Seeing both Sides of the Speaker’s Election
Watching the most protracted battle for the election of a Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 164 years made for some high drama and good TV not only for political junkies like me, but also millions of Americans for whom the inner workings of Congress are usually as boring as watching paint dry.
While there are many opinions about the last week's events, the consensus opinion (both in the media and even among GOP activists) appears to be that it was, at best, unfair for 21 Republican representatives to hold the Speaker’s election hostage so they could advance a narrow conservative agenda.
It is also argued that some of the reforms granted by Speaker McCarthy to win the votes of those 21 conservative members awards them an outsized role in passing legislation and allows them to continue to hold the House legislative agenda hostage to their views. This will make it virtually impossible to get any bipartisan legislation passed on some of the more controversial and important issues of our day, such as federal spending, raising the debt ceiling and immigration reform.
While most or all of that is true, it is important for Americans to understand what those 21 Conservatives were fighting for.
Many of the GOP representatives opposing McCarthy had genuine, good-faith concerns about the workings of Congress including:
A top-down process led by the various committee chairs and in the Rules Committee that limits the ability of members to introduce amendments, have meaningful debate on the floor and that presents them with massive legislation sometimes numbering thousands of pages without time to read, let alone analyze and consider it, before voting.
Federal spending and deficits, which have become unstainable.
The process by which they approve of federal spending, voting on omnibus spending bills instead of passing 12 individual appropriations bills. Conservatives oppose this, arguing that it evades oversight and allows lawmakers to stick in extraneous pet projects.
A general distrust of McCarthy.
Here is a list of key concessions and promises McCarthy and his allies have made over the course of the negotiations:
Lower the threshold for a motion to remove the speaker to one member of the GOP conference, down from the majority required under former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s tenure.
A McCarthy-aligned super PAC agreed to not play in open Republican primaries in safe seats
The House will hold votes on key conservative bills, including a balanced budget amendment, congressional term limits and border security
Efforts to raise the nation’s debt ceiling must be paired with spending cuts. This could become a major issue in the future when it is time to raise the debt limit to avoid a catastrophic default because Democrats in the Senate and the White House would likely oppose demands for spending cuts
Move 12 appropriations bills individually, as contemplated by law, instead of passing separate bills to fund government operations, Congress frequently passes a massive year-end spending package known as an “omnibus” that rolls everything into one bill.
More Freedom Caucus representation on committees, including the powerful House Rules Committee
Cap discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels, which would amount to lower levels for defense and domestic programs
Seventy-two hours to review bills before they come to floor
Give members the ability to offer more amendments on the House floor
Create an investigative committee to probe the “weaponization” of the federal government
Restore the Holman rule, which can be used to reduce the salary of government officials.
One of the Congressmen seeking changes to the basic workings of the House is
Pennsylvania Congressman Scott Perry, Chairman of the GOP Freedom Caucus – of which 19 of the 21 non-McCarthy voters are members. I had the pleasure of speaking with Congressman Perry during the last week. He expressed honest, good faith concerns about out-of-control federal spending and a process that did not allow rank and file congressmen and women to engage in meaningful debate and amend bills. As early as last November, Perry was pushing McCarthy to make rules changes that gave more power to members.
I also spoke with Pennsylvania Congressman Dan Meuser, who was a strong supporter of McCarthy for Speaker. While he appreciates some of the changes to the Rules Committee, he also was concerned about allowing only some members to get special privileges encompassed in the reforms allowing Freedom Caucus members an oversized role in the committee process and allowing a small portion of the GOP conference to have its way at the expense of a majority of the conference.
What remains to be seen is whether the drama that unfolded over the past week is a valid response to Congressional leadership excesses or a selfish and naked power grab by publicity seeking politicians and right-wing extremists? Will the reforms that are being put in place make the U.S. house more democratic and open to duly elected members of Congress or will it result in an unruly Congress unable to reach compromise on important issues that we will face?
Whatever view you may hold about this past week’s Speaker election, a few things are clear: conservatives will play a larger role in advancing and blocking legislation in the House, individual members will have more power and the Speaker less, and bipartisanship will be more difficult to achieve.
Valentino DiGiorgio, Esq. is an attorney and government and public affairs consultant with BSI Consultants, LLC.. Valentino has been a political activist since the age of 18 and served as County Controller for Chester County, PA and GOP Chairman for the Chester County GOP and Pennsylvania GOP.
Contact Valentino at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.bsi.consulting/