On January 3, 2019, the first day in session for the 116th Congress, the new Democratic majority passed one of the most ambitious rule reforms package in decades; including significant revision that made it easier for bipartisan legislation to be debated and voted on.
Many of these changes were suggested and fought for by members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus. In an historic move, nine Problem Solvers Caucus Democrats had initially withheld their votes for speaker until Nancy Pelosi agreed to their reforms. And then, on the first day of Congress, three members of the Caucus joined with the Democratic majority in voting for the rules package; the first time since 2001 members of the minority party had voted for the majority’s rule package.
It was a signature example of the positive influence bipartisan groups like the Problem Solvers Caucus can have when they stick together.
Why Does This Matter?
For years, bills and amendments with broad bipartisan support had no chance to get to the House floor for a vote because obscure rules vested far too much power in the House speaker and the most ideological and intransigent members of their party who they depended on to stay in power. This is how bad things got in the last Congress:
- The Problem Solvers Caucus was formed in early 2017, and in the next year it aligned several times behind bipartisan solutions on health care, immigration and border security, infrastructure and gun safety. They were the kind of solutions that would have likely passed the House if they ever actually got to the floor. But House Republican leadership refused to give their ideas so much as a hearing, let alone a vote.
- This 115th Congress set a record for the number of “closed rules,” a procedural step that prevents rank-and-file members from offering amendments to legislation.
- This House increasingly spent its time passing “message bills,” which is legislation the Republican base liked and allowed members to pretend they were doing something, even though they knew full well the bills would die in the Senate, where bipartisan support is required to clear the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation. In this Congress, the House passed over 140 bills with only Republican votes that are now sitting in the Senate graveyard.
- These new rule changes, for the first time in years, will give bipartisan ideas a chance to get to the floor, be debated, and voted on.
What It Means for the 2019-2020 Congress