House Rules | New NY 23rd

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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