New House rules inspire (cautious) optimism 

The same day they elect Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as speaker, members of the 112th House of Representatives must approve the rules under which they will operate. The package submitted by the new Republican majority provides a glimmer of hope that perhaps they may yet "get it" about why their party did so well in the 2010 congressional election. The rules package -- H.Res. 5 -- reflects an understanding by Republican leaders that they will be held not only to a higher standard than their Democratic predecessors on major issues but also to the promises they made to change the way Congress works. If these new rules perform as planned, they will provide a vital procedural boost to House members who are seeking to restore fiscal responsibility, transparency and limited government. The new rules also will eliminate some of the irrational biases that made the old rules legislative accessories to tax increases and spending games. Among the provisions are requirements that the results of all committee votes be available online -- including those of the Rules Committee -- and that committees present more frequent public reports of their activities. More importantly, all bills must be available online for 72 hours before any floor vote can take place. No more filing 300-page amendments at 1 in the morning for a vote on final passage a few hours later, as happened, for example, with the House's cap-and-trade bill in the summer of 2009.

If these rules had been in place last year, the Obamacare bill would have been ruled out of order. This would have prevented the budget make-believe that Democrats used to put one over on the American people and an insufficiently curious media. They front-loaded Obamacare's tax increases and back-loaded its expenses so that it appeared to reduce the deficit. What's more, the new rules allow highway spending to be cut back in the event that gasoline tax revenues sag.

Entitlements that increase deficit spending by more than $5 billion in any 10-year period over the next 40 years will now be forbidden. While we're thrilled to see that these rules will forestall new entitlement programs, the real test will be whether Republicans can start moving in the opposite direction to reduce spending, remove the dead hand of government regulation from the economy and create millions of new jobs. Then and only then will American voters know whether they made the right decision in November.

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