The new Republican-controlled House approved a sweeping rules package Monday night that could rein in the bureaucracy, control government spending, and put the top lawmaker’s leadership in jeopardy.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., gained the top post in the House early Saturday after 15 rounds of voting over four days, but made concessions to pull most of the dissenting Republican votes. Separate from the House rules, McCarthy agreed to allow votes on several policies.
The rules package passed by a vote of 220 to 213, mostly along party lines, with all Democrats opposing it and all Republicans except Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas voting in favor.
Here’s a look at the biggest takeaways from the new House rules.
1. Motion to Vacate the Chair
A rule change that gained significant attention was allowing a single House member to make a “motion to vacate the chair,” meaning any member of the majority party could force a vote to remove the House speaker. It actually restores a longstanding rule, however.
McCarthy resisted this change, but the single-member rule was in force until 2019, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., faced a resistant caucus shortly after Democrats regained the House majority in the 2018 election. Many Democrats won their House races after pledging to vote against Pelosi for speaker—or even party leader.
Before the vote for speaker came to the floor, Pelosi cut a deal with the holdouts that the entire Democrat leadership team would term-limit itself after two more terms, ending after the 2022 elections. This won over most resisting Democrats.
However, the California Democrat changed the House rules to ensure that only a member of party leadership could bring a “motion to vacate the chair” to the floor for a vote, with the support of the majority of the caucus to take the vote.
2. Controlling Spending and Taxing
McCarthy also made concessions to rebellious House conservatives aimed at controlling federal spending.
Though it’s not in the rules package, the California Republican agreed to cap government spending at the fiscal year 2022 level for the next decade. Some Republicans expressed concern this would mean Defense Department cuts, for example.
The new rules require a separate House vote to increase the debt limit, which is the total amount of money the federal government may borrow. This would ditch the “Gephardt rule,” named for former Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., which deems a debt limit increase as passed by the House when it adopts a budget resolution.
McCarthy also agreed to allow House members to vote separately on spending bills for separate Cabinet-level departments such as Agriculture and Defense, to avoid forcing members to take up or down votes on omnibus packages such as the $1.85 trillion bill passed by Congress in December.
On another front, the House rules would require a supermajority of the 435 lawmakers to pass increases in federal income tax rates.
The rules also replace the “pay as you go” approach, which in theory would hike taxes to pay for new spending, with a “cut as you go” model to halt legislation that would increase mandatory spending within a five-year or 10-year period.
The GOP rules package includes provisions for more accurate fiscal analysis of bills to consider the economic impact, or dynamic scoring, while requiring the Congressional Budget Office to estimate whether legislation would increase direct spending in the so-called outyears.
The rules require debate time for any legislation that would increase direct spending by more than $2.5 billion.
It would require the Congressional Budget Office to do an inflation analysis of the impact of major legislation. The CBO also would have to analyze major Social Security and Medicare legislation to look at the long-term solvency of those entitlement programs.
“Today, the House will vote to roll back a number of changes to House rules that Nancy Pelosi utilized to centralize her power as speaker and silence the views of most members of Congress,” Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action for America, said in a prepared statement.
Heritage Action is the grassroots advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation, the think tank that is the parent organization of The Daily Signal.
“By reforming the way bills are considered, this rules package will restore the voice of all elected members in the legislative process,” Anderson said. “As a result of these reforms, conservatives will have the tools they need to fight the Biden administration and stand up for American families that have borne the costs of the disastrous policies of the last two years of liberal governance.”
3. Major Investigations
The new House rules also call for a resolution to establish a select subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government, in order to look into alleged politicization of the FBI, the IRS, and other government agencies.
This probe likely would include the FBI’s investigation of, and raid of the Florida home of, former President Donald Trump. But it also likely would include the FBI’s role in social media censorship and overtures that the Justice Department and FBI made about investigating parents who spoke out at local school board meetings.
Separately, the rules package calls for the House Oversight and Reform Committee to establish a subcommittee to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This effort would focus specifically on whether the U.S. government has any responsibility for creating the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 through funding China’s so-called gain-of-function research in China.
4. Tackling the Swamp
The rules package also reinstates the “Holman Rule” to rein in the federal bureaucracy. The rule first was adopted by the House in 1876, at a time when civil service reform was popular and distrust of the federal bureaucracy was growing
House Democrats rescinded the rule in 1983, but it was reinstated by a Republican-controlled House in 2017. Democrats eliminated the rule when they took over the chamber in 2019.
The rule allows amendments to spending bills to cut certain programs, reduce the salaries of federal employees, or fire specific employees.
5. Reviewing Bills for 72 Hours
The new House rules require 72 hours of notice before voting on new legislation, as a means to try to eliminate backroom deals. This also would give lawmakers time to read legislation.
In May 2020, Democrats’ House majority adopted “same day authority” to force a vote on a bill the day it was introduced.
6. Committee Appointments
As part of the agreement that McCarthy cut with the conservative rebels, though not specified in the new rules, three of the nine seats on the powerful House Rules Committee will go to members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
The Rules Committee has a big say in whether bills and amendments are brought to the floor.
7. Votes on Conservative Priorities
The new rules would allow votes to block taxpayer funding of abortions, or of abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.
“Specifically, Heritage Action’s stance on issues like protecting the sanctity of life and robust immigration priorities should serve as examples of a bold, conservative legislative agenda. Now, Congress must get to work,” Anderson said.
The rules also call for a vote to rescind $72 billion from a recent Democrat spending bill that would be used to hire and pay 87,000 more Internal Revenue Service agents.
The House also will vote on prohibiting the sale of fuel from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China.
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