Rule of Law(makers)

We’ve previously written about the rules that rule the rules, which has to be one of the world’s wonkiest subjects. In short, each party in the House and Senate has rules that govern their conference or caucus, leading to different party rules for (1) House Democrats, (2) House Republicans, (3) Senate Democrats, and (4) Senate Republicans. 

Party rules shape the power structure inside the party: they govern things like committee chair assignments and term limits for leadership. These rules can empower rank and file members and give them a voice, strengthen committees, or consolidate power in the hands of a few at the top. 

Caucus rules can also shape personnel practices which affect employees’ quality of life. For example, they can encourage paid family and medical leave that would be beneficial to overworked, underpaid Hill staff. They also decide matters like whether earmarks are permitted.  

House Democrats established a party committee focused to changing the House Democratic Caucus rules. This was done in part as the result of a bargain that allowed Rep. Pelosi to ascend to the speakership in return for term limits for top leadership, a proposal which had been expected to be voted on in February 2019 but as of this writing has not happened and may never occur.

Earlier this year, we released wide-ranging recommendations for House Democrats to modernize their rules. The recommendations fall into the following categories:

  • Democratic Principles 
  • Public Transparency and Digital Democracy
  • Employee Diversity, Expertise, and Support
  • Ethics
  • Internal Transparency 
  • Appointments 
  • Agenda Setting 

One of our key recommendations is that the Democratic caucus make its rules public; we’ve been suggesting this reform for the better part of a decade. Publishing the rules would promote transparency and accountability. 

We gathered all the caucus and conference rules we could find and republished them on this webpage. Republicans in the House and Senate routinely publish their conference rules; Democrats in the House and Senate do not generally publish their rules. (If you have a copy we are missing, please email us!)

At the beginning of the 116th Congress, we wrote to House Democrats three times asking for the Democratic caucus rules to be publicly available. Democratic Caucus Chair Jeffries said in February that the issue would be “presented to the caucus for consideration in short order,” but the vote did not occur prior to the House adjourning for August recess.