Can the Congress Investigate the Clinton Administration Fairly?
May 19, 1998
in this forum:
Has politics tainted the investigation process? Is this anything new? Is there any way to conduct an investigation in a truly non-partisan way? Could the investigation backfire on the republicans next election? With the Republicans having such a slim House majority, how can there be a house committee with a two-thirds Republican majority for the Speaker to move the immunity question to? Has there been a decline in the quality of reporting on political scandal? Jeff Simpson of Sarasota, FL asks: With the Republicans having such a slim House majority, how can there be a house committee with a two-thirds Republican majority for the Speaker to move the immunity question to? During the previous Democratic control of the House, did Democrats have committees whose membership was significantly more Democratic than the House as a whole?
William Connelly, Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University, responds:
Yes, certain House committees such as Rules, Budget, Ways and Means and Appropriations traditionally have disproportionate ratios to ensure control by the majority party. For example, during their 40 year tenure as the "permanent" majority, House Democrats instituted a 9 - 4 supermajority on the pivotal and powerful House Rules Committee. House Republicans extended this precedent.
On balance the House Republican majority in the 104th and 105th Congresses has been somewhat fairer to the minority party than the Democrats were to them. Many political scientists have been impressed that the 1994 House Republican revolutionaries opted for reform over revenge by instituting greater procedural fairness in their rules regime. Perhaps the House GOP is more sensitive to the concerns of the minority because they remember what it was like to be in the minority. Also, they recognize that they will probably not reign for 40 years. House Republicans banned proxy voting in committees, promoted less restrictive rules for floor deliberations, and guaranteed the minority party the right to make a motion to recommit with instructions. By banning proxy voting in committee, for example, they eliminated the tyrrany of committee chairs "outvoting" a roomful of minority party Members just by counting the votes of absent Members who granted their "proxy" to the Chair.
On the other hand, the House GOP has also learned that the majority party needs to keep the legislative process moving. For floor deliberations, they've opted for time-structured modified open rules that allow the minority party opportunities to amend legislation on the floor without granting the minority an unlimited right to abuse dilatory tactics.
Speaker Gingrich may have the House Oversight Committee, under Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA), take on the task of immunizing key witnesses in the campaign finance probe in order to take their testimony. Republicans enjoy a 6 - 3 ratio on the Thomas-led Oversight Committee, while the partisan ratio on the Government Reform Committee is 24 - 20. Republicans need a two-thirds majority in committee to grant immunity, hence their desire to move this part of the probe to the Oversight Committee. Disproportionate partisan ratios on committees are nothing new.