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The Speakership:
It's Not the "Who" but the "What"

October 26, 2015

The power of the Speaker of the House of Representatives has been almost absolute!  He has had the power to make committee assignments and bestow chairmanships.  The Speaker has the power to determine what bills will be considered and how (i.e., a “Closed Run” that prohibits any amendments, a “Modified Closed Rule” that only allows specific leadership-preapproved amendments).  As Politico reported June 20th -- The House [the Speaker’s]  crackdown has reached a new level of severity.  Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) was stripped of his subcommittee chairmanship,  just days after he defied leadership on the House floor by voting against a party-line procedural motion. 

The House conservative “revolt” we have seen in recent weeks was more against the Speaker’s abusive use of power.  But what if the Speaker’s power was shared with the rank-and-file members of the House?  What if Committee Chairmanships were decided by the Republican Caucus and not just the Speaker?

The House Freedom Caucus – about forty conservative House members – forced the resignation of Speaker Boehner.  But their goal is not necessarily about electing a conservative Speaker.  What they’re about is dealing with the systemic problems of the “Speakership” being a position that has too much power. 

Congressman Mick Mulvaney of the Freedom Caucus made the following statement:
“People think we are supporting [Congressman] Webster because he’s the most conservative but the man has a centrist voting record. We are looking for creative destruction in how the House operates.  And we don’t care who takes the lead on doing that.”

Matt Salmon (R-AZ) – the Freedom Caucus founder – added “We want to change it [the House] from being the speaker’s House back to the people’s House.”

In a previous column we noted that under John Boehner’s Speakership only six of thirteen appropriation bills have passed the House.  This forced a situation where Continuing Resolutions are needed to fund the government.  This is an abominable record.  It’s high time that the House of Representatives got its house in order!

The members of the Freedom Caucus want appropriation bills to go through the committee process and must-pass bills to come up for a vote well in advance of deadlines.  They want all members of Congress to have the ability to consider, debate, and amend legislation before the House.  We commend them for this approach.

At this writing, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has agreed to allow his name to be considered for Speaker of the House, but ONLY if certain things can be agreed upon.  One of those is that a “super majority” would be required if GOP lawmakers wanted to remove him.* That would give less authority to House members and more power to the Speaker – the current Speaker was forced out by only a minority of about 40 members.  In our view, raising this bar would be a very big step in the wrong direction.  So it’s not so much about “who”becomes the next Speaker of the House, but instead it’s about “what” will be done to limit his power.

Bill, Mark and John

The House Rules related to the vote to vacate the Speaker's chair was written by Thomas Jefferson. Because it is a House rule, and not a rule of the Republican or Democrat conferences, it takes the vote of the entire House to change it. It is unlikely that Democrats will vote to change this rule and forty members of the Republican "Freedom Caucus" are also unlikely to vote for such a change. Consequently, although it is possible that this rule could change, the odds are it will not.
















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