Getting to 218

That's the number of votes required in the US House of Representatives to approve the terms for debate. Even now, Reps. Christopher Shays (R) of Connecticut and Martin Meehan (D) of Massachusetts are seeking that number of signatures on a petition in order to give their campaign-finance reform legislation a fair hearing. (The Rules Committee recently blocked a straight up -and-down vote on their bill.)

Perhaps it's time for members of Congress to think again about using their rules to forward, not eliminate, debate on important legislation.

With a bare six-seat Republican majority in the 435-member House, the Republican-run Rules Committee ought to be working assiduously to get the public a fair and open debate regarding such controversial issues as the president's faith-based-services initiative, the Republican or Democratic versions of a patients' bill of rights, Social Security, energy bills, etc.

There's too much at stake for Americans to watch the House of Representatives, where much of the the legislative action is now, use its own rules to obfuscate, not expedite, needed debate on important national issues.

Such actions force politicians to the baser end of their job definition - swapping pet programs for votes, or reaching shaky compromises where none may really be needed.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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