House Freedom Caucus Gains Most of Its Rules Reforms, but Speaker’s Race Still Wide Open

House Freedom Caucus Gains Most of Its Rules Reforms, but Speaker’s Race Still Wide Open
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) speaks during a news conference with members of the House Freedom Caucus outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 28, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott
New rules to govern the House of Representatives in the 118th Congress (pdf) include multiple reforms sought by conservative Republicans seeking to rein in the power of congressional leaders and give rank-and-file members more control of the lower chamber.
The most controversial of the rules reforms sought by the House Freedom Caucus under its chairman, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.)—bringing back the motion to vacate the chair, thus forcing a new vote for a speaker of the House—was a late addition by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to the package that was made public late on Jan. 1.
McCarthy reversed his previous opposition to restoring the motion during a conference call with House Republicans.

That motion—which empowers a single member of the House at any time to propose a vote for a new speaker of the House—was in effect for virtually the entire history of Congress, but it was dropped after Democrats regained the House majority in 2018.

The new rule restores the one-member motion but adds a requirement that there be at least four co-sponsors. The last time the motion was used was in 2015 when then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) did it and forced the removal of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

McCarthy’s reversal on the motion to vacate came as he struggled to collect enough votes from among the new Republican House majority that includes 222 members. McCarthy must get at least 218 votes if all members of the House are present on the floor for the vote on Jan. 3 when the 118th Congress convenes.

McCarthy is also promising, as part of his speaker campaign, to make greater use of the Constitution’s grant to the House in Article I of the power to originate all federal spending. That provision provides the House with great leverage against the Senate and the president, leverage that House conservatives have for years urged Republican leaders to use more frequently.

“Just as we used this year’s annual defense bill to repeal the vaccine mandate on our service members, we will pinpoint ’must pass’ legislation to advance shared conservative policy aims—chief among them: securing our border, restoring our energy independence, and balancing our budget,” McCarthy said in a letter to House Republicans.

Funding Rules

The new package of rules (pdf) includes restoration of a requirement that any federal tax rate increase is approved by at least three-fifths of the House, as well as restoration of the CUTGO rule that requires any mandatory federal spending increase be offset with a cut in other requiring expenditures and requires the Congressional Budget Office to report on the inflationary impact of proposed legislation.

The package also restores the Holman Rule, an on-again, off-again provision dating to the post-Civil War era that enables Congress to terminate funding the salary and benefits of a particular individual civil servant in the executive branch.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist told The Epoch Times “the Republican caucus will adopt two rules that will stop much of the bleeding and begin to turn America around.”

“First, any tax hike will require a three/fifths vote, not a simple majority vote, to pass the House. Second, any increase in entitlement spending must be matched with an equal or greater reduction in entitlement spending. And a cap on new entitlement costs and on taxes. That is a strong defensive line.”

Norquist was one of the architects of then-future Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” which resulted in Republicans regaining the House majority in 1994 for the first time in four decades.
In preparing for the expected onslaught of oversight investigations, particularly by the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability—formerly known as Oversight and Reform—and the House Judiciary Committee, the new rules require every House panel with oversight authority to make public an oversight plan no later than March.
The House Committee on Education and Labor is renamed the panel on Education and the Workforce.

Pandemic Rules Dropped

Regarding the issue of reopening the House to the public, the rules do away with the proxy voting system instigated by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new rules also restore the long-standing requirement that House members be physically present to participate in committee hearings, rather than attending virtually, as Pelosi allowed under her pandemic measures.

Also gone are Pelosi’s mandated mask-wearing by representatives and staff on the floor and in the Capitol Complex, as well as fines for members who don’t go through metal detectors before entering the House chamber.

Other actions required by the new rules include establishing a new House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party and a refocusing of the purpose of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic to probe the origins of the disease, U.S. funding of gain-of-function research that could’ve led to the pandemic, and analyses of the economic and social impact of mandatory closures of schools and businesses.

The House Judiciary Committee gains a new Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government with investigative authority. In his letter, McCarthy said the sole focus of the new subcommittee will be “exposing the weaponization of government against our citizenry, writ large.”

In order to make the House more transparent and efficient, the new rules require that every proposed bill be publicly available for 72 hours prior to voting. They also require that Pelosi’s Jan. 6 panel turn over all of its records to the House Committee on Administration no later than Jan. 17, make it easier for members to offer amendments to bills from the House floor, and protect the right of members to use gender-specific words in committee hearings and on the floor.

The move by House Democrats to authorize congressional staff unions is also reversed under the new rules. It isn’t clear yet what the status will be of the several Democratic office staff that applied in 2022 for permission to organize union representation.

Outgoing House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) condemned the new rules proposed by the Republicans, saying leaders of the majority “have once again caved to the most extreme members of their own caucus: allowing the far-right to hold the incoming Speaker hostage; attempting to end Congressional staff unionization; reinstating CUTGO so they can more easily cut taxes on billionaire corporations while slashing the social safety net; giving committee chairs unbalanced discretion over which witnesses can and cannot testify; rejecting commonsense pandemic safety procedures like remote voting by proxy; and reinstating the Holman rule so they can target civil servants they disagree with.”
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning senior Congressional correspondent for The Epoch Times. He covers Congress, national politics, and policy. Mr. Tapscott previously worked for Washington Times, Washington Examiner, Montgomery Journal, and Daily Caller News Foundation.
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