House Resolution 5 passed earlier this month, setting the rules for how the House of Representatives would operate in the 115th Congress (2017–2018). Here are several notable rules which took effect, including ones controversially changing the accounting tactics for a likely Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) repeal, potentially drastically cutting the pay of federal workers and budgets of federal programs, and making it easier for the government to sell off federal land.
Changing the rules (or cheating the rules?) for repealing Obamacare
Whenever Congress tries to pass or repeal legislation, the move is “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office. The nonpartisan agency estimates whether — and by how much — deficits would increase over the subsequent 50 years as a result of the legislation. But the new House rules lift the requirement that CBO estimate the deficits and costs for the full 50 year time frame on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
It’s believed by many that such a repeal, one of the top priorities of President Trump and congressional Republicans, could greatly add to the deficit. There are several reasons for this, such as the Act’s focus on preventive care creating lower upfront expenditures in place of higher long-term expenditures from otherwise-untreated diseases and illnesses. Federal deficits have indisputably declined since the Act’s original 2010 passage, though not all of that decline was due to the Act itself.
In practice, almost any bill which increases the deficit by more than a certain amount is deemed “out of order.” The new House rules would mean that an Affordable Care Act repeal would not be subject to this designation, and could proceed as House Republicans originally planned despite any possible deficit increases as a result. Democrats, of course, consider this a cheat to evade facing the financial repercussions of repealing President Obama’s signature domestic law.
Allowing any Congress member to propose limiting federal workers’ pay down to $1
Another rule will permit a member of Congress to suggest cutting any federal program or reducing any federal worker’s salary, potentially to as little as $1.
This is a reimplementation of an obscure and virtually never-used provision created all the way back in 1876 and discontinued in 1983, informally called the Holman Rule. The rule was advocated this time around by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA9), who was upset about an $80 million federal program to care for horses on federal land in western states.
Although majorities in both houses of Congress and the President would still have to approve any such cut, for either a federal program or a subset of federal workers, the rule makes it significantly easier for any Congress member to single-handedly bring such a cut to the table — even a member outside of leadership or committee chairmanship.
Supporters, mostly Republicans, say the rule change streamlines the process for cutting down on an overly large and burdensome federal bureaucracy. Critics, mostly Democrats, are concerned that the rule could effectively force the vast majority of federal workers who serve in nonpartisan positions to adopt or execute politically-motivated policies to appease the party in power (currently Republicans), for fear of losing their jobs or getting their pay slashed.
As a concession, Republicans wrote the rule to expire in one year unless lawmakers vote to extend it. However, that possibility does seem likely considering Republicans will also control the House in 2018, if not beyond.
Makes it easier for government to sell off federal land
Another provision eases the ability of the federal government to sell federal land to state, localities, or private hands.
Specifically, the provision eliminates longstanding language which previously required any transfer or sale of federal land to factor in potential federal revenue lost. This would include federal income tax revenues through drilling, grazing, and logging. The previous language made it much more difficult for the federal government to sell land, because of all the federal revenue they would ostensibly be losing. Now, that factor is off the table when Congress makes such decisions.
Supporters say the bill will make it easier for the federal government to rid itself of an unnecessarily bloated federal land acquisitions: 608.9 million acres of land, or about 28 percent of total U.S. land. Plus they such decisions — often, though not always, in Western states — are better made by state, local, or private actors there than by the federal government.
Democratic critics are led by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ3), who said in a statement shortly after the vote that this rule change would “[allow] Congress to give away every single piece of property we own, for free, and pretend we have lost nothing of any value” and called the move “fiscally irresponsible.”
And the move also has Republican critics as well including some Western governors, who don’t want discontinuation of some federal government services on such lands such as emergency and wildfire prevention.
Fining House members for filming or streaming video from the House floor
The most controversial of these new rules, which GovTrack Insider previously wrote about earlier this month, will fine House members for taking or streaming video from the House floor.
The Republican-led change followed 2016 Democratic protests on the House floor advocating for stricter gun control policies, which House Democrats continued streaming live online using cell phones after C-SPAN was no longer broadcasting footage live from the House floor. The fine is $500 for a first offense, followed by $2,500 for every subsequent offense.
Republicans say the rules just finally enforce a longstanding never-enforced ban. Democrats call it a restriction on their free speech, and some are even claiming they’ll openly flout the new rule.
The rules package passed 234–193, with every House Democrat in opposition and all but three House Republicans in favor. Those three are Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI3), Walter Jones (R-NC3), and Thomas Massie (R-KY4).
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 3, 2017.
(This measure has not been amended since it was introduced. The summary has been expanded because action occurred on the measure.)
Adopts the Rules of the House of Representatives for the 114th Congress as the Rules for the 115th Congress, with amendments.
(Sec. 2) Directs the Sergeant-at-Arms to impose a fine against a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner for use of an electronic device for still photography or for audio or visual recording or broadcasting in contravention of clause 5 of Rule XVII and any applicable Speaker of the House of Representatives' announced policy on electronic devices.
