House Irons Out Rules For 118th Congress

New Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, after persevering through 15 grueling rounds of voting and the demands of far-right members of the Republican conference last week to obtain the gavel, sailed relatively easily Monday night through the first challenge of his speakership – passage of the House rules for the 118th Congress.

Monday, January 9th 2023, 7:51 pm



New Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, after persevering through 15 grueling rounds of voting and the demands of far-right members of the Republican conference last week to obtain the gavel, sailed relatively easily Monday night through the first challenge of his speakership – passage of the House rules for the 118th Congress.

Over the weekend, some Republicans had expressed concern that, in order to gain the support of the twenty hardline conservatives who were blocking his bid, Rep. McCarthy (R-CA) may have made too many concessions and agreed to rules that ceded too much power to a small minority of the party.

The rules serve as a guideline for how the House, now under a 222-212 Republican majority, will operate over the next two years. The rules were adopted by a vote of 220-213, with one Republican joining all Democrats in voting no.

The lone GOP dissent came from Texas Congressman Tony Gonzalez, who had made clear Sunday that, as much as he supports the new speaker, he could not support McCarthy’s reported concession to cap FY 2024 appropriations at FY 2022 levels, which would mean a cut of about $75 billion for the Department of Defense.

“Which I think is a horrible idea,” Gonzalez told Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation, “when you have an aggressive Russia in Ukraine and you’ve got a growing threat of China in the Pacific.”

Perhaps the most significant change to the rules demanded by the conservative holdouts was lowering the number of members needed to initiate a motion to vacate, whereby the speaker can be removed with a simple majority vote. The threshold for members needed to make such a motion under the previous speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was half of the caucus. Going into last week, McCarthy had already dropped that to five members, but continued pressure resulted in him allowing a single member to now be able to initiate a motion to vacate.

Other concessions McCarthy and his team agreed to include giving members of the Freedom Caucus more seats on key committees (reportedly three seats on the powerful House Rules Committee which helps determine the legislation that gets to the floor), allowing for a vote on increasing the debt ceiling only if it’s paired with spending cuts, requiring a vote on congressional term limits, and giving members at least 72 hours to review legislation before it’s voted upon.

For the newest member of the Oklahoma delegation, Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-OK2), who was one of the conservative holdouts, the most important agreements – which he calls transformative – are reinstating an open amendment process and ending the practice (at least for now) of using an omnibus bill to fund the government. The new rules call for the twelve appropriations bills to be voted on separately and allow the rank and file members to offer amendments from the floor.

“For the last six years, zero percent of all bills have been allowed to be amended on the floor,” said Rep. Brecheen in an interview last week. “We have surrendered the voice of the many and consolidated it into the voice of a few.”

Brecheen, whose political mentor was the fiscally conservative Senator Tom Coburn, remembers the last time Congress balanced the budget was back when Coburn was in the House and an open amendment process was in place.

“They had rules, guardrails that made this a deliberative body [and] forced hard decisions,” said Brecheen. “Now it’s just one major bill, yes or no vote; it’s a Christmas pork-laden spending bill and it’s not solving our country’s problems.”

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