D. Hunter Schwarz
A bipartisan group in the U.S. House want to change how the chamber works, and they asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday to do something about it.
The House Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of more than 50 lawmakers split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, sent a letter asking Pelosi and McCarthy for a “return to regular order,” or going back to a lawmaking process in which House members can offer amendments to a bill while it’s in committee and on the House floor. The group said in the letter, first reported in Politico’s Playbook newsletter, that the change would help build bipartisan support for legislation.
“With narrow majorities in the House and Senate, we need bipartisan support and solutions to get bills passed in both houses and ultimately signed into law by the president,” the letter reads. “The best way to do this is by having a deliberative and open process that promotes transparency and allows members to help shape legislation through committee hearings, markups, and floor amendments. We should not be afraid to deliberate and debate.”
The Problem Solvers Caucus did not respond to a request for comment.
The move from “regular order” to today’s more centralized, restrictive lawmaking process began in the 1980s and ’90s, when opponents of legislation used open procedures “to essentially gum up the works,” like offering amendments solely to make a political point or put members in an embarrassing position, said Jim Curry, an associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Utah’s political science department who studies legislative processes.
“In response, you started to have majority leadership in the House start just taking away those opportunities in order to expedite and clear the path for legislation they already built enough support to get through these steps and pass,” he said.
The Problem Solvers Caucus’ request for regular order comes amid other debates on Capitol Hill over procedural issues. The ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus is split over the extent it should use delaying tactics, according to Politico. Meanwhile in the Senate, some Democrats are pushing for an end to the filibuster, a tactic used often used by minority members of the chamber to slow down or block legislation. While a growing number of Democrats support abolishing the filibuster to fast-track the Biden administration’s priorities, two moderate Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, have said they’re not on board. President Joe Biden has said he supports modifying it so it won’t be abused.
While changes like a return to regular order in the House and ending the filibuster in the Senate have different ends — the former is meant to extend debate and thus, it could expand opportunities to obstruct legislation, while the later is meant to do the opposite — the hoped-for result from both groups is the same: passing legislation they want.
“What members of Congress really want, from member to member, whether it’s in the House or the Senate, is they want whatever process they think will get them the outcome that they want,” Curry said. “So you have Democrats in the Senate who want to get rid of the filibuster because they think it will help them pass legislation as they want, and you have moderates in the House who want to get rid of these expedited procedures because they think it will give them more influence over the process.”
Curry doesn’t expect Pelosi or McCarthy to take up the Problem Solvers Caucus proposal because doing so would erode their influence, and he also doesn’t think it would actually lead to more bipartisanship.
“It sounds really nice in principle,” he said, but, “when you try to do things in an open manner under our current political conditions, you really are just inviting more controversy, you’re inviting gridlock, you’re inviting opponents of legislation to use those processes to slow things down.”