Democratic takeover of House empowering McGovern

Published: 1/11/2019 9:56:04 AM
Modified: 1/11/2019 9:57:02 AM

Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives was good news for people in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, whether or not you like all the political positions of Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of the 2nd Congressional District, who represents much of this area.

When Democrats became the majority in the House this year, McGovern became chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, which exerts lots of subtle influence over what bills move through the House and how. In interviews since assuming his new post, McGovern has signaled ways he will look out for his western Mass. constituents in his new job – and how he intends to make Congress work better for everyone.

For his constituents – residents of a large swatch of central and eastern Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region — McGovern said his position as chairman of the Rules Committee will allow him to shepherd bills that help western Massachusetts residents — specifically affecting infrastructure, environment and workers’ protection bills. It reminds us of a time when then Congressman Silvio Conte of Pittsfield, although a Republican in a blue state, safeguarded the interests of western Mass. as a chairman in a GOP controlled Congress.

“In my position on the Rules Committee, I’m going to be able to be a protector of western Massachusetts,” McGovern has said. “By that I mean I’m going to make sure that nothing is moving forward that’s going to adversely impact my constituents or the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

More broadly, McGovern’s committee is also changing how the House operates in a way that brings more openness and transparency – something that journalists advocate, our democratic form of government requires, and everyone should celebrate.

The GOP, McGovern has noted, “presided over the most closed Congress in history with representatives often voting on bills they hadn’t had time to study or that hadn’t had public hearings.” A select group of partisan leaders could control what bills saw the light of day.

The Rules Committee has put through new procedures that change how the House does business. McGovern is promising more openness – even to ideas he may not agree with. That’s refreshing and the way it should be. Fewer proverbial smoke-filled backrooms.

For example, it mandates that major pieces of legislation are available for 72 hours for House members to read before they go to the floor for a vote, a change from the requirement of about 24 hours.

There’s also a new requirement that bills with more than 290 co-sponsors (two-thirds of the House) are guaranteed to get a floor vote, which is intended to expedite bills with broad, bipartisan support — even if those in charge aren’t on board. No deep-sixing bills leaders don’t like.

McGovern, now in his 12th term, has ensured that bills also cannot go through the Rules Committee without already having a hearing in the appropriate committee for a public airing and assessment.

McGovern says he wants to be an “accommodating chairman,” who brings “more ideas to the floor,” including ones he doesn’t necessarily agree with.

“We should be helping people bring their ideas to the floor and we should have even ideas that we don’t necessarily agree with. We ought not to rig the system,” McGovern said.

The rules changes try to curb conflicts of interest and discrimination. The rules prohibit members and their staff from serving on corporate boards, which McGovern said will “close the conflict of interest loophole.”

The rules package also explicitly bans discrimination within the House on the basis of sexual orientation, gender and religion. and creates a “diversity office” so that “people who work here on Capitol Hill look like our country,” McGovern said.

All this sounds like very bi-partisan common sense. It’s hard to understand why this hasn’t been standard operating procedure all along, except that it may have served partisan power-grab purposes. We applaud congressman McGovern for making these changes happen so quickly.

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