Rep. Kevin McCarthy has fulfilled the first of the commitments he made to the rebel Republican Freedom Caucus: he has brought the "Rules Package" the floor of the House.
One of McCarthy's harshest critics, Laurent Boevert, congratulated him on the passage of the rules as if it were her own success.
The Rules Package that we negotiated last week has PASSED the House of Representatives.
This is huge news for the American people. We did it!
- Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) January 10, 2023
All Democrats voted against the new rules. They were joined by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas). The House approved the measure with 220 votes in favor and 213 against.
It's not just that Hakeem Jeffries' new Democratic leadership is especially tough; the opposition party often votes against this type of rule changes. This vote usually occurs on the first day of the House's constitution, but the delay in the vote for speaker also delayed the adoption of the new rules.
Motion to vacate speaker
The most important of the new rules, and the one that gives the measure of the precariousness of the position held by McCarthy, refers to the possibility that any representative may propose a motion to remove the speaker. McCarthy wanted the minimum number to be at least five representatives, but here he had to give in.
This rule had been in place for a long time, but Nancy Pelosi changed it so as not to face problems during her time as speaker of the House of Representatives. Under Pelosi's rules, only a member of the party leadership could make a motion to vacate the seat.
Another of McCarthy's critics, Chip Roy, made a spirited defense of the new rules, especially this new aspect:
"A fundamental transformation of this House to ensure that the people can be represented by their representatives."
"That's the point." pic.twitter.com/wwfRGUTkyf
- Rep. Chip Roy Press Office (@RepChipRoy) January 9, 2023
The Holman and the 72-hour standard
One of the most eagerly awaited changes by Republicans is the reinstatement of the Holman rule. It bears the last name of former Representative William S. Holman (D-Ind.) and is a powerful tool to give representatives greater control of public spending. It was passed in 1876, and provides that the House may cut specific spending provisions within laws, as well as lay off certain public employees or cut their salaries.
Another change is that bills must be announced at least 72 hours in advance, which gives representatives the opportunity to actually read the laws they are voting on. In May 2020, Democrats changed the rules so that they could force representatives to vote on bills that are brought to the House that same day.
Republican Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), said of the matter:
Bills appear by [the] dark of night – bills that nobody's read that are thousands of pages long... And so today starts that process of fixing what's broken in Washington so that Washington can finally start working for the people of this country who are struggling.
This change has other implications. The purpose of ramming bills through the House of Representatives introduced on the same day is to allow them to pass through the back door. The 72-hour rule will allow all legislators a better chance to make their contributions.
All these changes will make the legislative process more transparent, but they will also make it slower. Democrats want the legislative process to run without interference so they can pass spending programs quickly, but Republicans prefer to have more control from the House of Representatives. It is a roundabout way of limiting spending increases.
Kevin McCarthy has committed to maintaining the 2022 spending level over the next decade. This is part of the commitments he made that have got him the necessary votes for the position of speaker. However, to control spending in this way, he also had to change the rules.
One of the changes mandates that the vote on the spending ceiling be done independently. This change ends the Gephard rule, named after Representative Richard Gephard, a Democrat who tied his political career to labor unions. That rule provided for an automatic increase in the debt ceiling as soon as a law is passed that commits an expenditure. The rule effectively nullified the purpose of debt limits.
Another of the approved rules requires a separate vote for each bill, depending on the department to which it belongs. In short, it means putting an end to omnibus laws, which force legislators to approve or reject very heterogeneous spending measures.
Any bill involving an increase in spending of more than $2.5 billion will have to be debated in the House. On the other hand, it provides for new duties for the Congressional Budget Office so that it can make a more realistic estimate of the impact of each law on federal spending.
Another of the approved rules is that any tax increase will require a "supermajority": two-thirds (at least 290) of the 435 representatives. It also eliminates the "pay-as-you-go" rule, whereby with each expenditure the taxes needed to cover it were increased. The new rule can be called "cut as you go," and it curbs any spending measure that would result in an increase in committed spending over the next five to ten years.
Another change limits the ability of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate legislators. On the other hand, it provides the option for the public to appeal directly to the House Ethics Committee.
One of the criticisms made by the Democratic Party is that the new rule limits access to abortion to mothers who want to terminate the pregnancy before the birth of the unborn child.
Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) made a defense of abortion rights, and mentioned that she herself had an abortion on one occasion:
A rules package is meant to help the House govern, not strip the personal autonomy of millions.
Republicans' attempt to use this as an opportunity to attack reproductive freedom is a slap in the face to our democracy. pic.twitter.com/9PfZAVeqQy
- Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) January 10, 2023
Kevin McCarthy believes the new rules will result in a more open and transparent Congress:
Congress has been broken for a long time. Over the years, a concentration of power within the Speaker's Office has kept lawmakers on the legislative sidelines. Lawmaking should be open to all members-not just a select few-so that the best ideas win.
- Kevin McCarthy (@SpeakerMcCarthy) January 10, 2023