First Branch Forecast

Proposals for Modernizing House Rules — Summary of Committee Members’ Day Recs for 118th Congress

Written by Taylor J. Swift

At the start of the 118th Congress, the House of Representatives will adopt new procedural rules that govern nearly every aspect of how it conducts business. In preparation, the House Rules Committee held its Member Day hearing (announcement, video) on Tuesday, November 28, 2022, to provide members of the House an opportunity to propose new Rules changes for the 118th Congress. 

Members made several laudable recommendations during the proceeding:

  • Rep. Davidson’s proposal to grant one staffer from each House office the ability to apply for TS/SCI clearance.
  • Rep. Timmon’s recommendation to fix committee scheduling by creating an online portal for committee chairs to pick and choose hearing and markup times to help reduce scheduling conflicts.
  • Rep. Griffith’s idea to have proportional representation on committees.
  • Rep. Joyce’s proposal to establish a bipartisan ethics task force to study ethics rules and regulations.
  • Del. Radewagen’s support for keeping the rule to allow delegates and resident commissioners to vote in the committee as a whole

At the end of the Member Day hearing, multiple members, including Chair McGovern, urged the 118th House Rules to retain the ability for remote committee proceedings, a proposal we support. Reps. Jackson Lee and Grijalva submitted statements for the record supporting remote committee proceedings while Chair McGovern said he has heard from many members that remote committee proceedings have been helpful in obtaining witness testimony without the worry of travel or cost of the taxpayer. 

Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network issued our own bipartisan recommendations package on what Rules should be updated in the 118th Congress in anticipation of this hearing. 

The following is a high-level summary of each member’s requests and their justifications (with corresponding timestamps from the video). Please note that at the time of this writing, any submissions in writing by the members were not publicly available.

Rep. Davidson (2:49:55)

Rep. Davidson offered several proposals, including:

  • Each member office should be eligible to have one staffer who can apply for TS/SCI clearance
    • Members who deal with top-secret information need to have proper staff support. 
    • Note: Demand Progress has recommended this provision for years and included it in our latest Rules recommendation package. 
  • To have a recorded vote on a balanced budget resolution.
  • Ending earmarks. 
    • Instead, funding for community projects must be in a standalone measure, not something that can be attached to an appropriations bill.
  • Create a Health Care Committee.
    • Health care is a massive issue that takes up 20% of GDP and too many committees with massive jurisdiction take this issue on, causing hold-ups. 
  • Require a recorded vote on all spending bills
  • CBO Show Your Work Act. 
    • He argued that CBO publishes scores that are most likely wrong. The public doesn’t see the models. Sometimes rank-and-file members can’t obtain timely CBO scores, especially if they aren’t on the committee of jurisdiction. Requiring CBO to publish their models so people can provide input. 

Rep. Timmons (3:01:42)

Rep. Timmons, who is Vice Chair of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, suggested one of that committee’s recommendations: Create an online portal for committee calendars and schedules to enable chairs to pick and choose when to schedule hearings and markups. 

  • Right now, chairs are in charge of scheduling full committee and subcommittee hearings and markups. 
  • There is a huge need for this service. Last Congress, there were 40.2 scheduling conflicts on average every day. The average member serves on 4.5 committees and subcommittees.
  • Note: Demand Progress has supported the idea of creating a portal for committee calendars.

Rep. Griffith (1:04:17)

Rep. Griffiths offered several proposals, including:

