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Whenever a new party takes control of the House of Representatives, one of the first and most important battles usually concerns the rules the chamber will operate under for the next two years.
On Jan. 4, 2011 -- one day before the Republicans officially took the gavel in the House -- Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., released a statement critical of the rules proposed by the new Republican majority. It was titled, "Meet the New Republicans -- Same as the Old Republicans."
"As the 112th Congress begins," the statement said, "the 'new' House Republicans are starting off by returning to their old ways. Their rules package shows that while they made promises to the American people that they would govern differently and cut the deficit, they are already failing to live up to their pledge. ... Already they have shut Democrats out of the process in developing the rules package:
"• Number of Democrats in the room when package was written: 0.
"• Hours of discussion with Democrats: 0.
"• Number of Democratic amendments allowed: 0."
For this fact check we're focusing on the question of discussion with Democrats.
First, some background on the House Rules Committee. Though it's not well-known among the public, the panel is highly influential. It sets the terms of debate for most significant bills that pass through the chamber -- how much time is allotted for debate, for instance, and what amendments will be allowed. It's also one of the purest forms of partisan control in a legislative chamber that gives almost untrammeled power to whichever party is in the majority.
Most committees are populated roughly in proportion to the two-party balance in the House, but the Rules Committee, in contrast, typically has about a two-to-one ratio in favor of the majority, and only rarely do members deviate from their party's position. The guidelines that the Rules Committee follows are largely set out in the rules package offered at the beginning of the year. That makes the rules package a high-stakes vote -- and one that is all but certain to be won by the majority party.
Given this background, it is a longstanding tradition that the rules package is put together by the majority, with limited minority input. So in the broad sense, Hoyer is right to characterize the process as one driven by Republicans. And as Hoyer surely knows, the Democrats did it the same way when they were in charge.
That said, there's evidence that the Republicans engaged in more than "zero" discussion with Democrats.
After the GOP won the majority on Nov. 2, 2010, party leaders appointed Greg Walden, R-Ore., to head the transition effort, which played a role in preparing the new rules package. Several media accounts documented that Walden reached out to Democrats during this process, and these stories named names.
Politico.com wrote that Walden "consulted with Rep. Robert Brady, the Philadelphia Democrat who runs the House Administration Committee; New Jersey Rep. Robert Andrews; Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano, who ran the Democrats’ 2006 transition to power; and Washington Rep. Brian Baird, whom Walden calls his best Democratic friend." (Baird retired after the last Congress, but the two talked during the lame-duck session in December.)
A spokesman for Brady confirmed to PolitiFact that Walden reached out "formally and informally" and that "discussions" were held during the transition from Democratic to Republican control.
Meanwhile, The Hill reported that Andrews and Brady were handpicked by none other than outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
For his part, Capuano, who chaired his party's transition to the majority in 2006, told the Washington Post that he offered the following wisdom to Walden: "The majority will not be the majority forever, and the majority should treat the minority as they would want to be treated when they're in the minority."
Hoyer's camp counters that these Democrats were part of the transition process rather than the rules-writing process. In a technical sense that's true, but a major part of the transition effort was to write a draft of the rules package.
In a Jan. 5, 2011, op-ed in Politico.com, Walden recalled the process of putting together the transition team, and he writes that the rules package played a large role in its work. "The morning after Election Day, I organized a team of 22 lawmakers to re-write the rules that govern how the House does business and to scour the Capitol Hill operations for inefficiencies," Walden wrote.
And when the draft rules package was unveiled in late December, Walden was prominently featured. In its coverage of the draft unveiling, FoxNews.com reported that "the reforms largely reflect the work of the GOP transition team led by Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon and House Rules working group chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah."
Hoyer is correct that transition team wrote the draft rules package rather than the final one, which had some modest differences. He’s also right that the final rules package -- which includes many provisions that Democrats oppose -- was written by Republicans alone. That is the way the process has worked in the House for as long as anyone can remember. But we believe Hoyer significantly overstepped when he said that there was "zero" Democratic input in the process. The Democratic input may have been only advisory, but GOP leaders did reach out to several Democrats for conversations on the rules package draft – something the Republicans were under no obligation to do. So we rate Hoyer's statement False.
Office of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, "Meet the New Republicans: Same as the Old Republicans," Jan. 4, 2011
The Hill, "GOP taps two Dems to advise transition effort," Nov. 17, 2010
The Hill, "GOP transition effort includes Dem feedback, online suggestions," Nov. 28, 2010
Washington Post, "Oregon Rep. Greg Walden: A handy man working to implement goals of GOP leaders," Nov. 14, 2010
FoxNews.com, "House GOP to Require Legislation Meet Constitutional Standard," Dec. 22, 2010
Greg Walden, "The House's Online, Open Transition" (op-ed in Politico), Jan. 5, 2011
E-mail interview with Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Jan. 5, 2011
E-mail interview with Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Jan. 5, 2011
Interview with Stan White, chief of staff to Rep. Robert Brady, Jan. 5, 2011
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