On Hardball, Tony Blankley falsely claimed that Republicans had considered the entire "Contract with America" under "open rules." In fact, several bills related to the Contract with America were considered under rules that limited the amendments that could be offered.
On the January 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley falsely claimed that Republicans had considered the entire "Contract with America" under "open rules." According to Blankley, who was press secretary for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) in 1995, in "the first several months [of 1995], we stuck with them, the open rules allowing every amendment to come up that either the Democrats or the Republicans on the floor wanted to do." He later said that Republicans "permitted amendments with our Contract with America items, all of them." In fact, with several of the legislative proposals stemming from the Contract with America, amendments were restricted or prohibited.
The House split the Contract with America proposals into several bills. As the House was debating the rule that would govern consideration of the "Contract with America Tax Relief Act of 1995," Rules Committee chairman Gerald Solomon (R-NY) inserted a chart into the Congressional Record for April 5, 1995, listing the type of rule under which each proposal had been considered on the floor up to that point. The chart documents that at least five bills containing Contract with America proposals came to the floor not under "open" rules, but under "modified closed" rules. The chart defines a "modified closed rule" as "one under which the Rules Committee limits the amendments that may be offered only to those amendments designated in the special rule or the Rules Committee report to accompany it, or which preclude amendments to a particular portion of a bill, even though the rest of the bill may be completely open to amendment."
An April 2, 1995, New York Times article noted the effect of one such rule, which governed the consideration of the welfare reform bill (the "Personal Responsibility Act of 1995"):
The Rules Committee had allowed dozens of amendments to be considered on such minor items in the welfare measure as whether to deny benefits to fleeing felons. But it had prohibited amendments on such important matters as whether programs for the poor should be converted from entitlements to block grants, whether welfare payments should be taken away from unmarried mothers under 18, whether women who bear children while on welfare should be denied higher benefits, whether legal immigrants should be ineligible for welfare and other public assistance, and whether spending for programs like school lunches and aid to the disabled should be cut.
The Republicans' welfare bill, he [Solomon] recalled, includes a provision that would increase grants to states that reduce births to unmarried women. The measure's sponsors argued that this would encourage states to develop programs to counter teen-age pregnancies. But the provision was attacked by the Roman Catholic bishops and anti-abortion organizations, which argued that it might lead states to promote abortions.
To keep members from having to take sides on this touchy issue, Mr. Solomon said, the Republican leaders simply disallowed any amendment on the matter.
From the January 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. We're back with [social and political commentator] Mike Barnicle and Tony Blankley.
Well, let me ask you about this big fight. You worked for Speaker Newt Gingrich. I worked for Speaker [Tip] O'Neill [D-MA]. We know the rules.
Are the Democrats going to play fair?
BLANKLEY: I don't think so, and it doesn't surprise me --
MATTHEWS: Does anybody play fair when they're the majority?
BLANKLEY: To be fair to the Republicans, just for a moment, and we're --
MATTHEWS: Well, do they?
BLANKLEY: We're running a wonderful article by Bob Walker in tomorrow morning's Washington Times --
MATTHEWS: The former Congressman from Pennsylvania who was the sort of the -- he was the --
BLANKLEY: He was our floor specialist. And he's described the rules that we enacted in '95, which we didn't keep to after awhile. For the first several months, we stuck with them, the open rules allowing every amendment to come up that either the Democrats or the Republicans on the floor wanted to do. Then, as the years progressed, we got tougher -- tighter and tighter and more and more unfair.
The Democrats seem to be starting, based on what they have announced so far, that they're not even going to be fair at the beginning. They're having closed-door --
MATTHEWS: Are they saying, no amendments, no hearings --
BLANKLEY: We permitted amendments with our Contract with America items, all of them. And they're not going to do that. So, I think it's a mistake for their --
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what they're up to, Mike.
Mike, what they want to do is pass six big things that matter to a lot of people: prescription drugs, refining that bill; college-loan reduction costs; minimum wage; stem cell. Things that matter to most people. Get them all passed before the State of the Union in two weeks and be able to say, "Look, we put points on the board. We got bragging rights. We got something done."
BARNICLE: Well, let me ask you, both of you, a question that I can't answer because I don't live here all the time. What does "fair" mean in the context of the politics of today?
BLANKLEY: "Fair" means -- used to mean in Congress that the rules that allowed the minority party to amend -- it meant going, taking the bills to committee and report out of the committee, instead of doing it out of leadership.
Now, that's what we started to do near the end of the -- before 2006 came up and a couple of years before that, we started doing the same thing the Democrats are going to do now, which is don't even take the bill to committee, where the committeemen have a chance to work their will on it, just to do it directly out of leadership, out of the Rules Committee.
MATTHEWS: But if you were [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] and you wanted to prove, as the first woman speaker, that you could get things done, wouldn't you want to do like at a football game, where you could score three quick touchdowns? Wouldn't you want to do it?
BLANKLEY: It's a trade-off, yes. You get more done quickly if you don't have any dissent. On the other hand, over time, the comity, the civility breaks down and the public begins to sense that there's an unfairness going on. So, it's a trade-off.
If I -- we did it open for the Contract with America for the first hundred days. They're apparently going to not even do it open for the first hundred hours.
BARNICLE: If the Democrats get a version of some form health care, reduction in student-loan interest payments, minimum wage --
MATTHEWS: Stem cell.
BARNICLE: -- stem cell research, that's fair.
MATTHEWS: They're going to get a lot of things people like.
MATTHEWS: We haven't raised the minimum wage in ten years.
BLANKLEY: The argument of every dictator is they're giving people what they want. That's not a justification --
MATTHEWS: You mean getting the trains to run on time? Is that what you mean?
BLANKLEY: Getting the people what they want isn't necessarily the fullest of democracy.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you, the Democrats are not well known for getting the trains to run on time. So, if they do it, maybe they'll get something done.
You think the average person out there working at below minimum wage cares how they get the minimum wage hike or they just want to get it?
BLANKLEY: No, of course not. Most people don't care about process. But people here in this town like you and I, who have been working in this for decades, understand that there's a role for process and equity in the process. And both parties, when you get power, the first instinct is to abuse the process. And it pays off for a while and then you pay a price.