Boehner pledge to committee chairmen could cause logistical problems

House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) pledge to give more power to his committee chairmen could cause problems in the Republican Conference.

Boehner recently told his colleagues he will no longer negotiate one on one with President Obama on high-stakes fiscal issues. Instead, he will return to “regular order,” meaning House GOP policymaking will start at the committee level.

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Returning power to committee chairmen on the debt-limit extension, sequester and funding of the government has been praised by Republicans.

But the workability of the strategy will be tested, given fast-approaching deadlines on those thorny matters.

Boehner’s promise to allow the House to “work its will” has different meanings to different Republican lawmakers.

For example, when asked about the parliamentary road that raising the debt limit might entail, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said, “I don’t have an answer to that.”

He assumes that the Budget or Appropriations committee would have jurisdiction over bills to raise the nation’s debt limit. But thus far, only the Ways and Means Committee has held a hearing on it.

Despite the confusion, McClintock rattled off his understanding of what handling an extension of the debt limit, for example, might look like through regular order.   

“Many bills will be introduced, all dealing with various ways of approaching this issue. They ought to be heard by the committee of jurisdiction. They should be heard fully, debated fully; a common conclusion should be reached by that committee. It should then go to the House floor under an open rule so that everybody has the opportunity to offer perfecting amendments and a lot more talk, and I realize that means many days of talk, but that’s why this process exists,” McClintock said.

Congress must deal with the sequester by the end of next month, or allow it to go into effect. Lawmakers also face a late-March deadline on funding the government and another deadline in May on the debt limit.

Meanwhile, they will be crafting budget resolutions that are expected to pass by April 15.

When the House approved a leadership-backed, GOP conference-vetted measure to temporarily extend the debt limit, McClintock joined 32 other Republican colleagues in opposing the bill, which did not go through committee or amendment on the floor.

McClintock favors an approach that Boehner used at the start of his Speakership, when he allowed consideration of more than 500 amendments on the House floor on a bill to extend the funding of the government.

In the end the House took 107 votes on H.R. 1, capping four days of lengthy debate on the House floor, where lawmakers worked from morning through midnight each day of debate. That underlying bill was supported by all but three House Republicans.

Eventually, a final deal on H.R. 1 averting a government shutdown was hammered out behind closed doors with Obama, setting the tone for future negotiations with a Democratic White House and Democratic-controlled Senate.

But some in the GOP conference say that the H.R. 1 process is too unwieldy to employ in the upcoming fiscal fights.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said that regular order means “anything but [Boehner’s] negotiating a deal behind closed doors with the president and without our knowledge.”

An aide familiar with Boehner’s thinking told The Hill recently that regular order will mean “different things” in the 113th Congress.

“It will mean a number of different things. It doesn’t mean that if you put a debt-ceiling bill on the floor that you are going to allow 127 amendments,” the source explained. The staffer noted that the recent extended GOP internal private conference meetings requesting rank-and-file feedback might become a new norm.

“Part of this process that we’re going through now is to let members provide input on different strategies that allows us to make significant progress on spending cuts,” the source said.

Still, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) says that Boehner is handicapped by a fractious conference.

“The majority of the conference is not there yet … it’s hard to get the members who served here longer and had powerful positions and have powerful positions on committee that can box some of this stuff up or get the way they want [on legislation] to see it being changed on the floor. But I think that to be a more perfect body, you should have more floor fights; we should have people sitting on the floor and you should have the will of the House being worked,” Griffith told The Hill.