Partisan bickering has become the rule on Capitol Hill, but once--and not all that long ago--debate and compromise got things done.
On April 17, 1997, shortly after I had completed my oral testimony on “civility in the House of Representatives” at a subcommittee hearing of the House Rules Committee, Chairman David Dreier (R.-Calif.) announced that he would have to suspend the rest of the hearing. Our testimony was “extraordinarily timely,” Dreier wryly observed, because a “real ruckus” had just erupted on the floor of the House over whether a member had violated House rules by engaging in personal criticism during debate: Representative John Lewis (D.-Ga.) said on the floor that the House ethics committee had found Speaker Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.) guilty of “lying” and “bringing discredit” on the House. The members of Dreier’s subcommittee were summoned to vote on whether to strike these personal references to Gingrich’s conduct from the Congressional Record. On a near party-line vote of 227 to 190, the House agreed to do so.
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Donald R. Wolfensberger is director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee. He is the author of Congress and the People: Deliberative Democracy on Trial (2000).more from this author >>