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H.Res. 5: Adopting rules for the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress.

Jan 3, 2017 at 5:34 p.m. ET. On the Resolution in the House.

This was a vote to agree to H.Res. 5 (115th) in the House.

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.

Final vote

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).

Totals

All Votes R D
Yea 55%
 
 
234
234
 
0
 
Nay 45%
 
 
193
3
 
190
 
Not Voting
 
 
6
3
 
3
 

Passed. Simple Majority Required. Source: house.gov.

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