What Happened at the House Rules Committee Member Day Hearing

At the start of the new Congress, the House of Representatives will adopt new procedural rules that govern nearly every aspect of how it conducts business. In preparation, the House Rules Committee held a Members’ Day hearing on October 1, 2020, where it heard testimony from 16 Members in person over more than 3 hours, and received written comments from another 5 members.

The following is a high level summary of the requests from each Member. Demand Progress has its own recommendations on what rules should be updated, which are available here.

PANEL 1
Majority Leader Hoyer (15:55)
• Views PAYGO as important
• Supports bringing back earmarks as congressionally directed spending with additional measures to provide for transparency and accountability. May wish to codify some appropriations committee practices in the rules. Opposes requiring the community to ask for an earmark.

Majority Whip Clyburn (25:49)
• Supports restoring earmarking

Chairman Thompson (33:10)
• Would reform DHS’s jurisdictional statement & reorganize the Homeland Security Committee with authority to reform DHS and push forward a DHS reform package. It’s subject matter jurisdiction is too narrow, and has too much overlap with other committees. For example: natural disasters and FEMA. Before FEMA can move any resources, the Stafford act must be invoked. The Stafford Act is not within Homeland Security. FEMA is ready to go, but they don’t have the authority to act.

Rep. Langevin (40:00)
• The House should create a permanent select cmtes on cybersecurity, which would consolidate legislative jurisdiction and oversight authority. This would implement recommendation 1.2 from the Cyberspace solarium commission.
• Supports Chairman Thompson’s request to reform the Homeland Security Committee and would gladly have the permanent select cybersecurity committee exist as part of a reformed Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. Eshoo (47:50)
• Expand multi-factor authentication in the House for access to the House network
• Establish a working group to combat surveillance of congressional communications; concerned about Executive branch surveillance of congressional communications
• All House documents should be machine readable
• Make permanent the electronic submission of legislative materials, such as introducing bills, introducing statements into the record, etc.

Highlights of Q&A for Panel 1
Rep. Cole
• Supports earmarks, but opposes the air-dropping of earmarks.
• Long and interesting discussion of problems with committee jurisdiction re: Indian Health Service b/c it’s in the wrong approps subcommittee.

PANEL 2
Rep. Davis (1:22:50)
• Wants a tightening of the rules/enforcement of proxy voting, as some are voting remotely when they are not ill/at risk
• Supports recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. This includes legislative documents in machine-readable formats; committee votes in a central database; technology improvements (such as e-hopper); allowing electronic signatures for discharge petitions; addressing accessibility to congressional information online for persons with disabilities.
• The efforts of the select committee on the modernization of congress should continue in some form.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz
• Supports restoring earmarks with additional requirements for transparency and accountability. All info in a database, with GAO audits and IGs look for waste, fraud, and abuse.
• Restore the Select Intel Oversight Panel, which formerly existed as part of the appropriations committee. There’s a need for intel oversight inside the appropriations committee — defense approps subcommittee consumers the intel but isn’t playing this oversight role — there’s a need for broader accountability over the black budget. The panel should focus on the administration’s budget request. No one knows why it was eliminated for the 112th Congress (although it had some cumbersome elements). This was a special select committee of the appropriations committee that combined intel authorizers and intel appropriators in the approps committee. It was a combined pair of more scrutinizing eyes. It held more hearings and it delved deeply into budget requests into the black budget than Defense Approps SubCmte can.

Rep. Cline
• Would strengthen the 72-hour rule and narrow instances where a bill can be stripped of its text and replaced
• Members should be able to offer amendments on bills they haven’t drafted.
• Appropriations bills should be considered individually.

Rep. Castro (1:40:00)
• Should institutionalize the tri-caucus diversity initiative, which would track diversity among witnesses before committees.

Rep. Crist (1:41:53)
• Committee reports should include a section that addresses the racial impact of legislation

Highlights of Q&A for Panel 2
Rep. Cole
• The reason many bills aren’t open to amendments is because gotcha amendments can blow up the bill.
• Also considering hundreds of amendments on the floor can take a very long time.

Rep. Cline
• If members have amendments in the bills they are less likely to blow them up. Also make members sit through the entire floor process as a way of keeping down having too many amendments.

Rep. Woodall
• Concerned about committee panels with 5 majority witnesses and only 1 minority witness

A reason suggested by approps bills are bundled together is because many members would vote for only one or two of the approps bills and vote down all the others.

PANEL 3
Rep. Kilmer
• Highlights recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Focused on earmarks, Oxford-style debates on the House floor, alternative formats for committee proceedings, building efficiency into the schedule (such as times when only committees may meet); use of technology for legislative submissions, address continuity of government, continue the work of the select committee.

Rep. Murphy
• Supports PAYGO
• Prohibit consideration of legislation without CBO or JCT estimate
• Keep the MTR, but raise the threshold to adopt the provision to 2/3
• Further strengthen the consensus calendar

Rep. Davids (2:30:00)
• Have CBO give annual fiscal state of the nation address

Rep. Taylor (2:33:17)
• Concerned that very few smaller bills can become law.
• Allow *senate* bills with 290 House members in support to get on the consensus calendar
• If a bill gets 4/5s of committee members to support, it goes to the floor. Then requires 2/3s to pass on the floor.
• Create an “over and eligible process” whereby the House author of a House bill can bring up the corresponding Senate bill that’s already passed the Senate and vote on that instead. (Encourages companion legislation.)

Highlights of Q&A for Panel 3
Rep. Woodall
• Need to find a way of addressing the attachment of legislation to messages between the House without minority concurrence. (This is used to avoid the MTR)

PANEL 4
Rep. Schneider
• Keep the MTR, but raise threshold for passage to 2/3

Rep. Lieu
• House should adopt a system to enforce its inherent contempt powers through fines • Get rid of MTR

Highlights of Q&A for Panel 4
On Inherent contempt, McGovern and Woodall agree, but the system must be workable and fair.

WRITTEN TESTIMONY
Rep. Rice
• Supports a fiscal state of the nation speech (H. Con Res 68)

Rep. Tom Graves
• Highlights Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress recommendations, focusing on power of the power, schedule & calendar reforms, and extending the work of the Select Committee.

Rep. Porter
• House Calendar. Generally supportive of bipartisan Pocan/Timmons proposal—two weeks on, two weeks off, with legislative work including hearings and voting on Monday through Friday.
• Truth-in-Testimony disclosures. Prevent witnesses from evading disclosure requirements by redefining disclosure requirements narrowly or testifying in their personal capacities.
• Motions to Recommit. Raise threshold to 2/3.

Rep. Cleaver
• Restore earmarks

Rep. Gottheimer
• Consensus calendar to move senate bills supported by House members
• Supports “over and eligible”
• Require committee chairs to begin markups of legislation within 15 days of committee receiving the bill; and advancing the measure to the floor if 4/5s of committee support it; and passing the floor if 2/3s of members support