Friday, February 05, 2016
Billy Long: if Ryan sticks to his guns, we'll vote on a lot of amendments
“Regular order” is a catch phrase you hear bantered about a lot in Washington these days. Speaker Boehner was heavily criticized for not sticking with regular order. Newly minted Speaker Paul Ryan has made a pledge to follow regular order. Regular order is simply Congress’ deliberative rules, precedents, and customs that advance policy. Most importantly though, it is still very much a part of Congress’ everyday operation.
Constitutionally, Congress adheres to Article I’s guidelines calling for a House of Representatives and Senate who each must approve of legislation before it’s sent to the Executive Branch. Under that framework, the House and Senate each have about 20 standing full committees divided into areas of national interest, which are then broken down into subcommittees to focus more specifically on topics within those full committees.
Just like all other members and their respective committee assignments, I work to introduce, examine, and pass legislation in the House Committee on Energy & Commerce to be considered and voted on by all 435 representatives. Once those bills are headed toward the full House for consideration, the House Committee on Rules works with the committees where it originated and weighs a litany of factors – national need, how timely, Congress’ overall support, etc. – to determine the number of amendments and amount of discussion that will encircle it.
Whether it’s in public debate or one-on-one discussion, this overall process allows each member to have their constituents’ concerns heard. On rare occasions, however, regular order has been ignored to cut members out of a discussion, or when a seldom-used tactic is used by House Leadership to decide the fate of legislation. This happened with the passage of Obamacare, when leadership forced it through committee and used unprecedented cross-chamber amendments to block meaningful discussion. No matter when this happens, it’s wrong.
On the other hand, however, misused assertions of ignoring regular order sometimes surface in an attempt to change policy by amendment in a way that hadn’t already been deliberated on, without the claimant being publicly labeled a cause of gridlock.
Just one example where folks have seen this is during the annual appropriations process, where 12 funding packages cue debate on the most basic operations of the U.S. government – defense, transportation, and agricultural policies to name a few. Frankly, all 435 of us could argue over each of these until the end of time, but these complex and massively important bills require Congress to compromise in a timely fashion.
Historically speaking and otherwise, there’s nothing ‘irregular’ about limiting amendments for haste on appropriations packages or bills like it. That’s why the House Rules Committee carefully prioritizes debate on the most prudent amendments. Barring anomalies, the ensuing result frames constructive debate. In reality, a handful of members – or even a lone one – deceptively claiming that regular order was neglected through this process because they didn’t get their way only perpetuates gridlock at Americans’ expense.
In the final analysis, no member gets their way on every vote. Thankfully, however, the “regular order” of our system is still rooted in democratically constructed policies. On each of these, I’ll continue to fight for what’s in the best interest of my constituents. If Speaker Ryan sticks to his guns on regular order, expect to turn on CSPAN on those nights you can’t sleep and see us voting on amendment after amendment in the middle of the night this year.