Democrats weaken House oversight with emergency pandemic procedures



When House Republicans loudly protest that Majority Democrats abuse minority party rights, the seasoned cynic muses, “This is what majority and minority parties do. So tell me something new.

Sometimes, however, it’s more complicated, and that’s when things start to get interesting, especially when the law of unintended consequences kicks in. That’s exactly what was in play when a ‘CNN Politics’ story erupted on September 21 with the headline: “Democrats quietly limit House GOP efforts to push for investigations into the Biden administration. ”

The article, by Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju, citing “publicly available documents,” explains how Democrats, last March, “began to insert language into House rules that essentially prevent Republicans from using a resolution of inquiry ”. It is the operative part of House Rule 13 that allows members to formally request the President or a Cabinet Secretary to provide the House with information held by the executive. Under the rule, after the resolution has been pending for 14 days in committee, if it is not reported (favorably or unfavorably), a motion to discharge the committee can be presented to the House as privileged. The article rightly points out that this is one of the few investigative tools available to the minority since the majority already has the power in committee to request information from the administration, by summons or otherwise, and schedule follow-up hearings and report on its findings.

One would think from the CNN report that emergency procedures were somehow added to the special rule in the middle of the night without anyone knowing. In fact, they were available in writing when the draft rule was moved by motion to the Rules Committee and read aloud in its entirety. It’s just that no one thought it was a big enough deal to make a big deal out of it.

It was the same when the rule was debated and passed in the House. Members are well aware that investigative resolutions are unlikely to be passed by the House if the majority opposes them. They can be tabled out of hand or rejected. Nonetheless, they are still a valuable mechanism for the minority to point out an issue which they believe is ignored by the majority and dodged by the administration.

The March resolution in question (H. Res. 188) was a special rule of the Rules Committee that provided for the consideration of three bills, one on labor-management relations and the other two strengthening laws on background checks for the sale and transfer of weapons fire. The provision for investigative resolutions was inserted at the end of the rule along with other procedures (articles 11-17) amending House procedures to counter the negative impact of the pandemic on the conduct of business as usual.

The relevant language on investigative resolutions in the emergency procedure dispenses with the 14 days in which a committee must report on these resolutions or be discharged by a privileged motion from the room. Related articles that remove time limits for action apply to a certain procedure relating to war powers and to motions to instruct or terminate members of the House serving on committees of the House-Senate conference on legislation.

The war powers provision overruled by the special rule requires that a concurrent resolution presented to order a president to end hostilities not authorized by a declaration of war or use of force status be reported within 15 days. or be subjected to a privileged discharge movement.

CNN’s story (since corrected, while retaining the same title) of a stealth procedure slipped into special rules in the dead of night was not only misleading, it was downright false. H. Res. 188 repeats similar emergency provisions previously contained in H. Res. 8, which in turn took over these provisions of the 116th Congress (see H. Res. 967, May 15, 2020) when Donald trumpDonald Trump Jan. Committee 6 chairman said panel will issue ‘a fair number’ of additional summons overnight Defense and National Security – Presented by Gen. AM – Pentagon officials prepare to grill Biden appoints Africa CDC chief for leading the global AIDS response PLUS was president. In other words, it was not the deceptive ploy of the majority party to protect President BidenJoe BidenFord to step up electric vehicle production in multibillion-dollar push Protesters protest outside Manchin barge against opposition to reconciliation package Alabama plans to use pandemic relief funds on the prison system PLUS surveillance inquiries, but an attempt to allow the House and its committees to function under difficult circumstances with minimal complications.

However, the downside of such emergency procedures is that they can have unforeseen consequences that could damage the institution. In attempting to bypass and squeeze the workloads of committees and floors, Congress loses both its deliberation capacity and its ability to provide appropriate control over the executive branch. The longer-term danger is that such truncated procedures will be incorporated into the standing rules of the House after the pandemic for the convenience of, at least for majority party members and their leaders, but to the detriment of the minority party and those in power. constitutional prerogatives of the institution.

Don Wolfensberger is a member of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Bipartisan Policy Center, former staff director of the House Rules Committee and author of “Changing Cultures in Congress: From Fair Play to Power Plays”. The opinions expressed are solely his own.


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