updated 1/5/2009 8:46:11 PM ET 2009-01-06T01:46:11

House Democrats unveiled internal rules Monday that would end Republican-imposed, six-year term limits on committee chairmen and make it harder for GOP lawmakers to offer alternative legislation.

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In changing how the House operates, Democrats sent a message that they will use the huge majority they won in November to overpower Republicans any time they wish. GOP leaders complained to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that they were being marginalized, but there is little they can do.

The changes are set for approval Tuesday after the 111th Congress takes office.

Not all of the new rules were partisan, but they reflected only the Democratic view of how the House should be run.

The Democratic majority will be 256 to 178 with one vacancy when the new House is sworn in, compared to 235-198 with two vacancies at the end of the previous Congress.

One rule would have a longer disclosure requirement for House members negotiating a post-government job. Under the change, negotiations must be reported until the lawmaker leaves office. Previously, the disclosure directive ended when a successor was elected.

It also would be easier to object to so-called "air drop" earmarks: special projects added to legislation by House-Senate conferees after both houses already approved legislation.

Majority rules
For Republicans, however, the changes were a reminder that the majority rules in the House, unlike the Senate, where it takes 60 of the 100 senators to pass controversial legislation because of filibuster rules.

"President Obama has pledged to lead a government that is open and transparent. This (rules package) does not represent change; it is reverting back to the undemocratic one-party rule and backroom deals that the American people rejected more than a decade ago," Republican leaders wrote Pelosi.

When Republicans won control of the House in 1994, they adopted rules to limit the terms of committee chairmen to three terms, or six years.

That change followed four decades of Democratic rule, when committee chairmen ruled by seniority and built up unchallenged power to pass or block legislation. The powerful chairmen also built up a system of perks for themselves, including a special bank that allowed lawmakers to overdraw their accounts without penalty. That helped lead to the Democrats' downfall in 1994.

Republicans said the term limits they established were designed to reward new ideas, innovation and merit rather than longevity.

However, the limits also generated huge fundraising efforts by chairmen-to-be, moving them closer to special interests in the legislative areas they controlled.

Republicans also objected to a proposal that governs how alternative legislation can be offered. Republicans said this would prevent the minority from trying to eliminate hidden tax increases added to larger pieces of legislation.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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