Real legislating (well, that and plenty of spin and mischief-making) has broken out, of all places, on the floor of the House of Representatives this week. That's because Republicans have brought up the bill funding government agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year under an "open rule," meaning that Members can offer amendments. Lots of amendments. Over 400, apparently. And votes, lots of votes -- I just watched the tail end of 15 consecutive two-minute votes.
Of course, many of these amendments are of the grandstanding and gotcha variety, but there's substance, too. What's interesting is that unlike the purely symbolic votes that began the 112th House, the voting patterns on these amendments aren't purely party-line votes. So, for example, the first vote was on an amendment by Arizona Republican (and Senate candidate) Jeff Flake to cut $18M on "unneeded boards and commissions." I have no idea which boards and commissions were covered (doesn't seem to be anything on Flake's House web site) but the amendment failed 207-223, with Democrats supporting it 115-75 and Flake's fellow Republicans opposing it, 92-148. Interesting, no? The House web site doesn't have most of the amendments up yet, but the ones that I watched had several different interesting voting patterns: for the most part, they weren't just >90% of one party against >90% of the other.
By the way, one of the initial reactions I have is that it's a reminder that voting in legislatures is to at least some extent a function of what's offered for voting -- which suggests that the extraordinary level of polarization in voting during the 111th Congress may have been to at least some extent a function of how Speaker Pelosi and the majority structured floor action.
At any rate, I'm impressed that Speaker Boehner and the rest of the Republicans were willing to allow amendments on this bill. I expect that when push comes to shove the GOP will, like the Democrats before them, resort to closed rules and other tactics to make sure their priorities will pass and to protect their Members from tough votes -- and they've done so on several things so far. But on this one, they've kept their promise about open government and fairness.