Boehner: U.S. House Is in a 'State of Emergency'

By Chris Neefus | October 1, 2010 | 2:48 PM EDT

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio addresses the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Washington ( House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that the House of Representatives is in “a state of emergency” due to rules that discourage debate and foster corruption.

In a policy speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., Boehner observed that the House is no longer able to follow the will of the American people.

“The House finds itself in a state of emergency,” Boehner said. “The institution does not function, does not deliberate, and seems incapable of acting on the will of the American people.”

The ten-term Ohio congressman laid out an agenda for reforming the House after what he called the “collapse” of the institution in the past weeks and months.

“Just look at how the 111th Congress is not so much concluding as much as it has collapsed,” he said. “Instead of tallying up a final flurry of legislative output, observers and constituents are asking, ‘What went wrong?’”

Boehner said a chief failing of this Congress, which narrowly voted to adjourn on Wednesday, was the fact that congressmen were heading home to campaign without providing any certainty about the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year.

“This week we had, in my view, an obligation to bring both parties together and stop massive tax increases scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1--increases that we’ve seen coming now for two year,” Boehner told reporters. “Even with the existence of a clear, bipartisan majority and the support of the American people, we could not get a single up-or-down vote. It’s a sad but not altogether surprising finale to this Congress, and the latest in a long string of congressional sessions that have frayed the fragile bonds of trust between the American people and their elected representatives.

The top House Republican listed a number of proposals that he said would help the body produce better legislation under a more transparent process.

Boehner proposed a “Cut As You Go”--or CUTGO--rule, which would require members to cut or shrink a government program in the same bill that they propose any new benefit or program. He also porposed re-focusing committees back onto their constitutional role overseeing the Executive Branch and again allowing bills to be debated under the “open rule” system--meaning that any member is allowed to submit germane amendments for consideration.

“This is the first Congress in our history that has not allowed one bill to come to the floor under an open rule. The current freshman class has served almost their entire term without ever having the chance to debate a bill under an open process in the House,” Boehner said.

For example, the health-care reform bill was largely crafted by House leadership and then sent to the Rules Committee, which set strict limitations on the length and breadth of debate--a process Boehner called “ugly.”

“I’ve been here nearly 20 years,” Boehner said of his time in Congress. “I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly; and lately, there’s been a lot of ugly.”

The House on Wednesday narrowly voted (210-209) to adjourn until after the election, after considering dozens of bills under its “suspension” calendar--meaning that the normal rules of the House were suspended, debate was limited to 40 minutes, no amendments were allowed and a two-thirds majority was required to pass a bill.

Congress will not reconvene until after the midterm elections on Nov. 2, when every member of the House is up for reelection.