New Speaker of the House Elected
Usually voting for the Speaker of the House is exciting as watching paint dry.
Not this time. The vote went 15 rounds; something that hadn’t happened in a century. However, it didn’t go as long as the 1855 speaker vote which went 133 ballots and took two months.
Although much of the focus by the media looked at the 20 Republican holdouts that forced the 15 ballots and the split in the party, the changes forced on new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy were ones that were favored by most of the Republican caucus. The difference was that many Republican congressmen didn’t want to hold the House speakership hostage to the rules changes that were proposed.
The concern of the 20 holdouts was the movement of the Congress from its Constitutional role. In the role laid out in the US Constitution, it was to be a deliberating group that had the primary role in passing the government budget as well as other laws.
That role had disappeared. Changes in the House Rules virtually eliminated debate. Legislation was basically crafted by the House leadership – primarily by the Speaker of the House. Votes by the House of Representatives were perfunctory. Congressmen didn’t have time to read the proposed legislation and amendments weren’t allowed. The result was massive bills totaling thousands of pages that no one could understand. Pet projects could be snuck in without anyone questioning them. This process also kept the legislation from becoming public until it had passed.
The result was a burgeoning budget deficit and a national debt of over $30 trillion.
But House leadership on both sides liked these rules, especially former Speaker Pelosi, who didn’t tolerate public debate and dissent. And it was the 20 Republican congressmen that decided to hold out their vote for McCarthy that decided it was time to change the rules.
One of the rule changes was one that gave Speaker Pelosi more power by making it harder to make a motion to vacate the chair – a parliamentary way to control a speaker who was trying to force legislation that wasn’t favored by the House as a whole. Now the new rule allows one House member to make a motion to vacate the chair.
Although a motion to vacate the chair would probably not pass, it is a tool that keeps a speaker in line with the wishes of the majority.
One of the biggest problems with the legislative process today is that massive spending bills are moved to the floor of the House without giving members a chance to study them. The Republicans wanted 72 hours to study the bill before a vote. They also wanted to eliminate the omnibus bills and separate the funding of the government into over a dozen separate bills.
In addition to separating the appropriations bills, the new rules give House members the chance to propose amendments to bills that had gone through committee and were now on the floor for debate.
Republican congressmen also wanted major changes in budget and tax procedures. They wanted a three-fifths super majority for any increases in tax rates. They also wanted the Congressional budget office to analyze a bill’s impact on inflation.
One rule that kept congressmen from being held accountable for increasing the debt was the Gephardt Rule that automatically increased the national debt when a budget resolution was passed.
The House also voted this week to rescind over $70 billion to the Internal Revenue Service that was to hire 87,000 IRS agents. Although the bill is expected to die in the Senate, it will likely show up in the 2024 IRS budget legislation, where it will likely pass both the Senate and House.
There is a saying that “What goes around comes around.” And this Republican majority congress will use some of the same legislative and investigative tools that Pelosi did.
One of the first changes is that the files of the January 6th investigative committee will be made public, especially 14,000 hours of Capitol riot video that the House Democrats didn’t want to release.
One new subcommittee is the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Polls show that a majority of American voters think the FBI is a tool of the White House to punish its enemies. This subcommittee will be modeled like the Church Committee that investigated the illegal actions taken by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Church Committee discovered that the CIA was partnering with telecommunications companies to monitor Americans on CIA watch lists – something that the FBI is being accused of today.
This new committee will likely also look at suspicious FBI actions as well as harassment of conservatives by the IRS. Other targets are Homeland Security, the NSA, the Department of Justice, the ATF, and the CDC.
Congressman Cole told his fellow House members, “Similar to the situation that confronted America in the 1970s, in recent years we have witnessed abuses of the civil liberties of American citizens committed by the executive branch…Often for political purposes.”
Cole continued, “The American people deserve to have confidence in their government…And they deserve to know that they will not be labeled a domestic terrorist for advocating for their children in front of a school board.”
Democrats were in opposition. Democrat Representative Jerry Nadler said, “this is a violation of separation of powers and it’s also very dangerous.”
Congressman Jordan will be chairing the committee. There will be 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats on the Committee. The members will be appointed by Speaker McCarthy, just as Pelosi picked the members of the January 6th committee.
In the last few years, Pelosi used her power to strip some Republican congressmen of their committee assignments. Now it seems that McCarthy will return the favor by booting Representatives Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and IIhan Omar from their committees.
Schiff and Swalwell are one the Intelligence Committee and Omar is on the Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
McCarthy said, “Swalwell can’t get a security clearance in the private sector,” referring to Swalwell’s affair with a Chinese spy. “It’s not like it’s anything new…Remember, this is Nancy Pelosi, this is the type of Congress she wanted to have.”
Although the new rules are set for this Congress, the future of the rules is cloudy. The Republican majority is tenuous and a Democratic majority in the future is likely to make changes that would better suit a strong Democratic Speaker of the House.
If, however, the Republicans can maintain their majority in Congress, the new rules may have a longer life.