Just the Facts
Five Facts on the Break the Gridlock Package
By Emma Petasis
July 25, 2018 | Blog
One month ago, No Labels released The Speaker Project, in which it called for significant rule changes in the next Congress to give bipartisan ideas a fair hearing and a fighting chance. Today, the House Problem Solvers Caucus heeded the call, with the release of its own Break the Gridlock reform package. Whichever party controls the next Congress will do so with a narrow majority and a new speaker, creating an opening for a small group of reformers to push through rule changes in the next Congress that might normally be impossible. Here are five facts on the specific reforms featured in the Break the Gridlock package.
Break the Gridlock proposes significant reforms to the “motion to vacate rule”
The “motion to vacate the chair” allows a single House member to force a vote of no confidence to remove the speaker of the House. This strategy has allowed small factions to derail legislation they don’t like by holding the threat of a motion to vacate vote over the speaker’s head. In 2015, the Freedom Caucus used the threat of a vote to force the hand of former House Speaker John Boehner, which many observers believe resulted in his early retirement. To remedy this issue, The Problem Solvers Caucus is proposing a new rule that would require one-third of the House to sign a petition to initiate a vote to remove the speaker.
Break the Gridlock calls for a 3/5 majority in the House to approve bills offered under a “closed rule”
House bills can be introduced with either closed or open rules. Closed rules eliminate the opportunity for members to offer amendments to legislation, while open rules allow members to add amendments and hold open debate. The House Rules Committee currently decides the rules under which legislation is introduced, and has become more restrictive over the years. Between 1977 and 1979 roughly 85% of bills were considered under open rules. The current Congress has not considered a single bill with open rules, making it nearly impossible for bipartisan policy solutions to be found.
Break the Gridlock includes a provision to ensure that party ratios on committees, including the House Rules Committee, reflect the configuration of the entire House
Currently, the Rules Committee consists of nine Republicans and four Democrats – making it the most unbalanced committee in the House. The Rules Committee determines the rules and procedures that govern debate over all legislation in the House and at present, members of the Rules Committee are hand-picked by the House speaker and the minority leader.
Break the Gridlock guarantees each member at least one vote per two-year session on a bill of their choice
The rule reform would require that the bill be co-sponsored by at least one member of the other party and be assigned to a committee that the bill’s author sits on. This change is intended to empower the rank-and-file members of Congress, who have little ability to pursue their policy solutions under the current rules. As explained by Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, “due to the House floor being controlled by a select few, most members of Congress are not able to bring their ideas and proposals to the House floor for a fair vote.”
Break the Gridlock stipulates that all bills with either the support of two-thirds of the House or the majority of each party be granted a vote on the floor
Currently, House rules allow the majority party to control which bills a committee will consider, which bills can reach the House floor for votes, and who can offer amendments on bills. Many of these decisions are determined by an informal guideline known as “The Hastert Rule,” which demands that any bill that is not supported by a majority of the majority party not get a vote.