Unglamorous rules change helps a big bill pass
© Aaron Schwartz

Comedian Jon Stewart generated the biggest headlines, as celebrities often do, when he insisted that Congress replenish a compensation fund for first responders who were injured or sickened by their work related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Congress is now moving with urgency to advance the “Never Forget the Heroes Act,” and though Stewart’s admonition surely helped, a less-noticed change in the rules of the House of Representatives also played a key role. That rule change was engineered earlier this year by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and it’s proof that results-oriented lawmakers can make real progress by working across party lines.

The change was part of a rules package the caucus crafted in 2018 and pushed to adoption in January despite resistance from entrenched powers. Under the new rule, once a bill has 290 co-sponsors in the 435-member House, it must be put on a fast track to face a vote by the full chamber.

In mid-March, the Problem Solvers Caucus (22 Democrats and 22 Republicans) endorsed the Never Forget the Heroes Act., helping it reach the 290 threshold and speeding its progress. It marked the first such application of the new rule.

Senate leaders have promised to finish the legislative process and send the bill to the president for his signature.

Other House members, of course, played crucial roles in moving the bill, especially lead co-sponsors Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher Maloney2017 marked first year firearms killed more people than car accidents: study Report: Americans unprepared for retirement Senate approves fund to provide compensation for Sept. 11 victims MORE (D-N.Y.) and Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingHotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill Obama's tan suit controversy hits 5-year anniversary First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons MORE (R-N.Y.). Maloney wore a firefighter’s jacket at public events and on the House floor, an eye-catching reminder of the urgency of this legislation.

King denounced a February announcement of cuts to the compensation fund as “devastating news,” and vowed a ceaseless battle to reverse them.

People eager to see a more effective and less polarized Congress, however, should not overlook the role the Problem Solvers Caucus and the rules change played.

“We care about remembering the legacy of the lost and the heroism of so many on that fateful day,” said Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedGOP Rep. Tom Reed collapses just before television appearance Lobbying World Gun debate to shape 2020 races MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chair of the caucus. “Therefore, it only makes sense we are using the 290 Rule for the first time, allowing priority consideration on the House floor as we develop the muscle memory to achieve bipartisan victories and pass fair laws to help people.”

The caucus’ other co-chair, Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerThe Hill's Morning Report - US coastline readies for Hurricane Dorian to make landfall Swing-seat Democrats oppose impeachment, handing Pelosi leverage Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey MORE (D-N.J.), said, “I'm proud that members of both parties from across the country have managed to put politics aside and support America's patriots. On 9/11, our first responders ran directly into danger when others ran out. They are heroes and need our help.”

Other caucus members also noted the rule change’s significance. The caucus’ endorsement of the responders legislation, said Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsCentrist House Democrats press for committees to follow pay-go rule This week: House Democrats voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt New CBO report fuels fight over minimum wage MORE (D-Minn.), “adds more than 40 co-sponsors to the bill as the Caucus pushes to utilize the 290 co-sponsors ‘Consensus Calendar’ provision of the House rules to achieve priority consideration on the House floor for the first time.”

The process of changing U.S. House rules is painstaking, unglamorous and unlikely to make the nightly news. But the rules matter in determining what legislation gets voted on and becomes law. Many Caucus members took heat for supporting these rules changes last year but this bill is one example of why their work was worth it.

To them, bipartisanship is not a dirty word. It’s the essential lubricant to make government work for the American people by solving serious challenges facing our nation.

Ryan Clancy is chief strategist for No Labels.