House Republicans’ 2023 rules package: Kick Dems off Ethics panel, investigate the FBI, cut corporate taxes
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Today is the first day of the 118th Congress—and the beginning of two years of Republican control of the House of Representatives.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is hoping to be elected speaker of the House but is facing opposition from a vocal minority of his party. With only four votes to spare, this small group has the power of sinking, or at least prolonging, his quest for the speakership.
- To be elected speaker, a lawmaker must garner at least 218 votes. With Republicans holding on to just 222 seats in the next Congress, McCarthy can’t afford to lose the votes of more than four Republican lawmakers. If the first round of voting does not produce 218 ballots for a single candidate, House members will vote in a second round until one candidate reaches the threshold to win.
So far, nine hard-line Republican House members and members-elect have pledged to oppose McCarthy’s election. Reps. Scott Perry (R-PA), Chip Roy (R-TX), Dan Bishop (R-NC), Andrew Clyde (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Andy Harris (R-MD) were joined by Reps.-elect Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), Eli Crane (R-AZ), and Andy Ogles (R-TN) in signing a letter for a “radical departure from the status quo.”
The lawmakers state that the concessions McCarthy has made (detailed below) are “insufficient” to gain their support: “There continue to be missing specific commitments with respect to virtually every component of our entreaties, and thus, no means to measure whether promises are kept or broken,” the group wrote.
New House Rules package
Motion to vacate: Under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership in 2019, a majority of a party’s caucus (i.e. over half of the party’s House membership) must agree to a motion to force out the Speaker of the House in order for it to be brought to a vote. Some Republicans opposing McCarthy want the rule to be reverted to the pre-2019 threshold, wherein only one lawmaker could bring a motion to vacate. McCarthy, with the help of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), put forward a compromise that would set the threshold at five members.
Office of Congressional Ethics: Republicans plan to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, which investigates misconduct by lawmakers. If approved, the new rules would “effectively sack most of the Democratic-appointed board members by instituting term limits and make it much harder to hire staff,” according to Politico’s Nicholas Wu. The panel is made up of four Democratic members and four Republican members; by imposing eight-year term limits, three of the four Democrats would be forced to vacate their seats immediately.
“This could easily kill the only body that’s investigating ethical issues in Congress,” says Kedric Payne with the Campaign Legal Center. “There’s no investigations in the Senate. And the only investigations that happen in the House of any significance are done by the OCE.”
“This is a very smart way to do it,” adds Payne, a former OCE deputy chief counsel. “Because it looks as though the office still lives, but, in fact, it doesn’t.”
Weaponization of the Federal Government: McCarthy proposed the creation of a House Judiciary select subcommittee on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government,” to investigate the FBI, Justice Department and the intelligence community. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a supporter of McCarthy, said the panel will focus on the “Biden Administration’s assault on the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
Select Subcommittee On The Coronavirus Pandemic: House Republicans intend to keep the House Oversight subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic, but change its focus from managing the pandemic to investigating the “origins of the Coronavirus pandemic, including the Federal Government’s funding of gain-of-function research,” and the “implementation of vaccine mandates.”
China Select Committee: Republicans plan on voting to create the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, to be headed by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI). “The Chinese Communist Party is the greatest geopolitical threat of our lifetime,” McCarthy said in a press release announcing the committee.
Holman Rule: House Republicans are bringing back the Holman rule, which allows lawmakers to use the appropriations process to offer amendments that cut the salaries of specific federal workers or funding for specific programs, effectively defunding them. This rule puts the work of civil servants in jeopardy—for example, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) used the rule in 2017 to attempt to eliminate 89 jobs at the Congressional Budget Office. However, the Democratic Senate and President Joe Biden have the power to prevent the cuts from becoming law.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA): “…this is the key point: amid the investigation of Donald Trump for mishandling classified materials and sensitive national security secrets, the House Freedom Caucus wants to use the Holman Rule to, in their words, ‘start defunding… the FBI, the DOJ.’”
CUTGO: Replaces the current rule, known as Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO), with a rule from the Republican’s 2011 Congress called Cut-As-You-Go (CUTGO). PAYGO requires that new legislation not increase the federal budget deficit or reduce the surplus. CUTGO, in contrast, requires increases to be offset with equal or greater mandatory spending decreases. According to outgoing House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), CUTGO allows Republicans to “more easily cut taxes on billionaire corporations while clashing the social safety net.”
House staffer unionization: Republicans intend to revoke a resolution passed last year that allowed congressional offices to organize and collectively bargain for the first time.