There has been a lot of discussion of “changing Washington” in the months leading up to the transition from 111th to 112th Congress. Obviously, some of that was simply rhetoric, and some of it will be pursued with vigor (at least in the first session; enthusiasm may die down once the freshman class realizes some of the proposed changes will get in the way of effectively doing their jobs, just as high school and college freshmen realize by the second semester that things will not go exactly as anticipated).
Earmarks – You should know that the ban on earmarks is not in the House nor Senate rules. It is, however, in the Republican Conference rules (which point to the House rules for guidance on defining earmarks). As the definition of earmarks and what will and won’t be permissible is worked out, it is safe to assume if it was considered an earmark within the last five years, it will be considered an earmark moving forward.
However, experts argue that the current talk of an outright ban doesn’t make policy sense and will eventually reveal itself as allowing too much to the discretion of the Executive Branch. New members of the House, in particular, are expected to tone down the rhetoric once they realize an all-out earmark ban would tie their own hands.
Transparency – Electronic texts have newly been added to the House rules regarding accessibility of legislation to the American people. Though Congress has traditionally been concerned with the security implications of making legislation accessible online, this is expected to be the new standard as electronic media becomes more and more prevalent in society.
“Budget Czar” – Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will have the power to unilaterally set policies regarding certain budgetary decisions, including the spending aggregate. He may also decide to sub-allocate funds to advance the conservative agenda.