Thursday, June 08, 2006

Incivility in the House of Unrepresentatives: Washington Post Reporter Juliet Eilperin Scrutinizes the People's House

Incivility in the House of Unrepresentatives: Washington Post Reporter Juliet Eilperin Scrutinizes the People's House
Friday, Jun. 02, 2006
Currently, about two-thirds of America disapproves of the job the Congress is doing. In a few months, however, they can do something about it when they elect the 110th Congress.

What is to be blamed for this overwhelming displeasure with Congress? While Congress-watchers are aware of the source of the problem, few others understand more than the fact that in the House, rancor has replaced reason - at the expense of Americans.

The U.S. House of Representatives is the true battlefield of contemporary national politics. Since 1994, Republicans have controlled the House, and since that time Juliet Eilperin has been covering the House for States News Service, Roll Call, and the Washington Post. (In 2004, she began covering the global environment for the Post.)

Eilperin thus is uniquely qualified to write about the House, and the title of her new book nicely sums up her take: Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship Is Poisoning the House of Representatives. The book is her account of "how the House of Representatives became the House of Unrepresentatives."

It would be difficult to be more fair and balanced than Eilperin has been; nonetheless, she acknowledges, at the outset of her report, her view that Republicans "have failed to live up to their own promises of reform" - their 1994 contract with America "to reclaim the House for the American people." While she finds both Republicans and Democrats at fault for the current state of affairs, her journalistic analysis of the "dysfunctional" House holds Republicans responsible, in particular, for failing to honor their promises.

But this is not a polemic or effort to castigate either party. Rather, Eilperin wants those who are not familiar with the partisanship and incivility to understand what it is doing to "the people's house." Accordingly, she seeks to explain why she believes it is occurring, and to consider what, if anything, can be done.

The 1994 Shakeup of the House: Republicans Win Control, and Make Changes

Republicans won control of the House in 1994, after forty years in the political wilderness and several decades of trashing the Democratic leaders of the House, and portraying the body itself "as an evil institution." Newt Gingrich and other backbenchers relentlessly and endlessly attacked for over a decade, charging Democrats with misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance - or worse. Republicans promised they would do better if given a chance to lead.

Once in control, the GOP leadership made fundamental changes in the operations of the House. None was more dramatic than eliminating the powerful fiefdoms of committee chairmen who had obtained their posts though seniority alone, under both Democratic- and Republican-controlled Congresses. Under the new Republican rule, chairmen were to be selected by the leadership based on a combination of seniority and willingness to play ball with the leadership....