How to Fix the Biggest Problem in Congress

By No Labels
February 28, 2018 | Blog

To those who support bipartisan cooperation, the House of Representatives can be frustrating. Members offer plenty of solid, bipartisan legislative ideas. Those proposals are supported by plenty of hardworking lawmakers. But in today’s system, those ideas almost never reach the House floor for debate. More often, they wither on the vine.

The problem is not one person or party. Rather, it is rooted in the rules that govern the House. Follow this logic: When a Speaker is chosen at the beginning of each two-year Congress, he or she is voted in by a simple majority of the House. That means the majority party always installs the Speaker of their choice, with no support whatsoever from the opposition party.

Once that person is handed the gavel, they have little incentive to work across the aisle or allow legislation from the opposition party to move forward. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Republican or Democrat, the Speaker is selected explicitly to carry out his or her party’s agenda, with no input from the minority party. Any deviation can cause a backlash—even costing someone the gavel.

New House, New Rules

Thankfully, there is a way to fix this—and No Labels is launching a campaign to do exactly that.

The solution lies in changing the way that the Speaker is elected, and other rules that govern how the House is run. Rather than a simple majority of the house (218 of the 435 lawmakers), the rule should specify that 60 percent of members elect the Speaker (261 of the 435). This would virtually ensure that lawmakers from both parties are needed to elect any given individual.

A Speaker elected by lawmakers from both parties would be beholden to both parties. He or she would have to approach the job very differently. The new 60-percent Speaker would have to change the way that the agenda is set and how legislation is treated in the House, encouraging bipartisan cooperation to get things done.

And, while there will no doubt be opposition, this change can be enacted. This is no dreamy, far-fetched solution. It’s a rules change, one of many that could make the House more bipartisan and more productive. All it requires is for the House to bring it to a vote at the beginning of the next session, and for a majority of members to support it.

New coalitions would break the gridlock

The Speaker is one of the most powerful positions in Washington. They are third in line to succeed the President. They set the agenda for the House. If the Speaker had to negotiate with lawmakers in both parties, rather than just representing their own party, different sorts of bills would be enacted into law.

The new 60-percent Speaker could require that bills address concerns from members on both sides of the aisle. That means the coalitions that form to support policy positions would have a better chance if they were bipartisan. That won’t be lost on lawmakers, most of whom came to Washington to legislate and are frustrated by the current system. There are plenty of lawmakers in the House who already champion bipartisan action on a regular basis.

Lawmakers in the opposition party would no longer be locked out of the process. Those in the majority party would be encouraged to negotiate. Argument and debate would ensue—and very likely, so would some bipartisan bills. With issues like gun safety, immigration, border security and infrastructure investment waiting for Congressional action, could there be a better time to do this?

Support the campaign

No Labels will encourage House members in both parties to support this change, and others that can make the House more bipartisan and more productive. We’ll have conversations with lawmakers, unpack the merits, argue the case here on this blog, and discuss it with our online community, which is more than one million strong.

Of course, we’ll also be asking our supporters to get involved, which means you are likely to get something in your inbox in coming days explaining what you can do to make this happen. We may ask you to contact your member of Congress or sign a petition—whatever it takes to build support for this common-sense idea. Single-party legislation from a hidebound Congress has proven itself incapable of solving our problems. America needs a functional legislative branch.

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