House Rules


Small potatoes

Emily Birnbaum, writing for The Hill on Nov. 26 reports:

Nine Democratic members of the Problem Solvers Caucus are urging prospective Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to back three rules changes as she aims to drum up enough support to lead the House.

What are these three changes, one might wonder. Here they are:

  1. The first proposal would require that any legislation that achieves 290 cosponsors — three-fifths of the House — be debated and get a timely floor vote.
  2. The second would mandate that any amendment with at least 20 cosponsors from both parties would get a debate and a vote.
  3. The final proposal says every member in every new Congress can introduce one bill on the committee on which he or she serves that would be guaranteed debate and a committee vote as long as the measure is bipartisan and germane to that panel’s jurisdiction.

The House is a large legislative body that can’t operate without rules. Are the proposed rule changes desirable?

The proposed changes don’t appear radical, but may have desirable and undesirable consequences if adopted. The primary effect would be to slightly reduce the power of the Speaker and committee chairpersons.

The first rule change would limit the power of the Speaker to keep popular measures from being considered by the House. While it seems reasonable that popular measures should be considered, past speakers have found reasons to block them. If an elected speaker is irresponsible, this rule change would do little to limit the harm. It the Speaker is responsible, this rule change seems unnecessary.

The second change is more clearly undesirable–it could result in too much time being wasted on amendments supported by special interests. It would reduce the power of the Rules Committee and the Speaker to guide proceedings of the House.

The third change seems highly political–committee members could seek publicity by forcing committee debate on pet bills. I rate this proposal undesirable. If the bill is a good one, it should succeed on its own merit.

It will be interesting to see if any of these proposed changes is adopted, and if so, what impact, if any, it has on legislation considered by the House.

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9 Responses to House Rules

  1. Carol says:

    If Tom Reed is pushing it, you KNOW it can’t be such a good thing. His bills generally go nowhere, so I am not surprised that he wants this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. whungerford says:

    Tom Reed’s motivation is certainly political, but what about the nine Democrats? Do they not trust the future Speaker?


  3. whungerford says:

    This is a draft of rules changes proposed by “Problem Solvers” before the midterm election. The three changes urged on the Democratic Party leadership by Democrats are a subset.


  4. josephurban says:

    Well, the Dems can make any rules they want when they take over. Problem is this. When the GOP becomes the majority again they will simply go back to the old system. Why should the Dems cater to the GOP when the GOP refused to allow any Dem proposals to come to a vote?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. whungerford says:

    The party with high standards must clean up the mess. It is easy to irresponsibly cut taxes, but hard to raise them when necessary as G.H.W.Bush is said to have approved at the cost of reelection. Should the Democrats stoop to the low standards set by the GOP? I hope they rise above it.

    My brother was a teacher’s union representative. The union found that they could negotiate for small class size which was educationally advantageous only at the cost of their wages and benefits. They decided to negotiate only for wages and benefits and let the board crowd as many students into classes as they would. When the board has low standards, students must suffer.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. josephurban says:

    Isn’t “political party with high standards” an oxymoron?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. whungerford says:

    Maybe I had better written “higher standards” or “relatively high standards. The bar for higher standards is discouragingly low.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. whungerford says:

    The rules reportedly agreed to are these:

    • Any bill with at least 290 co-sponsors can come to a floor vote.
    • Amendments with at least 20 co-sponsors from each party would be prioritized as the Rules Committee prepares legislation to move to the House floor.
    • The discharge petition process, which allows lawmakers to force bills to the floor for a vote, would be modernized so that such measures could come to the floor more quickly and on any day the House is in session.
    • The procedure called “the motion to vacate the chair” would be reformed so that organized groups on the far sides of the political spectrum – right or left – could not so easily threaten a coup to oust the speaker.


  9. whungerford says:

    Per Rep. Reed’s Jan. 11 email newsletter:

    The Rules Package includes the following “Break the Gridlock” Proposals:

    Reform the Motion to Vacate the Chair – In order to prevent the Speaker from being held hostage by a single Member, this package reforms the motion to vacate the chair to a more thoughtful process.

    Create a Consensus Calendar – Creates a new procedure to expedite consideration of measure with broad support. Once a bill receives 290 cosponsors, a clock begins for consideration of the bill..

    Strengthen the Three-Day Rule for Committee Markups – Require committees to provide three business days’ notice for committee markups.

    Modernize the Discharge Petition – Allow discharge petitions to be considered under a three-day notice process similar to privileged resolutions in order to facilitate their use and effectiveness, while still requiring 218 signatures.

    Return to Regular Order – Require bills that go through the Rules Committee to have a hearing and a markup before they go to the floor.

    These claims differ from previous accounts. It isn’t clear which story is accurate.


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