Five Facts on the House Rules Committee

Five Facts on the House Rules Committee

The Rules Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives may be obscure to most of the public, but it may be the most important and powerful committee in Congress, since it has the power to guide the debate and amendment of almost every piece of legislation.

Here are Five Facts on the House Rules Committee.

  1. The Rules Committee was formally constituted in 1789.

Originally, its role was to propose general rules for House procedure – in contrast to the more deliberative Senate, the House is governed by stricter rules regarding debate and process. Over time, especially starting in 1880, the Rules Committee evolved into a powerful standing arm of the House leadership, deeply influencing legislative proceedings by controlling the flow and amendments of bills.

2. There are 13 members on the Rules Committee, with 9 from the majority party.

Unlike other House committees where membership typically reflects the overall division of the House, the Rules Committee is structured with a disproportionate majority presence—9 members from the majority party and only 4 from the minority. These members have historically been closely aligned with House leadership, who desire a predictable outcome for the majority on every rule given its important role in shaping legislation.

3. Almost every bill that passes out of other House committees must be approved by the Rules Committee before it can be debated on the House floor.

The committee's approval of a "rule" sets the terms for the floor debate, including what amendments may be considered. Given the majority dominance of the committee, rules are designed to constrict most debate on legislation in order to ensure a smoother passage.

4. Seven rule votes have failed in this Congress.

That’s unusual, since Congress had previously gone since 2007 without the failure of a Rules vote. In the current Congress, the composition of the Rules Committee reflects the demands of the Freedom Caucus, a far-right faction within the Republican party. In return for supporting the speakership of Rep. Kevin McCarthy in January 2023, three far right members secured seats on the committee, and they have increasingly used their position to torpedo leadership priorities.

5. One way the Rules Committee can be bypassed is through a discharge petition.

A rarely used procedural move known as a discharge petition can circumvent the Rules Committee. If a discharge petition garners 218 signatures, it can force a bill onto the House floor without the committee's review, though this move directly challenges party leadership and is infrequently successful. The last successful discharge petition was in 2015.