House Republicans adopt rules package following Speaker fight

U.S.

House Republicans on Monday adopted a rules package that will govern how the chamber operates for the next two years in a closely watched vote that came on the heels of last week’s drawn-out Speaker fight.

The vote was the first legislative battle for newly elected Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his House Republican conference. 

The package passed mainly along party lines in a 220-213 vote. 

The terms in the package were central to closed-door negotiations last week between McCarthy allies and detractors. McCarthy had to give up a number of rules concessions to win over some of his GOP holdouts and put him over the finish line.

He ultimately won the Speakership on the 15th ballot, following four days of voting.

The process left questions about whether the provisions to which McCarthy agreed would turn off moderate Republicans, and a few voiced misgivings in recent days. But ultimately Rep. Tony Gonzales (Texas) was the only Republican to oppose the resolution, following through on the vow he made Friday.

The most controversial provision included in the resolution is the single-member motion to vacate the chair, which allows one lawmaker to force a vote on ousting the Speaker.

The package agreed to by House Republicans in November required a majority of the Republican conference to agree to invoke the motion to vacate the chair, but McCarthy brought that down to five members on New Years Day amid urging from conservative lawmakers.

That change, however, was not enough for the right-leaning members, who demanded that the threshold was dropped to one member — where it was set for years before Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) changed the threshold to a majority of one party when she took the Speaker’s gavel in 2019.

McCarthy ultimately gave into the request, giving his conservative holdouts a significant victory. The change in threshold for the motion to vacate is the only difference between the package released by Republicans on Jan. 1, and the one that came to the floor on Monday.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), a McCarthy holdout who flipped his vote on the 14th ballot, hailed the single-member motion to vacate during debate on the House floor.

“Of the many victories we secured for the American people, the Thomas Jefferson motion to vacate the chair is the most important to me as it holds the Speaker accountable to the people,” he said.

“By restoring this historic rule, every solitary member has the authority to hold the Speaker accountable for following all of the rules,” he added.

The rules package also reinstates the Holman Rule, which gives members the ability to propose amendments for appropriations bills that would decrease the salaries of specific federal workers, or funding for particular programs, to $1, essentially defunding them.

Democrats did away with the regulation in 2019 when they took control of the House, but Republicans are now bringing it back.

The new rules package also directs the Congressional Budget Office to examine the inflationary impact legislation will have, in addition to the budgetary impact — an issue Republicans brought up repeatedly as inflation rapidly rose in 2022.

“PAYGO,” the “pay-as-you-go” rule that requires legislation that would increase mandatory spending to be offset with spending cues or revenue increases, will be replaced with “CUTGO,” a “cut-as-you-go” variation first instituted by Republicans in 2011 that requires increases to be offset with equal or greater mandatory spending decreases. Both parties frequently waived the rule to pass legislation in the past.

Additionally, the new rules package does away with proxy voting, which was instituted in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic as a way for members to vote remotely.

Some GOP uneasiness about the resolution arose from it being informally tied to agreements struck between McCarthy and those who opposed him for Speaker that were not included in the rules package itself. 

Those measures included promising a vote on a term limits bill and a commitment to put two or three hardline conservative members on the House Rules Committee, the panel that controls all legislation that goes to the floor.

Democrats also expressed concern with the informal agreements struck between McCarthy allies and his detractors. Rules Committee ranking member Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) — who called the rules package “flawed” — said he does not know what was included in the terms.

“What I’m concerned about is not just what’s written down here, I’m concerned by the backroom deals that Speaker McCarthy made with the Freedom Caucus in exchange for their votes. Like Republican congresswoman Nancy Mace said just this weekend, and I quote, ‘we don’t have any idea what promises were made,’” McGovern said. “This is unconscionable, we’re only one week into this and this is how they’re running this place.”

“Is this what the majority leader meant when he talked about a new day in transparency? These rules are not a serious attempt at governing, they’re essentially a ransom note to America from the extreme right,” he added.

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