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John Boehner, would-be Speaker, pitches his roadmap to fix Congress

Rep. John Boehner, who would be first in line to become Speaker if Republicans retake the House in Election 2010, forwards his plan for how to curb spending and ease gridlock in Congress.

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Boehner’s proposed fixes include:

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  • Instead of dealing with 12 “comprehensive” annual spending bills, break them up so Congress holds each department and agency accountable on its own.
  • Consider a “cut as you go” rule that requires any member proposing new government programs or benefits to find existing programs to cut.
  • Restore congressional oversight of each program to identify its purpose and whether it represents the best use of taxpayers’ time and money.
  • Require that members be given at least three days notice on all bills, and that committee votes be posted online within 24 hours.
  • Require that all committees webcast their proceedings and post complete transcripts online, with the exception of panels dealing with classified information.

These procedural changes would help restore transparency and a civil process, he said: “We should open things up and let the battle of ideas help break down the scar tissue between the two parties.”

Serious reform or pre-election posturing?

Of course, such complaints are a common theme of parties out of power, as are pledges to restore those rights once in power. “A new majority finds it convenient to operate in the way the old majority did to get things done,” says Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

What might be different this time is the influence of tea party insurgents who have often tilted against Washington Republicans as well as Democrats. In his speech Thursday, Boehner was seeking to highlight how he might try to change Congress to allow tea partyers their wish: to shrink a government that has only grown.

Moreover, procedure is a hot topic among tea partyers who bristle at Congress’s propensity to move fast – even before the contents of a bill can be digested. “Read the Bill” is a common chant or T-shirt slogan.

Tea party activists also often cite the US Constitution, and so did Boehner.

“We always hearing members of Congress talking about swearing an oath to represent their constituents when in reality the only oath we take is to the Constitution,” he said.

Republicans propose requiring that every bill that comes to the floor contain a clear citation of constitutional authority. “If we cannot do this much, we should put down the pen and stop right there,” he said.

Boehner said he expects resistance. But "some changes have to be made, and we can’t keep kicking the can down the road. We’ve run out of road,” he said.

House Democrats responded by challenging the GOP’s “dismal record” in their years in power and, more recently, in blocking the majority’s reform efforts.

“When the GOP was in charge, they quadrupled earmarks and legislated behind closed doors on behalf of corporate special interests,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “They want to talk about process. We want to talk about progress for the American people.”