Prohibits a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner or a House officer or employee from engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct in the chamber, including by:
intentionally obstructing or impeding the passage of others; using an exhibit to impede, disrupt, or disturb House proceedings; and denying legislative instruments to others seeking to engage in legislative proceedings. Amends current oversight plan requirements. Requires each standing committee, excluding the Committees on Appropriations, Ethics, and Rules, to adopt and submit to the Appropriations Committee, (in addition to the Oversight and Government Reform and House Administration Committees) by February 15 of the first session of a Congress an authorization and oversight plan (currently, oversight plan) for that Congress. Requires the plan's content to include:
a list of such programs or agencies with lapsed authorizations that received funding in the prior fiscal year or, in the case of a permanent authorization, that have not been subject to a comprehensive review by the committee in the prior three Congresses; description of each such program or agency to be authorized in the current or next Congress; a description of any oversight to support the authorization of each such program or agency in the current Congress; and recommendations for changes to existing law for moving it from mandatory funding to discretionary appropriations. Authorizes the plan to include:
recommendations for consolidation or termination of such programs or agencies that are duplicative, unnecessary, or inconsistent with the appropriate federal roles and responsibilities; and recommendations for changes to existing law related to federal rules, regulations, statutes, and court decisions affecting them inconsistent with Congress's authorities under the U.S. Constitution. Directs the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to report the authorization and oversight plans to the House by March 31 in the first session of a Congress.
Requires the summary of a committee's activities' report submitted to the House by January 2 of each odd-numbered year to include its: (1) authorization and oversight plans, and (2) actions taken and recommendations made with respect to them.
Prohibits an amendment to a general appropriation bill from being in order if the amendment proposes a net increase in the bill's level of budget authority.
Requires a committee report on a measure to include for a bill or joint resolution that establishes or reauthorizes a federal program, a statement indicating whether the program is duplicative of another program, including at a minimum an explanation of whether it was included in a congressional report or whether the most recent Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance identified other programs related to it.
Permits Members to be recognized either by sitting or standing with respect to Floor proceedings.
Authorizes the Speaker to convene the House in a place at the seat of government, other than the Hall of the House if in the Speaker's opinion, the public interest shall warrant it.
Requires the Clerk, pending the election of a Speaker or Speaker pro tempore and in the absence of a Member acting as Speaker pro tempore, to preserve order and decorum and decide all questions of order, subject to appeal by a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner.
Authorizes the House, the Speaker, a committee or the chair of a committee authorized during a prior Congress to act in a litigation matter as the successor in such individual's or committee's interest, respectively, regarding the litigation matter, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to ensure the matter's continuation.
Provides access to the Hall of the House or a room leading to it by a person from the staff of a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or committee responsible for such individual's admission. (Currently, the staff must remain at the desk).
Makes records created, generated, or received by the congressional office of a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner in the performance of official duties exclusively such individual's personal property. Gives control over the records to the individual.
Modifies procedures governing notification of, and response to, properly served judicial subpoena and judicial orders directing appearance as a witness relating to the official House functions or compelling the production or disclosure of any document relating to such functions. Eliminates administrative subpoenas from these procedures.
Waives Rule X, clause 5(d) to allow extra subcommittees for the House Committees on: (1) Armed Services, (2) Foreign Affairs, (3) Transportation and Infrastructure, and (4) Agriculture.
Authorizes the Committee on Homeland Security to close hearings for an additional five consecutive days when considering sensitive matters that require an executive session.
Refers measures making a referral to the Court of Claims to the private calendar.
Modifies the Ramseyer Rule (requiring committee reports on bills and joint resolutions to show exactly how a bill would change existing law). Requires the committee report or an accompanying document (showing by appropriate typographical devices the omissions and insertions proposed) to show:
the entire text of each section of a statute proposed to be repealed, and a comparative print of each amendment to the entire text of a section of a statute that the measure proposes to make. Authorizes the Speaker to postpone record votes on the question of adopting a motion: (1) to recommit, and (2) to concur in a Senate amendment, with or without amendment.
Revises guidelines for the minimum five-minute electronic voting to allow the Speaker, if in the Speaker's discretion, Members would be afforded an adequate opportunity to vote (as under the current rule):
on any question arising after a report from the Committee of the Whole without debate or intervening motion, or on the question of adoption of a motion to recommit (or ordering the previous question) arising without intervening motion or debate other than debate on the motion. Considers a measure or matter that is publicly available at an electronic document repository operated by the Clerk as having been available to Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner for purposes of the House Rules.
Requires, effective December 31, 2017:
before a bill, joint resolution, or an amendment in the nature of a substitute proposing to repeal or amend a statute may be considered, its availability on a House public website in an easily searchable electronic comparative print showing how the legislation proposes to change current law (by appropriate typographical devices the omissions and insertions proposed); and before a measure can be considered with text different from its committee report, the differences between the legislation's text as proposed to be considered and its text as reported must be made available on the website. Authorizes a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to serve as chair of the Committee of the Whole.
