Fulfilling their constitutional power to “determine the Rules of its Proceedings,” this Wednesday, January 5, 2010, the newly assembled House of Representatives will adopt the Rules of the House for the 112th Congress. Speaker-designate John Boehner has proposed a series of changes to the House rules designed to make the House more transparent and help eliminate unnecessary Federal spending. The Top Five New Rules include:

  1. The new rules require a member of the House who wishes to introduce a bill to submit for publication in the Congressional Record a statement of what powers the Constitution grants to Congress to enact that bill. For bills that come over to the House from the Senate, the chairman of the House committee of jurisdiction will submit such a statement. The provision will assist Members of the House in making sure that they carry out the oath every one of them takes to support and defend the Constitution.
  2. The new rules contain a “Cut-As-You-Go” provision that prohibits House consideration of a bill that has the net effect of increasing mandatory spending within the one-year, five-year, and ten-year budget windows. If a bill increases mandatory spending by an amount, the bill must elsewhere cut other spending by at least the same amount. The new rules also eliminate special protection for transportation spending.
  3. The new rules expand requirements that legislation be available in advance before the House or its committees act on it. The chair of a committee must make the text of a measure being marked up publicly available at least one day before a committee markup meeting and a bill must be publicly available at least three days before the House votes on it. The requirement for advance availability prior to votes ensures that Members of the House and the public have an opportunity to read the legislation before the House or its committees vote on the legislation.
  4. The new rules make more information about House proceedings available to the public, and in readily accessible electronic form. For example, the chair of a committee must make the texts of any amendment to a bill adopted at a committee markup available within 24 hours. Each committee must provide audio and video coverage or recordings of committee hearings, to the maximum extent practicable (excluding, for example, hearings involving national security secrets).
  5. The new rules eliminate the vote-avoidance mechanism by which the House was automatically deemed to have approved a bill to increase the Federal debt, whenever the Congress adopted a budget resolution for spending that would have exceeded the existing debt limit, without House Members actually having to vote on whether to raise the debt limit. Now, if House Members want to consider whether to allow the Government to borrow more money, they will have to vote for or against it and not avoid the issue.

On November 3, 2010, immediately following the national elections, The Heritage Foundation issued “The Checklist” of actions of overriding importance, representing the bare minimum required for Washington to fulfill its electoral mandate, meet its constitutional responsibilities, and get America started on the right track. Among other things, the Checklist called on Congress to get control of Government by reestablishing legislative accountability. In particular, the Foundation called for Congress to change its rules to make the text of legislation public at least three days before Congress considers the legislation. The above rules meet, for the House, that bare minimum requirement … and more.

Adoption, by the House, of these new rules proposed by the new conservative leadership is a good first step, but the test of success for the rules will be whether the House follows and enforces them. If the House avoids the temptation to waive the new restrictions from time to time for political convenience, the new rules will reflect a House more committed to conservative principles.