House passes new rules package
The House wrapped up the first day of the 112th Congress on Wednesday by approving a new rules package that will enact some significant changes to matters ranging from the debt ceiling to members' voting rights.
The new rules passed on a party-line vote, with 240 Republicans voting in favor and 191 Democrats opposed.
Democrats tried earlier Wednesday to block the package. Earlier Wednesday, the House rejected a resolution by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) that would have directed a committee to study the constitutionality of delegates' voting rights. One of the major changes in the package will take away the ability of delegates and resident commissioners from the District of Columbia and U.S. territories to vote in the "Committee of the Whole," a tactic typically used to speed along legislation.
Among the changes in the new rules is one that will do away with the so-called "Gephardt Rule," which allowed the House to automatically raise the debt limit when a joint budget resolution was adopted. The new rule means that members will have to go on record as either supporting or opposing an increase in the debt ceiling, setting up a potential showdown between the White House and congressional Republicans.
Other rules regarding spending cuts have irritated Democrats, who argue that they provide loopholes allowing Republicans to ignore the fiscal effects of health care repeal or or extending tax cuts. Republicans contend that the rules will promote fiscal responsibility.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) lauded the passage of the new rules Wednesday night.
"The passage of these reforms marks a first step towards restoring the House as an institution focused on listening to the people," Boehner said in a statement. "By respecting the Constitution, making it easier to cut spending, and empowering the people to see for themselves what Congress is doing, we are forging ahead with a clean break from entrenched rituals that have allowed Washington to duck tough choices."
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