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Post-partisanship? Not in the U.S. House

From NBC's Mike Viqueira

There appears to be some surprise at how the members of your U.S. House aren't all joining hands to pass the stimulus, after all the talk and expectation of a post-partisan new day dawning over Washington.

At the risk of coming off as pedantic, we offer the following in an effort to provide a contextual prism through which we might view this institution (recycling a pertinent point I made a couple of years ago)…

"The job of the minority is to make a quorum and to draw its pay." Words spoken by House Speaker Thomas Reed in 1890 that perfectly describe the sweeping hegemony of the majority party -- and emasculation of the minority -- that is as evident today as it was 119 years ago. The majority here controls every step of the process, and when you control the process, you control the substance. To put it in the current vernacular, the prevailing view over the years is that the minority should simply sit down and shut up.

It's not too much of an overstatement to say that the most oppressed minority in America is the minority here in the "lower body." If you're a member of the party out of power, R or D, you typically are not permitted to have your bills considered in committee or on the floor; it's hard to get your amendments debated and voted on (especially the ones that have a chance of passing); you even have to go hat in hand to the majority staff in order to get a room to meet in. In short, you take it in the neck every time.

It's been this way since the time of Henry Clay, and through the years it has more or less held true regardless of which party is running the place.

The Senate, where any one random member can raise his hand to object and gum up everything, is a completely different animal. But the House was designed to be more responsive to public sentiment (though the Founders were against the idea of a two-party system in Congress (Federalist #10, if you really care), and over time the majority has established rules and procedures that make it easy to exercise its will and run roughshod over those out of power. It's what the legislative geeks call a "majoritarian institution."

.... So, as it relates to the current debate, Democrats will be happy express the view, on background, that Republicans lost the last two elections, and, as a result, they should stop whining and get over it.

This attitude is manifest in the fact that Republicans were shut out of the process that resulted in the base bill. Yes, they had a chance to offer amendments during the committee process. But they lost those votes, and the argument can and will be made by Democrats that this is as it should be, that Republicans don't have the votes because the voters saw fit to elect someone else with different policies, and therefore they lost fair and square.

Two years ago, Nancy Pelosi rose to the speaker's dais on a platform of institutional reform. Despite that pledge, the majority, which she controls, has gone the other way, limiting the minority's ability to influence the legislative product in the House, largely in reaction to what Democrats consider to be a pattern of parliamentary abuse by Republicans.

What Pelosi found is that she couldn't both reverse a culture generations in the making and still be an effective speaker of the House. Surely Rahm Emanuel, her former lieutenant and the new White House chief of staff, understands this.

So if there is to be an era of bipartisanship, it is more likely to rise in the Senate. The cold, hard fact is that with their current advantage in the house, Democrats simply don't need Republicans to enact their agenda.