‘The House returns to Washington this week with several important tasks left to complete before the end of the year—including legislation that funds discretionary federal programs through next September. In this post, Molly Reynolds evaluates Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) promise to open up the legislative process to more input from rank-and-file members.’
Warning! This piece may come off as inside Congress and the beltway wonky for all of you non-political junkies who have better things to do than follow Washington politics. Especially if you’re currently sober.
Generally speaking except when I’m trying to get somewhere, I love living just outside of Washington in Bethesda, Maryland. I’ve lived here my whole live and wouldn’t live somewhere else if someone paid me to leave. But this is probably why I’m such a political junky to the point where I can actually name all one-hundred U.S. Senators and most of the key U.S. Representatives. Even when a lot of Americans couldn’t name their own Senators and Representative even if you spotted them the last names. I love Congress and love following Congress especially the Senate, but the House is fascinating as well. Which is why I’m writing a piece on how to reform the House of Representatives.
One thing that Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi can agree on for the remainder of this Congress and future Congress’s, is that the House is broken. Both parties have continually broken into it (pun intended) and have almost destroyed it. And a big part of why it’s so partisan has to do with how the majority treats the minority. House Democrats, didn’t ask for much if any input from House Republicans when they were in charge. And continually wrote bills in the House Democratic Leadership room. Bypassing even their own committee chairman, let alone the Republican Leadership. So House Republican couldn’t even attempt to amend bills. As well as Moderate Democratic members who were actually interested in getting reelected and didn’t want to vote for something that could hurt them at home.
House Republicans, in the last two Congress’s under Speaker Boehner, have been a little better and have at least allowed for bills to come out of committee and have some amendment votes on bills. Not saying the House should become the Senate and adopt come super majority requirement for bills to get passed. But if I’m Speaker of the House, (that idea scares me more than you) I would want members of my caucus to weigh in on bills. Especially my committee chairman, so my members feels they have a real role in how the House works. But also if I need their votes on controversial legislation, they can say back home that they offered their amendments, but didn’t have the votes for them. And had to vote for the next best thing. Or they can say they made the bills better, because their amendments passed.
You also want the minority to not only be able to offer amendments to bill in committee and mark bills up in committee and not just send them to floor without even a hearing. Especially on the minority leadership to put pressure on them to offer ideas and alternatives. So you could say, “you don’t like what we’re doing, what would you do instead?” Put some responsibility on them to offer their own ideas and vision. Which would also give you opportunities to hit them back and not always be on defense when the House is debating bills on the floor. And when reelection season comes, you’ll have an opportunity to explain why their agenda isn’t good and why they shouldn’t be back in the majority.
Again not saying the House should become the Senate with unlimited debate short of 3-5 majority and all of that. With all the hot air that comes out of Senate filibusters, who needs summer in Washington? But in a couple of areas where the House should become like the Senate has to do with how committees operate and bills are written. All major legislation should go through committees. Where the chairman write bills along with their members and when the chairman and ranking members don’t agree on what the final bill should be they can both write their own relevant bill to whatever the issue that they’re considering is. And then let the rank in file decide who has the better bill. And offer their own amendments as well.
The House floor should work the same way. Where the Majority Leader brings up bills that have been passed out of committee and then when the Minority Leader and the minority caucus doesn’t like the majority bill and they haven’t reached a compromise on what the bill should be, the Minority Leader or their designee should be able to offer a substitute to the majority bill. When the two-party leaders disagree. And again let the members decide who has the better bill. And not just do this in this Congress, but make these rule changes permanent so both parties whether they’re in the majority, or minority can have a stake in the game. And the ability to legislate and offer their own ideas.
Speaker Paul Ryan, who ideologically I don’t agree with him on much other than how government should help the poor and empower them to take control over their own lives, I believe truly believes in the notion that the U.S. House should be a battle place of ideas. A competition where both Democrats and Republicans can offer their own visions for the country and then let the country decide who has the better vision. And not just on the campaign trail, but on the House floor and in committee as well. Probably more than even Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who rarely if ever allowed for amendments to bills except when they were bipartisan. A reform approach like this would make the House work better, because now they would be debating ideas and visions. Instead of who wants to destroy America first. And the country would better off as a result.