Constitution to be Center Stage When House Republicans Take Over

GOP Introduces Strict New House Rules with an Old School Spin


December 30, 2010

The new rules the Republicans intend to use to operate the House of Representatives when they take over the leadership come January, are designed to send a message: Let's get back to the basics.

The Republican leadership presented a summary of the new rules Wednesday morning, revealing a number of strict -- and in a few cases unprecedented -- changes to the way Congress will be run. To underscore their point, they will kick off their reign as the majority by doing something that remarkably has never been done before: They will read the Constitution, all 4,543 words of it, including all 27 amendments, aloud on the chamber floor.

"The American people want a smaller, more accountable government – and that starts with respecting the Constitution," Speaker-designate John Boehner said in a statement to ABC News. "That's why we will read it on the floor next week. It sends the clear message that starting on January 5, the House of Representatives will be the American people's outpost in Washington, D.C."

Keeping with the theme, Republicans will also require every new bill presented on the House floor to cite which article in the Constitution authorizes the enacting of such legislation, a nod to the Tea Party, which made the Constitution a tenant of its movement throughout the midterm election cycle.

The Republicans say that among other changes, they intend to require a vote in order to raise the nation's debt ceiling; they will take attendance at committee meetings and publish the record; and they will require new mandatory spending to be offset by cuts to other programs. Also, the full text of bills must be circulated at least 24 hours before they are considered.

Some of the rules being introduced by Republicans are more expanded than they are new: The 111th Congress, which ended this year, had House Rule XIII, clause 3(d)(1). It required a "statement of constitutional authority of Congress to enact" to be included in every bill brought to the House floor.

House Republicans of the 112th Congress are taking it a few steps further. As Majority Leader–designate Eric Cantor's website explains, Republicans have a commitment to "require every bill to cite its specific Constitutional Authority" and are "recommending a change to standing Rules of the House to require that each bill or joint resolution introduced in the House be accompanied by a statement citing the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the proposed law."

Tea Party Watching Republicans Closely

The new rule requires sponsors of a bill to "submit for printing in the Congressional Record a statement citing as specifically as practicable the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the bill or joint resolution." The Congressional Record will have a new section just for this purpose.

In addition, when a member presents a bill or joint resolution, the bill must be accompanied by a separate sheet of paper citing the constitutional authority to enact the proposed bill or joint resolution.

To ensure members are equipped to follow the constitutional authority rule, the Republican leadership handed out a five-page memo and is offering training sessions. Cantor's office has even provided a cheat sheet which lists the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact legislation.

Tea Party favorite and newly elected member of the Republican leadership Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said she supports this "return and re-focus on the Constitution" and introduction of such rules are precisely why newly-elected members like her were sent to Congress.

"It's something Kristi heard a lot about on the campaign trail," Noem spokesman Josh Shields told ABC News. "She hopes that signals this incoming Congress is more in touch with their constituents and our country's founding principles."

It is, after all, what Republicans promised back in September: "We pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored," Republicans wrote in their 21 page "Pledge to America."

Tea Party Activists promise they will be watching the new Congress to ensure Republicans keep their promise.

"The true test will be whether this really has substance to it and isn't just guile and show," Jenny Beth Martin, National Coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, told ABC News. "We want to see that they really are paying attention to what is in the Constitution and not just trying to make voters go away and stop paying attention to them."

Martin said if this batch of Congressman and women doesn't step up, the Tea Party will find more challengers to incumbents in the 2012 election cycle.