  • Providing proportional seating on committees, which would require each committee to have a majority/minority ratio that mirrors the makeup of the Congress as a whole (i.e., if the majority controls 60% of the House seats, each committee would be 60% percent majority and 40% minority.) Fractional seats would be rounded towards the majority. This rule wouldn’t apply to the Rules or Ethics Committees. 
  • Reinstating the Holman Rule, which would allow Congress to vote to cut spending and reorganize an agency inside an appropriations bill. Griffith mentioned this rule existed for roughly 100 years and was rarely used, but when it was used, it made a substantial difference. Chair McGovern mentioned that this rule had traditionally been used to punish agency staff. 
  • Changing the germane rule to allow the Speaker of the House to have a more strict guidance on what would be considered germane.
  • Creating two bill limitations:
    • 1) No bill should be introduced that has more than one purpose; the Speaker would have the final determination on this decision. Griffith said that the American people want single-purpose bills. 
    • 2) Create a proper calendar deadline to introduce bills. Griffith mentioned that Congress desperately needs to figure out a schedule and members need to be able to introduce legislation and get it on the House floor without the requirement of unanimous consent. 
  • Limitation on the waiver, which would require a two-thirds vote of the whole House instead of a simple majority.
    • Griffith acknowledged that the House is majoritarian and can waive with a simple +1 majority, but wants this rule put in to make it clear that germaneness and the single-purpose rule are special and shouldn’t be treated as some other rule. Griffiths stressed that the House should have a supermajority to waive these two rules and changing this rule would help the chamber run better in the long term.  
  • Creating a modified version of “Motion to Vacate the Chair”
    • This proposal would give the new Speaker of the House seven months to establish their administration before a member can offer a motion to vacate the chair. If the Speaker survives the motion, it cannot be brought up again for 60 days. Griffiths stressed that in a time of 24-hour news, each member needs to have this right but Congress also needs a hybrid approach to ensure proper usage and accountability. 
  • Modifying the timing of action reports.
    • A proposal to require the Rules Committee to examine a bill voted favorably out of the primary committee within 10 legislative days or the bill is sent directly to the floor.
    • Rep. Griffiths believes this proposal would help ensure that bills voted out of committee get a vote on the House floor before the congressional session ends, and also helps incentivize committees to clean up the bill’s issues prior to floor action. 
    • If there is an issue of sending bills to multiple committees, the primary committees would report it out and other committees get seven legislative days from that point. If committees come out with different versions of bills, the Rules Committee would hear from each committee involved, and Rules would formalize the final bill and send it to the House floor.

Rep. Joyce (3:20:19)

Rep. Joyce’s amendment would establish a bipartisan ethics task force to study ethics rules and regulations, and report the recommendations to the bipartisan leadership. 

  • Rep. Joyce said it’s been over 30 years since the House established a bipartisan ethics task force to improve its rules and regulations.
  • The rules should be improved to reduce confusion and promote compliance, ensuring that members are not personally profiting from their official positions. For example, if current rules allow members to accept a $35,000 event ticket for free, the rules should reflect that. 
    • He also noted that there are three different rules to apply to three different posts that a member may publish on social media. And since Congress didn’t have social media 30 years ago, it can be confusing for many members.  
  • Task force set-up:
    • Equally bipartisan: 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats, similar to the House Ethics Committee. In addition, two bipartisan former members serving in an ex-officio capacity participating in a substantive conversation but not voting on the recommendations.
    • Staff: Current Ethics and House Administration Committee staff.

Del. Radewagen (2:47:45)

Del. Radewagen’s amendment supports keeping the rule to allow delegates and resident commissioners to vote in the committee as a whole. She said this right has been granted to delegates since early in the Republic. Delegates just want plain and simple consistency in their ability to aptly represent their constituents.

Reps. Cammack and Massie (3:23:59 and 3:28:45)

Both Reps. Cammack and Massie support an amendment that would require a two-thirds vote to waive the 72-hour rule to give members sufficient time to analyze and read each piece of legislation. Chair McGovern mentioned that 90% of House bills that passed the floor adhered to the 72-hour rule.

Rep. Burchett (1:30:38)

Rep. Burchett brought up two proposals:

  • An amendment that would ensure bill titles were accurately describing what the bill does, helping to provide what he calls real transparency and understanding of legislation. 

An amendment to require the CBO score to be read right after the bill title so members and taxpayers understand how much a bill will cost before it is voted on.

Rep. Latta (2:59:27)

Rep. Latta’s proposed amendment would prohibit bills from having the ability to use short titles in legislation; instead, they would only use bill or resolution numbers. Rep. Latta stressed that short titles can be misleading or weaponized by the majority, often forcing members to vote on bills that have nothing to do with their titles.

Rep. Bordeaux (2:42:57)

Rep. Bordeaux, who will not be a member of the 118th Congress, supported strengthening the Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) rule to restore a sense of fiscal discipline in Congress. Specifically, her proposal would require a standalone vote to remove PAYGO so members would have to debate and consider the costs before voting on bills.

Powered by WPeMatico