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.

The Rule Changes

What It Means for the 2019-2020 Congress

Every Member Gets a Voice

The Reform:


Adopt a rule creating a “Consensus Calendar.” Once a bill reaches 290 co-sponsors, a 25 legislative day clock will begin. If the primary committee of jurisdiction does not report the bill by the end of the 25 legislative days, the legislation will be placed on the new “Consensus Calendar” where it will remain until the bill is considered. For every in-session week, after February 28th of the First Session and before September 30th of the Second Session, majority leadership will be required to bring at least one bill on the “Consensus Calendar” to the Floor.

Every Member Gets a Voice

The Significance:


Often, speakers demand legislation is supported by a majority of the majority to get to the House floor. This practice, informally known as the “Hastert Rule,” has killed many bipartisan deals, including agreements on immigration in 2006 and 2013, that passed the Senate with over 60 votes, but were not even given votes in the House.

This provision makes it easier for groups like the Problem Solvers to do an end run around the extremes in both parties who have repeatedly prevented bipartisan legislation from getting to the floor.

Bipartisan Amendments

The Reform:


Create a Rules Committee Protocol that specifically adds a preference to amendments that comply with the rules, and have at least twenty Members of each party cosponsoring the amendment.

Bipartisan Amendments

The Significance:


When a speaker puts legislation on the floor under closed rules, it is essentially the speaker saying to members: “Here is the bill. You can’t change it. Take it or leave it.” This provision empowers legislators to actually legislate by making it easier to attach bipartisan amendments to legislation.

Modernize the Discharge Petition:

The Reform:


Allow discharge petitions to be considered under a 3-day notice process similar to privileged resolutions in order to facilitate their use and effectiveness, while still requiring 218 signatures. The current process only allows perfected petitions on certain Mondays and only if the House is in session on those days.

Modernize the Discharge Petition:

The Significance:


A petition discharge petition is used in the House of Representatives to start a process to force a bill out of committee and to the House floor for a vote. In the current Congress, a Problem Solvers Caucus member helped lead a discharge petition on immigration that almost forced Speaker Ryan to allow an open immigration debate and floor vote on competing immigration proposals. It failed by a few votes. This makes it a bit easier to file such a petition.

Increase Committee Transparency:

The Reform:


Require three business days’ notice for committee markups, but preserve the entire “good cause” exception.

Increase Committee Transparency:

The Significance:


The majority party often games the House schedule by giving the minority members and staffs too little time to prepare for important committee meetings. This ensure the minority party has sufficient time to evaluate and debate legislation coming out of their committees.

Reform the Motion to Vacate the Chair

The Reform:


Adopt a rule stating that a resolution causing a vacancy in the Office of the Speaker will be privileged if offered by the direction of a major party caucus or conference.

Reform the Motion to Vacate the Chair

The Significance:


The obscure “motion to vacate” provision has recently been used by small groups like the Freedom Caucus to effectively hold speakers hostage, by threatening what is, in effect, a no confidence vote, that could remove a speaker from the position. Under the current House rules, a single member can file the “motion to vacate.” Under this new provision, it requires significantly more members to do it.

Legislative Committee Party Ratios

The Reform:


Commit to a fairer party ratio for committees. Since ratios change throughout the year due to resignations, special elections etc., ratios have never been and should not be set through the standing rules of the House. We are also aware of the Minority’s need to negotiate for seats they need and how setting ratios in the standing rules could inadvertently restrict their needs. However, we agree that to the extent possible party ratios on legislative committees (including Intelligence and Joint and Select Committees, but excluding Rules and Ethics) should reflect the party ratio of the entire House.

Legislative Committee Party Ratios

The Significance:


This creates a more equitable distribution of seats between the parties on the legislative committees that report out legislation to the House floor for a vote.

Preserve “Majority Markups”:

The Reform:


Ensure that a majority of the Members of a committee can request and schedule a markup of the committee they serve on.

Preserve “Majority Markups”:

The Significance:


Some of the other rule changes in this package give the minority party a more meaningful role in shaping legislation. This provision ensures that the majority party still retains some control over the markups of legislation on various committees.

A More Inclusive Amendment Process

The Significance:


This is not a binding rule, but represents a written commitment from House Democratic leadership to rely less on the closed rules that often prohibit open debate and the offering of amendments from rank and file members.

A More Inclusive Amendment Process

The Reform:


Commit to a more fair and inclusive legislative process where more ideas and amendments are debated, and there is less of a reliance on closed rules.

Break the Gridlock

Read the package

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