Putting our own House in order

 A new standard for transparency and openness
 
For the first time under the House rules, “in electronic format” will be the standard by which are made bills available. Placing bills and other texts online for the American people to see will increase public scrutiny and accountability and yield a better legislative process.
 
 
Transparency and openness in the committees
 
In the new Congress, Speaker-designate Boehner has vowed to restore bill-writing power to the committees. As committees are where much of the legislating will be done in the 112th Congress, under the new House rules they will be required to meet enhanced transparency standards. Committees must:
 
    •    Post online their committee rules
    •    Provide 3 days notice for all markups
    •    Circulate the text of legislation to be marked-up no less than 24 hours before the markup
    •    Post online all votes in the committee 48 hours after a markup (A proposal from Rep. Reichert)
    •    Make available online the text of any amendments adopted in a markup (A proposal from Rep. Jenkins)
    •    Post online “truth in testimony” information, “with appropriate redactions to protect the privacy of the witness” so that any conflicts of interest with hearing witnesses are made public
    •    Make available online the member attendance record for each hearing and markup within 24 hours
    •    Webcast and make available online their hearings and markups
 
Committees will be required to file activity reports twice annually, up from the current one report per Congress.  According to the rules, “such report shall include —separate sections summarizing the legislative and oversight activities of that committee…, a summary of the actions taken and recommendations made with respect to the oversight plans…, a summary of any additional oversight activities undertaken by that committee and any recommendations made or actions taken thereon.” This will give the public an easy mechanism to judge the performance of each committee.
 
 
Ethics in the House
 
The House rules package preserves the Office of Congressional Ethics with no changes made to its structure. The language included in the rules package is identical to that included in the rules for the 111th Congress.
 
The package also carries forth a rule that prohibits former members of Congress who are now registered lobbyists from using the member exercise facilities (the gym).
 
 
Reforms to the budget process
 
The “Gephardt Rule” will be repealed, which has been used to avoid accountability by providing for an automatic increase in the debt limit upon the adoption of a new budget resolution. 

As the Pledge to America promised to “Reform the Budget Process to Focus on Long-Term Challenges,” the new House rules places a limitation on long-term spending.
 
    •    While under current statutory pay-go rules, a bill must be offset within 1, 5, and 10-year budget windows, in the 112th Congress budget projections must be made for 4 additional 10-year budget windows.
    •    If mandatory spending increases the deficit by $5 billion or more in any of those 10-year windows, the bill would be subject to a point or order.
    •    This will prevent budgetary sleight of hand that allows bills to show balance in the short term while exploding deficits down the line.
 
Cut-as-you-go will be included in the House rules.
 
    •    While just a couple of weeks ago Republicans adopted a conference rules to place suspension bills under “cut-go” rules, the new House rules expand “cut-go” to all bills dealing with mandatory spending.
    •    The new rule states that if mandatory spending is increased, spending must be cut by an equal or great amount elsewhere.
    •    Tax increases cannot be used to pay for new mandatory spending.
    •    This rule will, in practice, replace the Democrats’ “pay-go” rule.
 
Under new House rules, each appropriations bill will be required to have a “spending reduction account.”
 
    •    An amendment to strike money from a portion of a spending bill may now be transferred to this account to reduce the actual amount of money appropriated.
    •    Upon passage and engrossment of the appropriations bill, the “spending reduction” account will reflect the cumulative value of the amendments that were adopted to reduce spending elsewhere in the bill
·         Currently, Members may only rhetorically refer to saving money. This also prevents another Member from spending savings from a previously adopted amendment on the floor.
 
Highway funding, with some exceptions, will now be treated as other general spending and therefore be subject to any member's attempt to reduce the spending.
 
·         Currently, House rules prohibit amendments to strike spending for most highway or mass transit programs.
·         This rule change will allow those amendments, but provides an exemption to protect the Highway Trust Fund, ensuring that dedicated revenues continue to go toward highway and mass transit projects.
 
 
Additional reforms to House rules
 
Delegates and resident commissioners (those not representing states) will not be able to vote in the committee of the whole. 

Three Committees will have name changes in the 112th Congress:
 
    •    The Committee on Education and Labor will again be referred to as the Committee on Education and the Workforce
    •    The Committee on Standards and Official Conduct will simply be referred to as the Committee on Ethics
    •    The Committee on Science and Technology will referred to as the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
 
The rules package reinstates a six-year term limit on committee chairmen, one of the central congressional reforms of the 1994 Contract with America that was eliminated under Democratic control of the House. 

The package eliminates the select intelligence oversight panel on the Appropriations committee, which has proven only to expand bureaucracy instead of consolidating oversight, as was the stated purpose.

While the first ten bill numbers have traditionally been reserved for the majority party, the new rules provide that bill numbers 11 through 20 are reserved as a courtesy for the minority party. 

When in the “committee of the whole,” the Chair will be given the option to reduce the time for voting from 5 to 2 minutes if he or she finds it appropriate. 

In a change to the staff deposition authority for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a member will have to be present when staff is deposing a witness.
 

Scheduling items for the opening week of the 112th Congress
 
The rules package makes in order for the Speaker to have the entire constitution read aloud in the House on January 6th: “READING OF THE CONSTITUTION — Upon adoption of this resolution, the Speaker may recognize for the reading of the Constitution on the legislative day of January 6, 2011.”, as well as for a bill to be considered under suspension of the rules intended to reduce operating costs in the House, again on January 6, 2011 – the second day of the Congress.

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