Written by Taylor J. Swift
The conservative House Freedom Caucus issued a 52-page guide to new GOP candidates last month on what they’ll face as freshman members, with recommendations for updating the rules for the chamber and for the party, and the conservative Lincoln Network just published their own recommendations for the rules and procedures the House should adopt at the start of the 118th Congress.
The Freedom Caucus’ guide is an excellent outline of what new members will expect and accurately summarizes the chamber’s power dynamics. It contains thoughtful recommendations for rule modernization, which is an opportunity for the incoming majority to control its flow of operations and distribute power. The Lincoln Network’s recommendations highlight a number of reforms to strengthen the people’s chamber. However, one Freedom Caucus proposal, to wipe clean the rules enacted by Democrats over the last four years, is misguided.
The following is a partial list of the House rules and standing orders, enacted over the last four years, that we believe a Republican majority should retain should they gain power. These nonpartisan rules improve the House’s operations and support a more transparent, efficient, ethical, and accountable legislative body. For a summary of the rules adopted over the last four years, see these resources for the 116th and 117th Congresses.
Member Hearing Days: Each standing committee is required to hold a Member Day Hearing during the first session of Congress to hear testimony from any Member of the House on proposed legislation within its jurisdiction. The House Rules Committee was empowered to hold its Member day in the second session to receive testimony on proposed standing rules changes.
Amendment Availability: The 117th House Rules made amendments adopted by their committees publicly available within 24 hours by requiring all other amendments – which includes failed or withdrawn amendments – to be posted within 48 hours of their disposition or withdrawal. This requirement does not apply to amendments not offered.
Electronic Vote Availability: The 117th House Rules modernized the requirement for committees to make the results of record votes publicly available by removing the requirement that they be made available to the public for in-person inspection in committee offices. Committees will still be required to make the results of record votes publicly available electronically within 48 hours of the vote.
Electronic Filing of Reports and Electronic Signatures: 117th House Rules Subsection (l) authorizes electronic filing of committee reports, which was temporarily allowed by House Resolution 965 of the 116th, and allows electronic signatures to be used for signed views in committee reports and for select forms received by the Committee on Ethics. Reports received electronically will be processed as otherwise provided in rule XIII, and committees filing electronic reports should continue to consult with the Clerk regarding proper format and other administrative requirements.
Truth-In-Testimony Reform: The 117th House Rules amended the disclosure requirements for witnesses appearing in nongovernmental capacities by: (1) adding grants to the reporting requirement for foreign payments; (2) expanding the lookback period for reporting to 36 months; (3) requiring witnesses to disclose whether they are the fiduciary of any organization or entity with an interest in the subject matter of the hearing; and (4) requiring, to the extent practicable, the disclosures be made publicly available 24-hours prior to the witness’s appearance at a hearing. The subsection also updates the text of clause 2(g)(5) of rule XI for clarity. The House is also working to modernize its Truth-in-Testimony documents and to make the information they contain available online in a central database.
Remote Deliberations for Committees: House Committees are allowed to hold hearings and markups where some or all members participate remotely by videoconference. This allows for witnesses from all around the world to testify and for members who are not physically present to participate in the proceedings. This allows for the scheduling of proceedings when the House otherwise would not be in session; expands the times when less popular committees can hold their meetings so that members are more able to attend; and creates significantly more flexibility should an emergency arise.
Technology and Modernization
Comparative Print Project: The House Clerk’s office and Office of Legislative Counsel recently announced the release of the Comparative Print Suite of tools House-wide. The applications allow users to view how a bill would change current law and the differences between proposed legislation in real-time. The House should continue to provide support to the ongoing comparative print project, which fulfills the requirement for members to see how legislation has been amended prior to a vote.
Machine-readable Legislation: The House should continue the priority of publishing legislative information in machine-readable formats. This allows for technological innovation that supports greater transparency and understanding concerning the legislative process.
Annual Ethics Training: Subsection (p) extends the annual ethics training requirement to all Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner. The previous rule required new Members, Delegates, and Resident Commissioner to attend ethics training, and staff to attend ethics training annually, but did not apply to current members.
Indicted or Formally Charged Member Floor and Gym Access: The House should continue the practice of barring former members and elected officers of the House from having access to the floor if they have been convicted of a crime related to their election or service.
Staff Non-disclosure Agreements and Sexual Harassment: The 117th House Rules package included language that non-disclosure agreements cannot prohibit staff from talking to the Ethics Committee, OCWR, or OCE and continued mandatory anti-harassment training. What this means is that Members cannot force staff to sign an NDA for matters that should be reported to ethics-related entities.
Prohibiting Sexual Relationships with Committee Staff: Members of a Committee are prohibited from into personal sexual relationships with staffers who serve on that committee.
Mandatory Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policies for House Offices: Rule XXII, clause 9 requires each House office to adopt an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy. Identical language was passed by the 115th and 116th House Congresses.
Separation of Powers and Oversight
Staff depositions: The 117th House Rules included language to allow staff to take depositions. This language should be retained.
War Power Resolutions: The 117th House Rules included language to prevent motions to table War Powers resolutions. This language should be retained.
Subpoena Power: The 117th House Rules included language to reaffirm the right of the House to subpoena anyone, including the president. This language should be retained.
Banning Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity: The 117th House Rules added to the Code of Official Conduct a prohibition on discrimination by any Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Accommodation of Religious Headwear: The 117th House Rules clarified and maintained the existing prohibition on wearing hats in the Hall of the House while making express that this prohibition does not include religious headwear. The language for this clarification is modeled on the statutory provision providing for proper decorum during the Pledge of Allegiance, 4 U.S.C. 4.
House Support Offices
Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds: The House Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds provides non-partisan support to all members of the House in addressing communications from whistleblowers and providing guidance and resources on that topic. It was created in the 116th Congress and codified in the 117th. Rules instruct the Speaker, in consultation with the
chairs and ranking minority members of the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on Oversight and Reform, to appoint a Director of the Office.
Office of Diversity and Inclusion: The Office of Diversity and Inclusion in the House of Representatives plays a significant support role in the recruitment of congressional staff and provides regular public reporting of detailed information concerning staff hiring, retention, and diversity. The House of Representatives has long lacked a mirror into how it manages human capital, and the ODI reflects an increasing professionalization of the chamber and a birds-eye view across the silos of how personnel is being managed.
Reflecting the nature of the House, the office is led by two staff, one from each party. In addition to the above responsibilities, the ODI also is responsible for tracking data about witnesses who testify before the House.
Congressional Member Organizations
Congressional Member Organization Transparency Reform: Subsection (p) allows participating members to enter into agreements with eligible Congressional Member Organizations for the purpose of payment of salaries and expenses and expands the definition of Congressional Member Organizations from the 114th and 115th Congresses. What this means is that CMOs can be employing entities, instead of the previous arrangement that required complex bookkeeping to pay staff and provide them benefits.
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