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Cantor’s Streamlined House Agenda

I want to go back to Eric Cantor’s blueprint for the House, because outside of the obvious change in legislative focus, I think there are some areas for agreement. This is particularly the case in the area of the committee and floor schedule.

The first thing Cantor wants to do is to develop “clear standards” for bringing legislation to the floor. The thing about adding in the Constitutional authority to act is kind of stupid, but basically, he pledges not to put something on the floor unless it is consistent with their particular goals as a party. If the Democrats vowed to do this when they were in the majority, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it.

But it’s the part about reforming the legislative schedule that interests me. He posits it as necessary because Americans don’t want more legislation. But actually, if put into practice this would be a vehicle for getting more done of value.

I will be discussing the 2011 House calendar with you further, but for now, I think we can all agree that the 3-day work week and the overlapping schedule it creates, leads to knee-jerk legislating.

Instead, I believe we need to return to a committee-driven legislature that investigates problems, listens intently to the citizenry, and proposes well thought-out solutions when necessary. Some of the best and most important work done each and every week is happening in our committees and subcommittees – yet Democrats have all too often ignored that great work. Oversight in particular, which all of us want to make a priority, is primarily a function of the committees. I believe a number of reforms are warranted to restore the balance between floor work and committee work.

Committee work is actually important and should be used as a vehicle to pass legislation. Cantor may want to forget this, but that’s how health care, cap and trade and financial reform passed the House – through diligent work in the committee. If he wants to shift time from the floor to the committee rooms, that’s not a bad thing. The suspension calendar is too big. Congress “honoring the 2,560th anniversary of the birth of Confucius or supporting the designation of national ‘Pi’ day,” which Cantor uses as examples, isn’t a great use of everyone’s time. I’m fine with this.

1. Eliminate expressions of appreciation and recognition for individuals, groups, events, and institutions. (There are other remedies that allow Members to show support without requiring the 435 votes of the House of Representatives.)

2. Consider designations and namings of post offices and other federal buildings only one day each month. (Congress has a constitutional duty to establish post offices, but I do not
imagine the Founders ever contemplated this duty soaking up deliberative hours every week.)

Now, in place of that when Republicans are in power will be a lot of cockamamie oversight hearings that they will take right to the floor and publicize. But when Democrats are in power, if this holds, legislators will go back to legislating more. And I don’t have any problem with an “Oversight Hearing of the Week” or a proliferation of field hearings under a new Democratic majority in the future.

Cantor has laid out a few decent ideas. He might not be so pleased if Democrats pick them up.

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David Dayen

David Dayen