Flush with victory after the November elections, Democrats controlling the U.S. House solidified their power last week as the new Congress came into session, ramming through new rules to inconvenience minority Republicans.

Flush with victory after the November elections, Democrats controlling the U.S. House solidified their power last week as the new Congress came into session, ramming through new rules to inconvenience minority Republicans.


The move, which essentially cuts off an avenue the GOP used to influence, and sometimes halt, legislation during the last two years of Democratic control, isn't consistent with the spirit President-elect Barack Obama is trying to bring to Washington, and doesn't serve the cause of democracy.


One of the cornerstones of Obama's transition has been a call for unity and bipartisanship. Indeed, his efforts to include Republican voices and stake out centrist ground have won him plaudits from a Republican establishment that recognizes he could easily be freezing them out instead. But Obama, unlike House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seems to understand the simple truth that in 2008 people voted not just for a change, but against divisive politics and the paralysis it produced.


But these changes to House rules - which prevent the minority from sending bills back to committee and banish term limits on committee chairmanships, among other things - may end up doing the opposite of what's intended, not so much greasing the wheels of policymaking as grinding them to a halt. It was opposed by a mere six Democrats.


Among the worst things to happen to Republican President George W. Bush was Republican control of Congress, as there was little challenge to some of his worst instincts. (Arguably the same Bush was a far more effective governor of Texas, where power was shared between the parties.) Sidelined Democrats called foul as the GOP ran roughshod over their objections. A weakened legislative opposition, unable to apply the brakes to odious measures and fight their way closer to middle ground, begets an electorate infuriated by the tyranny of the majority and eager for a change to restore the balance of power.


Heavy-handed majorities from both parties have for generations had to learn this lesson the hard way, but it never seems to stick. Ultimately, when those in power so stack the deck in their favor, enough bad ideas get through to cause a backlash. Meanwhile, the parties have one more excuse to vilify one another, which never accomplishes anything.


With minority voices silenced, the accountability for what happens next will fall entirely on Democrats. That's a huge risk for them. No one party has all the answers. The failure of both sides to recognize that ... well, let's just say stupidity and hubris are clearly bipartisan afflictions.


Peoria Journal Star