GOP House Can Get Off to a Great Start – If They Don’t Blow It


Decades of institutional self-neglect have left Congress dysfunctional and unfit to fulfill its constitutional role as the most consequential branch of government. Government of the people has morphed into government by bureaucrats, by the executive, and by the courts. The decision-making mechanisms of the People’s House are broken.

If you were fortunate enough to be educated in “civics,” you may remember being told of the process by which a bill becomes law. It is introduced by sponsors, assigned to committees, vetted with testimony and amended, referred to the whole body if approved, debated and amended again, passed out and then sent to the corresponding legislative body if successful.

Known as Regular Order, the process can be tedious but it has a purpose: to ensure a free, fair process in a lawmaking body where input from all is accepted and the final vote reflects the informed decision of a majority of members.

Well, kids, here’s the bad news. That process doesn’t really exist in today’s Congress. Instead, lawmakers use their authority to exempt themselves from their own rules. A jerry-rigged substitute process has developed that, in the House, concentrates power in the Speaker’s office.

Meaningful decisions are made almost always at the leadership level. The rank-and-file are simply suits who vote. Representatives write newsletters telling constituents of any pork they’ve been able to score and the issues they are “fighting for“ without disclosing how little real influence they have

Thus Congress enfeebles itself. It’s well suited to incumbent protection but not for effectiveness as an institution.

The Freedom Caucus, a right-leaning group of Republicans, is determined to change this. They note, for example, Congress hasn’t produced a legitimate budget in decades.  Instead, they pass leadership-created “omnibus” bills with little prioritization or accountability, a process that has contributed to our devastating debt.

The Freedom Caucus has taken a lot of guff for their reform efforts. But how can they be faulted for grasping at a rare chance when they have influence? In the last Congress, they were a minority faction in a minority caucus. Now that their votes are needed to elect Kevin McCarthy to the speakership, they are trying to wield their influence usefully.

Their main ask is that the rank-and-file get a voice in the legislative process. Under present rules, for example, no lawmaker is able to introduce an amendment, either in committee or on the floor, in open process. The hoped-for solution is to mandate voting on amendments that are supported by at least 10 percent of the members, a move that would greatly open up the legislative process.

Probably the most controversial proposal is to revive the “Motion to Vacate the Chair,” which empowers any member to call for a new speaker election. The rule was in place for 200 years before it was repealed in 2019 by Queen Nancy.

In practice, the rule was rarely invoked, presumably under the ancient dictum that “if you strike at the king you must kill him.“ It would make the speakership less autocratic, balancing the power differential between leadership and the rank-and-file.

Pelosi Democrats often wrote significant legislation behind closed doors and then bullrushed it through Congress before legislators had time to read it. The FC members are calling for 120 hours between a bill’s introduction and its passage, which could only be overridden by a two-thirds majority.

Finally, the FC is asking McCarthy to agree to secure majority support from Republican members before bringing legislation to the floor. This, too, seems reasonable since Americans will rightly hold Republicans accountable for the performance of the House this term.

None of these proposals are outrageous. In fact, by making the legislative process more democratic and transparent, they give Republicans the chance to present themselves as the party of sound governance.

But the Freedom Caucus should not overplay its hand. If Rep. McCarthy is willing to compromise on some of their key demands, they should honor their own principles of majority rule and concur in his election, since it it is favored by an overwhelming majority of Republicans.

Both sides should see this is an opportunity for a win-win, the potential kickoff to a new era of constructive change.

Published in Politics
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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    I can see what the problem is here. Their proposals are rational, lawful, practical and would greatly benefit the position of Republicans. No wonder no one will want to approve it!

    • #1
  2. BDB Coolidge

    I agree whole-heartedly.  FC should get what they can and not insist on the moon.  Especially as the incoming narrow majority means the leadership will be much more pliable, needing to scrape up every vote.  The questions is: by whom will they be plied?  Conservatives or Democrats?

    I’ve been okay with the House Speaker fight to date — if McCarthy brings back MTV, especially with a reduced threshhold, that is actually a AWESOME gain for an incoming FC.

    I think that the tyranny of the most recent Pelosi session would stun most people if they knew.

    • #2
  3. ToryWarWriter Reagan

    Garfield got the Republican nomination and thus the Presidency on the 36h ballot.

    Its time to return to normalcy.

    • #3
  4. BDB Coolidge

    I’m sanguine about this balloting, happy to see it.

    A week or two of delay and confusion is nothing compared to the months and years of do-nothing, scripted maladministration we’ve been treated to.  The message it sends to the GOP is spectacular.

    We did the Motion to Vacate thing maybe ten years ago, and now we’re trying to get it back, and actually using leverage to do so.  This speaks well of this incoming session in ways that we haven’t seen since the Tea Party “revolt” which brought great power to the GOP.

    We’re learning to be effective.  And that’s why the establishment is hyperventilating — the twenty-year trend is that they are losing.

    If their victories are not our victories, then their losses are not our losses.

    Yet here we are, working within the system to make the GOP stronger AND to influence its behavior.  All told, I think we’re behaving quite politely.  I suspect that this may be the last polite request.


    • #4
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