House Rules

I would rather be right than President–Henry Clay

In an article in The Hill, Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, discusses expected changes to the rules of the House. He says he doesn’t favor all of them, but praises the package nevertheless, evidently from a partisan perspective. He discusses the following:

  1. Restoring the ‘Vacate the Chair’ rule
  2. Restoring legislative review and deliberation
  3. Reinstate budget and tax procedures
  4. Committee reforms

1. Restoring the ‘Vacate the Chair’ rule

“Vacate the Chair” means fire the speaker. The question is how many supporters are needed to make the motion. It has been as few as one. Professor Turley wrote:

Pelosi eliminated the one-member rule and, instead, required a majority of either party to make such a motion. Some Republicans wanted that check on the speaker to be reinstated.

By attacking Rep. Pelosi, Professor Turley signals his support for a small number, perhaps only one. The events of this week show how this would work. Whether the motion goes to committee or requires an immediate vote, the minority party would vote in favor with the majority of the majority party opposed. Thus a few dissidents in the majority party would determine the outcome. The Speaker could be fired effectively by a small number of dissidents.

Turley continues:

Notably, what has unnerved so many in Washington is that this speakership debate was not just largely public but also unscripted. It was an actual deliberation, conducted in front of the American people.

I don’t believe there was any meaningful public discussion of the dissidents demands or Kevin McCarthy’s concessions, particularly on the question of “vacate the chair;” the debate occurred in private. Even if true, neither the majority of Republicans nor the public had any say in the outcome.

2. Restoring legislative review and deliberation

Professor Turley claims:

For years, some of us have called for smaller bills and more deliberation. Massive bills are a way to hide personal perks and pork projects under fraudulent packaging like the “Inflation Reduction Act” that had little to do with inflation. The omnibus bill recently pushed through the House and Senate is an example of this abusive, opaque process. 

Omnibus bills have proved effective for funding the government. Like it or not,  a 435 member parliament can’t operate like a rural town hall meeting. Again we saw this week what happens when a faction can delay and disrupt.

3. Reinstate budget and tax procedures

Professor Turley claims:

These are measures designed to control federal spending — a shock to a system that has abandoned any semblance of fiscal responsibility under both parties.

Implicit is the idea that Federal Spending should be limited possibly to a level that would restrict government’s ability to function in the public interest. That budgets are determined in committee isn’t necessarily opaque and wouldn’t be less opaque if all 435 members participated. The idea that all 435 need to read and understand the details of appropriation bills is unreasonable–most members aren’t qualified to do that. The idea that appropriation bills ought to be brief is also unreasonable.

4. Committee reforms

On this question, Professor Turley rambles. He neglects to say that the dissidents demanded assignments to important committees in place of senior members to further a minority agenda, which he seems to favor.

Professor Turley concludes:

Yes, there are demands in the concessions that some of us do not favor. However, we should be honest about the status quo: Today’s legislative system is a mockery of the deliberative process, characterized by runaway spending, blind voting and perfunctory debates. You can dislike or denounce the holdouts while still admitting they have a point — Congress has got to change.

Even if one agrees that Today’s legislative system is a mockery of the deliberative process, characterized by runaway spending, blind voting and perfunctory debates, Turley has given no persuasive argument that the proposed rule changes would improve it.

Reportedly, there are a number of additional agreements that Professor Turley didn’t discuss.

About whungerford

* Contributor at where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
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5 Responses to House Rules

  1. Arthur Ahrens says:

    Why was this sent to me?


  2. whungerford says:

    Was it a twitter message, Arthur? I have seen a rash of them. If it was, you can thank Elon Musk.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. josephurban says:

    Good analysis of Turley’s opinion piece. The guy is pretty naive about how laws are made.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Thought that I was unsubscribed. Trying again


  5. whungerford says:

    Thank you, Joe. Turley’s opinions are colored by his political perspective, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

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