By: Rachel Bovard | The Federalist’s senior tech columnist and the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute
The following is a transcript of my remarks from a House Freedom Caucus event on Nov. 16.
Congressman Biggs and members of the Freedom Caucus, thank you for inviting me to participate in this important discussion. My name is Rachel Bovard, and I am the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. Since helping to start CPI in 2017, I have built out programs and curriculums designed to train both staff and members on the rules, procedure, and culture of the House and Senate.
My curriculums are based on my own experience as a senior staffer in both the House and the Senate. I have also spent years learning from the Capitol Hill legends sitting next to me: Mark Meadows, Ed Corrigan, and Paul Teller.
But before we even begin to discuss the specifics of how the House rules should change, it’s important to ask, why does procedure even matter? In politics, aren’t majorities the only thing that matter?
The answer, of course, is that procedure — that is, the rules that govern the House — are what make majorities matter. And, at its core, procedure is what makes representation matter. The rules are how individual members of Congress are given the right to exercise their will on the body; it is the structure that ensures all voices are heard.
But the House of Representatives in 2022 is as autocratic as it has ever been. Over the course of the last 15 years, the People’s House has increasingly just reflected the whims of three or four people and no more. When I came to the House as a junior staffer in 2006, open rules on appropriations bills were the norm. Members would vote until the early hours of the morning on any and all issues individual members cared about.
Fast forward to now, I’ve spent five years teaching staff who have never even seen an open rule. As I tell many of them, it’s a unicorn — mythical, elusive, and exists only in books. Staff today have seen one process: usually giant bills, written behind closed doors, dumped on the membership with little time to read the bill, much less amend it. They are bullied into voting for the bill and punished if they don’t.
The House, in other words, is broken for the members. But it works as intended for leadership, K Street, and special interests.
So the discussion today must focus on reforming the rules to bring the representative element back to the House. To that end, rules reforms must democratize and empower individual members. Ending proxy voting and getting rid of the magnetometers on the House floor are baseline expectations — they aren’t reforms and shouldn’t be treated as such. And working groups, task forces, and listening sessions are nice, but they guarantee approximately nothing.
To matter, rules reforms need to be structural. At a minimum, conservatives should demand representation on committees, including the Rules Committee, and then those committees should actually be able to work. Martial law, the idea that a giant bill can just be dropped on the body and voted out the same day, should be abolished and a two-thirds vote required to waive what should be a mandatory wait time for floor consideration.
And, importantly, the rules of the House should reflect the will of the political majority — not whatever deal a Republican speaker can cut with Democrats. No bill should be brought to the floor that doesn’t have the support of the Republican majority. And Republicans on the Rules Committee should be bound to vote and consider amendments from their colleagues.
However, none of this matters without an enforcement mechanism. Bringing back the motion to vacate, in its full form, will ensure that the speaker has an incentive to honor his commitments.
Thank you, and I look forward to the discussion.
Rachel Bovard is The Federalist’s senior tech columnist and the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. She has more than a decade of policy experience in Washington and has served in both the House and Senate in various roles, including as a legislative director and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Mike Lee. She also served as director of policy services for The Heritage Foundation.
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