Just the Facts

Five Facts on the Speaker's Role in the Legislative Process

By Emma Petasis
June 11, 2018 | Blog

For a bill or joint resolution to become law it must pass through the House of Representatives and the Senate before receiving presidential approval. In all, a bill could potentially undergo up to 14 different steps before it becomes the law of the land.  Throughout this process, few people, if any, exert more influence over the fate of a potential law than the speaker of the House. Here are 5 facts on how the speaker controls legislation in the House.

The speaker of the House assigns sponsored legislation to standing committees

After a bill has been drafted and introduced on the House floor, the speaker then assigns it to a committee. While committee members and chairs are chosen by all party members, the speaker can use his or her power to ensure that all committee chairs are loyal to party leadership. Thus, by playing an important role in choosing committee chairs, combined with the ability to dictate which bills are assigned to which committees, the speaker is able to heavily influence the outcome of a bill from its inception.

The speaker of the House derives most of their power from the House Committee on Rules

The Committee on Rules is one of the oldest standing committees in the House and is often referred to as “The Speaker’s Committee,” as it is the instrument that allows the speaker to maintain control of the House floor.  Once a bill has been approved by the relevant committee, it is sent to the Rules Committee, where majority members are hand-picked by the speaker.  The Committee draws most of its power from its ability to determine the rules that will govern debate on the House floor, such as how long bills can be debated, which amendments can be offered and who can offer them.

Chairperson of the Committee of the Whole is appointed by the speaker of the House

The Committee of the Whole includes all members of the House and is used to consider all bills on the Union Calendar—a separate legislative calendar in the House that schedules bills involving revenue.  Because the Constitution mandates that the House is the only place where bills for raising revenue can originate, the Union Calendar helps ensure that the House carries out its duties.  Thus, by having the power to appoint the chairman of the Committee of the Whole, the speaker is able to influence which revenue bills are given the most consideration or fast-tracked through the legislative process.

The speaker creates special committees within the House as they see necessary

These committees may be launched to perform special functions or solve an existing issue that is not covered by a standing committee. Appointing a Special Committee is a way for the speaker to put more attention on a bill or push it along to a select group of representatives.  For example, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi established the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in 2007 in an effort to study and combat climate change.  Other notable select committees include the Ways and Means Committee, which was established in 1789 during a debate on the creation of the Treasury Department.  It became a standing committee in 1802.

The speaker is able to exert tremendous influence over members of his or her caucus

Not only is the speaker able to significantly influence the legislative process through strategies such as committee appointments, but they are also able to promote loyalty and punish dissent in various ways.  In the 2016 election cycle, current Speaker Paul Ryan was credited with raising nearly $90 million dollars for party committees, campaigns and entities that support Republicans in House races. This tends to make members more loyal to their speaker. The same can be said for former speaker and current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who raised $49.5 million in 2017.

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