Just the Facts

Five Facts on the House Rules Committee

By Emma Petasis
July 18, 2018 | Blog

The speaker of the House is the most powerful person in the House of Representatives and one of the most powerful people in the country.  Much of this power lies in their control of the House Rules Committee, which determines the rules and procedures that govern debate over all legislation in the House. Here are five facts on the House Rules Committee:

The Rules Committee is commonly referred to as the Speaker’s Committee, as it is one of the speaker’s most powerful tools in controlling the House

Historically, the speaker served as the chair of the Rules Committee and was able to appoint its members. In 1910 this power was stripped in order to curtail the speaker’s iron grip over the legislative process.  However, in 1975 the Democratic Caucus rules, which govern how Democratic members carry out their roles in the House, were changed to give their leadership the authority to appoint all Democrats on the Rules Committee.  Republicans followed suit later, giving their leaders the same authority in 1989. Today, while all appointments to the Rules Committee are subject to the approval of the full House, they are nominated by the most senior members of their party.  This gives the speaker significant influence over the House’s most powerful committee.

In March 1910, a coalition of Democrats and progressive Republicans passed the Norris resolution, which removed the speaker of the House from the Rules Committee

The resolution was passed as a direct result of Joseph Cannon’s behavior as speaker. Cannon was a conservative Republican and used his influence over the Rules Committee to blatantly push his party’s agenda in a direction not approved by many of his own caucus members. The resolution, which passed the House 191-152, removed Cannon as chair of the committee, stripping him of much of his power.  Adding insult to injury, Norris then filed a motion to vacate, but “there was no stomach to humiliate him further,” and the motion failed 155-192.  Cannon remained as speaker for one more year before losing his re-election bid to the House.

The main role of the Rule’s Committee is to develop the “rules managing consideration of legislation on the floor”

Before any legislative measure can reach the House floor, the Rules Committee selects the rules that determine the terms and conditions governing debate. These rules tend to fall somewhere on the spectrum between “open rules,” that allow members to add amendments and have open debate on legislation, to “closed” rules, which eliminate the opportunity for consideration of amendments.  Members of the Rules Committee can use these rules to help or hinder the chances of any legislation that comes before it.  The committee has become far more restrictive in recent years — roughly 85% of bills between 1977 and 1979 were considered under open rules, while there have been zero open-rule bills in the current Congress.

The Rules Committee consists of 9 Republicans and 4 Democrats 

 No other committee in the House is weighted more heavily in favor of the majority party.  Members of the Rules Committee are chosen by the House speaker and minority leader. It is currently led by Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), Vice-Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK), and Ranking Minority Member James P. McGovern (D-MA).  Other members of the Rules Committee include (Reps.) Rob Woodall (R-GA), Michael C. Burgess (R-TX), Doug Collins (R-GA), Bradley Byrne (R-AL), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Ken Buck (R-CO) and Liz Cheney (R-WY). The Democratic members are (Reps.) Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Norma Torres (D-CA).

The Speaker Project would give the minority party fair representation on the Rules Committee and transfer its power from the speaker of the House to rank-and-file representatives

 The Speaker Project calls for members of the Rules Committee to be chosen by each party’s steering committee and approved by their respective conference or caucus. Through this rule change, members of the Rules Committee will no longer just be chosen by the speaker of the House but, instead, by the members of each party.  In addition, it would call for the ratio between majority and minority parties to mirror the ratio in the entire House.  This would make the committee far more representative of the wishes of the American people and give bipartisan legislation a much better chance of passing.

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