WASHINGTON — Rep. Tom Reed and his bipartisan "Problem Solvers Caucus" on Wednesday announced a series of proposed House rules changes that would end the stranglehold that Reed's Republican party has on important legislation and force more compromise proposals to the House floor.
Most notably, the proposed changes would end the informal "Hastert Rule," which calls on a majority of Republican lawmakers to support legislation in order for it to make its way to the House floor. The Hastert Rule has stood in the way of compromise on immigration reform and other major issues, and it has given the far-right Freedom Caucus the power to make or break important legislation.
While the proposal is likely to draw stiff opposition from many Freedom Caucus members, the reformers in the Problem Solvers group could have the clout to get some, if not all, of the proposals passed late this year, when the House votes on leaders for the next Congress. That's because Reed and some other Problem Solvers from both parties said they won't vote for a new House speaker candidate unless that prospective leader supports this reform package.
“We care about reforming the institution, so that Congress is actually able to get things done for the people back home,” said Reed, a lawmaker from Corning who serves as the Republican co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus. “Due to the House floor being controlled by a select few, most members of Congress are not able to bring their ideas and proposals to the House floor for a fair vote that would allow us to begin solving some of the most contentious issues facing our country today.”
The Democratic co-chairman of the Problem Solvers group, Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, echoed Reed's sentiments.
“We’ve seen time and again how our common-sense solutions get jammed up in a system built to empower the voices of a few extremists," Gottheimer said. "Instead of letting obstructionists create roadblocks to bipartisan consensus, the American people deserve action on everything from infrastructure to immigration. These changes will pave the way to the House floor for bipartisan solutions and break the gridlock.”
One of the most important changes would end the current practice of allowing any House member, at any time, to president a "motion to vacate the chair."
In effect, this allows any lawmaker to force a no-confidence vote on the House speaker at any time, a procedure that puts enormous pressure on the speaker to cater to lawmakers who might threaten a revolt. Rep. Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who now leads the Freedom Caucus, filed a motion to vacate the chair against then-House Speaker John Boehner in 2015. Boehner resigned shortly thereafter.
To replace the motion to vacate the chair, the Problem Solvers' proposed rules would create a petition process in which a third of House members could force a vote on whether to oust the speaker.
In addition, the proposed rules changes would:
• Give fast-track priority to bipartisan legislation and guarantee that bills with bipartisan support get full consideration by House committees.
• Allow both parties to have at least one amendment to major legislation to be considered on the House floor.
• Require a three-fifths supermajority to approve legislation considered under "closed rules" where amendments are limited.
• Force the Rules Committee – which controls the terms of debate on the House floor – to consider any legislation cosponsored by two-thirds of the House's members, or a majority of members of each party.
• Require that the Rules Committee consider any amendment with 20 Republican and 20 Democratic cosponsors.
The proposal is the most ambitious yet from the Problem Solvers Caucus, which moderate members created two years ago to try to find middle-of-the-road solutions to important issues. So far, the House leadership has essentially ignored the Problem Solvers' proposals.
Spokespeople for House Speaker Paul Ryan as well as Meadows, the Freedom Caucus chair, did not respond to requests for comment on the Problem Solvers' proposed rules changes.
The Freedom Caucus is likely to block the Problem Solvers' proposal, said Jim Twombly, professor of American politics at Elmira College.
"Reed's proposal is a good idea and if passed would be a big first step in returning the House of Representatives to the deliberative body it was intended to be," Twombly said. "The problem is that it would, in effect, take power away from a small group of members, who will no doubt use that power to prevent the proposal's passage."