the will of the speaker.” Imagine that. Meadows was stripped of his position as chairman of a House Oversight and Government Reform panel after he didn’t support Boehner for Speaker, voted against fast track authority for Obama on trade, and dawdled about filling the Speaker’s party-building coffers.
Nobody’s arguing that the House can be governed in a fairytale state of complete individualism, with every representative acting on his own. Political machinery is, by definition, hierarchical and somewhat dictatorial. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to broker deals with the opposition party, or the President, and make them stick.
But Boehner went too far in suppressing the voice of these newly elected Republicans and ignoring the voters who sent them to D.C. to do their bidding.
It’s not the first time a Speaker has overplayed his hand. In 1910, Republicans revolted against Speaker Joseph Cannon and demanded reforms similar to what the Freedom Caucus proposes.
And it may take a while to choose a new Speaker, especially if the Freedom Caucus adheres to its platform, which it should. In 1923, it took nine ballots to elect a Speaker, because upstart Republicans held out for reforms again. The focus now is on Rep. Paul Ryan, popular with many members, but Jordan has made it clear that although the Caucus is favorable toward Ryan, they will support him only if he agrees to the procedural changes they’ve outlined.
While Washington insiders are bemoaning the disorder in the House, the public should be cheering. Their demands to be heard are getting results, thanks to the brave upstarts in the House. The GOP leadership better pay attention, or disillusioned GOP voters will stay home at the next election.
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