(WASHINGTON) — House Republicans on Monday approved news rules for the chamber for the next two years, in the first major legislative action after the chaotic and historic process of electing Kevin McCarthy speaker.
McCarthy, R-Calif., had offered multiple concessions to his GOP critics, including rules changes, in order to win the necessary support for the speaker’s gavel — though the deal rankled some centrists in the party.
The new rules mark a sharp change in procedure on Capitol Hill, where Democrats have been in control for the last two years. The new rules also underline what is likely to be a period of tension with the Democratic Senate and Biden White House, such as on spending.
The protocols further reflect McCarthy ceding some power as speaker to his rank-and-file members.
Motion to vacate the chair
One of the main changes McCarthy agreed to was lowering the threshold needed to trigger a vote on booting any speaker, including him.
Before 2019, when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took control, any one member could trigger a vote under the so-called motion to vacate the chair. Under Pelosi, such a vote could only be sparked if a majority of either party supported one.
McCarthy, in order to win over some of the dissenters, had suggested lowering the threshold back down to five lawmakers. But ultimately he agreed to one.
While the motion has never been used successfully, the threat of it has helped push two recent speakers — John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — into retirement.
During the speakership negotiations, McCarthy also vowed that he would use upcoming debt ceiling negotiations to force the Biden administration to enact spending cuts — a tactic the White House swiftly rejected over GOP outcry that they were being intractable.
On top of that, the new rules package no longer requires the House to automatically increase the borrowing limit through a budget resolution that would be enacted by borrowing that breaches that limit.
The budget ceiling is set to be reached at some point this summer.
Increased amendments to spending bills
Another change in the new rules is allowing any one lawmaker to offer amendments to spending bills.
The move’s supporters say it is intended to increase transparency in some of the government’s most sprawling pieces of legislation — shortly after the passage of a $1.7 trillion spending bill late last year that was largely negotiated behind closed doors.
However, the change could also lead to increased gridlock on legislation that is foundational to keeping the government — from welfare programs to the military — running. Critics say the new amendment process may result in what is essentially a House version of the Senate filibuster, in which a single lawmaker uses procedure to delay legislation.
The House has 435 members, each of whom will be able to talk for 10 minutes on the floor to introduce their spending amendments, meaning in theory there could be over three straight days of amendments just being introduced — if lawmakers didn’t take any breaks.
The amendment rule change “makes it messy. It makes it time-consuming,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, acknowledged on CNN on Sunday. “But it does make members feel like they actually have a voice.”
New spending must be counterbalanced with cuts
Reflecting Republicans’ fiscal focus, the rules package also requires that any new spending that the chamber passes must be offset by cuts, though it doesn’t explicitly say where those reductions would have to come from.
However, the GOP has long targeted entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid.
Defense spending cuts
Defense spending has emerged as one of the main sticking points for some Republican centrists, with more traditional hawks taking issue with future caps.
The language in the package seeks to limit discretionary federal government spending at the 2022 level for the next 10 years — which, if enacted and applied to defense programs, would translate into a roughly 10% reduction.
While some Republicans more aligned with former President Donald Trump’s foreign policy advocate for a smaller international footprint, arguing that the Pentagon’s budget is bloated, other conservatives have said it creates national security risks.
Subcommittee to investigate
The new rules include language regarding the formation of a House judiciary subcommittee to investigate the “weaponization of the federal government.”
The panel will have the ability to look at how the federal government collects and analyzes information on Americans and probe any ongoing criminal inquiries. Boosting the committee’s power, it will also get access to the highly classified information typically shared only with the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, will chair the group and is also expected to lead the larger Judiciary Committee.
“We got more resources, more specificity, more power to go after this recalcitrant Biden administration,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said on Fox News on Friday after winning the concessions from McCarthy on the panel and its purview.
Among other things, the committee will be able to investigate the Justice Department’s investigation into the Capitol attack last year, which has ensnared some lawmakers.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., who had his phone seized by the FBI last year as part of the inquiry, this weekend did not commit to recusing from the subcommittee, denying that it would constitute a conflict of interest.
“Why should I be limited? Why should anybody be limited just because someone has made an accusation? Everybody in America is innocent until proven otherwise,” Perry told ABC News’ This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.
The new protocols include the so-called Holman Rule, which allows lawmakers to propose amendments to spending bills that would cut funding for specific programs to $1, essentially defunding them.
The move comes as Republicans target existing investigations into the Jan. 6 insurrection and Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
As with the other spending changes, it’s unlikely that any push to defund those efforts will pass the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed into law by President Joe Biden. But it could be used as a negotiating tool for Republicans with must-pass legislation.
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