(Sec. 3) Reinstates the Holman Rule (allowing amendments to appropriations legislation that would reduce the salary of or eliminate specific federal employees, or cut a specific program), for the first session of the 115th Congress.
Requires any reference in clause 2 of Rule XXI to a provision or amendment that retrenches expenditures by a reduction of amounts of money covered by the bill to be construed as applying to any provision or amendment (offered after the bill has been read for amendment) that retrenches expenditures by:
the reduction of amounts of money in the bill, the reduction of the number and salary of U.S. officers, or the reduction of any person's compensation paid out of the Treasury. Continues as inapplicable in the 115th Congress certain requirements of title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act for congressional consideration of proposals submitted by the President from the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or by the board itself, to reduce the per capita rate of the growth in Medicare spending.
Continues from the 112th, 113th, and 114th Congresses certain similar budget-related separate orders, including orders concerning spending reduction amendments in appropriations bills.
Requires for memorials presented to the Clerk purporting to be an application of a state legislature calling for a convention for proposing amendments to the Constitution, or a rescission of any such prior application:
the chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, for a memorial presented in the 114th Congress or the 115th Congress, and may, for a memorial presented before the 114th Congress, designate it for public availability by the Clerk; and the Clerk to make such designated memorials publicly available in electronic form, organized by state of origin and year of receipt, and shall indicate whether it was designated as an application or a rescission. Makes it out of order to entertain a motion that the Committee of the Whole rise and report a bill to the House if the bill, as amended, exceeds an applicable committee allocation of new budget authority.
Prohibits advance appropriations unless: (1) the appropriation is provided for an account identified as an exception in the list submitted for printing in the Congressional Record by the chair of the Committee on the Budget (when elected), and (2) total advance appropriations do not exceed a specified amount. (Under this resolution, an advance appropriation is any new discretionary budget authority provided in appropriations legislation for FY2017 or amendment or conference report that first becomes available for FY2018).
Requires the Congressional Budget Office to prepare an estimate of whether legislation reported by a committee (other than the Committee on Appropriations), or amendment or conference report would cause, relative to current law, a net increase in direct spending in excess of $5 billion in any of the four consecutive 10-fiscal year periods beginning with the first fiscal year that is 10 fiscal years after the current fiscal year. Makes it out of order to consider legislation that would cause such net increase.
Exempts legislation from this requirement:
repealing or reforming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010, or for which the chair of the Committee on the Budget has made an adjustment to the allocation, levels, or limits contained in the most recently adopted concurrent budget resolution. Requires a committee report on legislation to include a list of directed rule making required by the measure or a statement that the proposition contains no directed rule makings.
Prohibits lobbyists who are former Members, former House officers, or spouses from using the Members's exercise facilities.
Reserves H.R.1 through H.R. 10 for assignment by the Speaker and H.R. 11 through H.R. 20 for assignment by the Minority Leader. Requires measures proposing to repeal or amend any law that is not contained in a codified title of the U.S. Code to include, in parentheses immediately following the designation of the proposed matter, the applicable U.S. Code citation, or, if no such citation is available, an appropriate alternative citation to the applicable law or part. Requires the Committee on House Administration, the Clerk, and other House officers and officials to continue efforts to broaden the availability of legislative documents in machine readable formats.
Authorizes a Member and an eligible Congressional Member Organization to enter into an agreement under which:
a Member's employee may carry out the Member's official and representational duties by assignment to the organization; and the Member shall transfer the portion of his or her Members' Representation Allowance that would otherwise be used for such an employee's salary and related expenses to a dedicated House account administered by the organization. Directs the Committee on House Administration to promulgate related regulations.
Makes it out of order to consider any measure that reduces the actuarial balance by at least .01% of the present value of future taxable payroll of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund for a specified 75-year period. Exempts from this prohibition, however, any measure that would improve the actuarial balance of the combined balance in the OASI Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund for the same 75-year period.
Prohibits provisions in a bill, joint resolution, amendment, or conference report requiring or authorizing a conveyance of federal land to a state, local government, or tribal entity, from being considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.
(Sec. 4) Reauthorizes:
the House Democracy Partnership (formerly, House Democracy Assistance Commission); the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; and the Office of Congressional Ethics (treating it as a standing committee for purposes of hiring consultants). Continues: (1) the exemption of the Office's board from the term limit requirement allowing a member of its board to serve only for four consecutive Congresses, and (2) the authorization for four specified individuals appointed to the board in the 110th Congress to be reappointed for a third additional term.
Requires any individual subject to a preliminary review or second-phase review by the Office's board to be informed of the right to be represented by counsel. Prohibits the invoking of this right to be held negatively against them.
Bars the Office from taking any action that would deny any person any right or protection under the Constitution.
(Sec. 5) Authorizes the Speaker to recognize a Member for the reading of the Constitution on any legislative day through January 13, 2017.
Sets forth the rule for consideration of H.R. 21 (Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017).