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With trademark lachrymosity, Congressman John A. Boehner accepted the gavel of the House of Representatives Wednesday from outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Presiding over his maiden session in the “people’s House,” Boehner aptly expounded on “the people’s” will and the urgency of enacting it during the already-fleeting tenure of the 112th Congress. “The people voted to end business as usual,” the speaker said, “and today we begin carrying out their instructions.” More than empty rhetoric, Speaker Boehner leads an ambitious Republican constituency, which has already seized both horns of the national dilemma: the looming prospect of the unpopular healthcare legislation passed by President Obama and the previous Congress, and the unmanageability of federal spending. Both pit Republicans directly against the agenda President Obama has aggressively led for the past two years. This time around, however, no single party holds many trump cards.
A few hours after representatives were sworn into office, the now Republican-led House enacted a number of new rules to address spending and taxation. A Democratically-controlled House in 2007 instituted the “pay-go” policy, essentially requiring that new spending be offset by spending cuts or tax increases. Today’s Republicans have replaced this policy with what they call “cut-go,” or requiring spending cuts and prohibiting tax increases for new spending. Taxes, on the other hand, can be cut even without an offset in spending reductions elsewhere. This maneuver has prompted many on the Left to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy with respect to their seriousness toward reducing the deficit. This criticism, however, ignores the potential for diverting revenue to the deficit from desperately-needed government downsizing. As GOP leaders have frequently argued, “We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”
The talk of the town as of late has been the need to raise the federal debt ceiling, which proponents argue is needed to preserve America’s AAA credit rating. House Republicans are divided on this issue, with some staunch conservatives absolutely committed to voting “no” on an increase, while some suggest they will vote for the increase if it is accompanied by austerity measures. In any case, new House rules have mandated that the debt ceiling increase must be approved through an on-the-record vote, rather than through the annual budget process. This will make the increase more difficult to pass, or at least the subject of closer public scrutiny. Another House rule will require the bill (and all bills) to be posted on the Internet 72 hours before being brought to the floor for debate. This will be a sharp distinction to the secrecy of Pelosi’s House, where legislation was not uncommonly fashioned in the early morning hours and brought to the floor for a vote the following day.
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