Study: Members of Congress insult one another less than in years past

Chris Moody

The current session of Congress began with a bipartisan call for civility, and, believe it or not, House members have played nice with each other all year, according to one new study.

Despite what seems to be a constant stream of of bickering, the level of political discourse has been fairly docile this year by one measure. The Annenberg Public Policy Center counted the number of insults hurled by members on the House floor that were objected to by another member.

The study, released this week, compared the number of insults from this year to number from the 104th Congress in 1995, when Republicans swept the chamber after decades of Democratic rule.

"So far the 112th Congress has not produced the sorts of incivility that disrupted the first session of the 104th," Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the report's author, said in a statement. "The historical indicators  predict a higher number of incidents in which a Member impugns the integrity, ideology, or patriotism of those of opposed views than we've seen so far."

"But," she added, "the warning signs continue to blink."

The rules that members follow to converse with each other on the House floor are set up to encourage civility. According to House rules, members cannot refer to each other by name--instead they use the term "my friend" or "the gentlemen from [another state]." (You can see why conversations on the House floor tend to be more passive-aggressive than anything else.)

If one member insults another, the one on the receiving end can request that the words be stricken from the record, which is how this study measured the level of civility.

This year, that has occurred only three times: when Mo Brooks, a Republican representative from Alabama, said Democrats were "socialist members"; when Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic representative from Oregon, cited Politifact's conclusion that the Republican talking point that President Obama's health care plan was a "government takeover" was the "lie of the year"; and when  Mel Watt, a Democratic representative from South Carolina, said Republicans "just make stuff up."