Kevin McCarthy Voted Speaker of the House – What are the new rules?
Submitted by Christopher Schrader, SPHR, HR Indiana SHRM Government Affairs Director
A tortuous 3-day floor fight to determine the Republican Speaker of the House ended in the first week of January with Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) finally selected on the 15th ballot. Usually, this matter is decided on the first or second ballot. A floor battle in the House this epic has not happened since 1923, and for very similar reasons.
Then, the Republicans were taking power following Democrat losses in 1922. The prior Speaker amassed significant power in the office and changed the standard House operating rules so thoroughly that none dared challenge the Speaker, nor could they. Regular House rules were restored and more or less stood until Nancy Pelosi became the Speaker in 2007.
Over the next 4 years, she methodically worked to centralize power in the office of the Speaker. John Boehner and Paul Ryan, the next two Republican Speakers, did nothing to reverse the power, and each slightly added to it, causing trouble in the growing ranks of populist conservatives in the House.
Nancy Pelosi again became the Speaker in 2019. She rapidly completed the power aggregation process but immediately ran into resistance from populist progressives, most notably “The Squad”, led by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The stage was now set for the floor fight that occurred last week.
The Republicans knew they would take the House in the 2022 election; the only question was by how many seats (4 is the answer). They also knew that Kevin McCarthy wanted to be the Speaker. Accordingly, the populist conservative Freedom Caucus, led by Jim Jordan (R-OH), laid out their support requirements to McCarthy, who indicated agreement sometime before the election.
As the process began for the nomination of the Speaker, McCarthy walked back his commitment to the Freedom Caucus, enraging them. As the voting went on, McCarthy began to lose by larger and larger margins. It became clear that he had no path to office without the support of the Freedom Caucus. In the end, he yielded. Here is what has changed:
- No mandatory party-line votes
- Individual members may offer amendments to all major appropriation Bills
- Representatives will have a minimum of 72 hours to review the final language of a Bill
- Restoration of the singular Motion to Vacate the Chair, a de facto “No Confidence” vote
- Restoration of “Calendar Wednesday,” permitting committee chairs to report to the House floor
- Restoration of the open amendment process with the same 72-hour notice period
- Restoration of the 3/5ths supermajority required to approve tax rate increases
- Restoration of “Cut-Go” which requires spending increases to be offset by equal spending cuts
- Repeal of the “Gephardt Rule” that increases the debt limit when a budget resolution is passed
- Restoration of the 1876 Holman Rule that permits members to make cuts to federal agencies
- A committee, like the Church Committee, will be formed to investigate and reform the FBI
- The Ethics Committee will allow complaints from the public
All of the above is a shocking blow to the status quo. And DC loves the status quo. Now you know why nearly every talking head on TV appears to be losing their mind over this.
My takeaway is that we are clearly in a political cycle that will have some legs where the Establishment wings of both the Democrats and Republicans wane, and the Populist wings wax.