It is a sad day for Republicans when the Speaker of the House, who ushered in the largest Republican governing majority in the House since 1930, feels it necessary to resign. Moving forward, conservatives are going to want to see structural changes in the House and a different attitude.
First – the new Speaker has to show that he is willing to dig in and fight the Obama agenda.
Second – Republicans have to show that they have an agenda. They need to launch a new Contract with America and make sure the Speaker does not schedule votes on issues that don’t have the support of a majority of the Republican Caucus.
The Senate leadership should take note and should also propose a set of ideas that consist of a conservative agenda. They should also set down a conference rule that the Majority Leader will be forced out of office through a vote of no confidence if he schedules a vote on any matter that does not have majority support of the Senate Republican Caucus.
The House leadership had some problems with the message, yet a structural problem that can be solved right now. The Speaker’s office has too much power and that power leads to actions that anger the caucus. A new Speaker will have all the same problems of Speaker Boehner and a slow, steady diminution of his political authority if he takes over and runs the House like a fiefdom.
This problem was avoidable had the House made structural changes in 2010.
A Red State post from 2010 right after the midterm election that launched Republicans into the majority in the House argued, “if you are a conservative, you do not want party leadership in the House to be all powerful. You want checks in the system to ensure that conservative back benchers, many of them members of the Republican Study Committee or elected for the first time with tea party support, have enough road blocks to put up when Leadership is going off the rails of principle.” Had House leaders followed the advice of that Red State post, they might be much happier and a bit more popular.
The Heritage Foundation recommended some specific reforms at that time to make the body more democratic and more responsive to the people:
“To balance the power between congressional leaders and non-leadership—and encourage greater responsiveness to the American people—rank-and-file Representatives should stop surrendering so much power to party leaders. This can be accomplished as follows:
- The steering committee, rather than party leaders, should select all committee chairmen and members (including Rules, Administration, “select,” and “joint” committees).
- Party leaders should no longer dominate or control the steering committee. In practice, this would dispense with the allotment of multiple steering committee slots to party leaders and would allow rank-and-file Representatives to nominate and elect the controlling votes on each steering committee.
- Term limits should apply to all House and party leaders, including the Speaker, as well as to committee chairmen and ranking members.
- A cap should be placed on the overall size of each committee—such as a 50-member maximum—to avoid scenarios where committees wield a disproportionate amount of influence over the House.”
There are two other additional reforms that will help to restore democratic rule to the House and a more popular, yet less powerful, Speaker’s office.
The House Republican Caucus should change the rules to vote ten members to Rules Committee from ten geographic districts with approximately equal number of Representatives. That balanced Rules Committee should make Committee assignments. The Committees should choose its own Chairman and Subcommittee chairs. It is a good idea to keep the Speaker off of the Rules Committee to reduce pressure from the top. The House Rules Committee should dictate timing and terms and conditions for voting on legislation. These additional reforms would go a long way to solve structural problems with the House.
A final suggested reform is to make sure that the House never votes on a bill that does not have the support of a majority of the Republican Caucus. Empowering one member to force a conference vote on whether legislation should or should not be scheduled would be a positive development. The Senate should do the same in the form of a vote of no confidence if the leader schedules a vote that does not have majority support of the caucus.
These are changes that are more important than who is the next Speaker.
Let’s hope politicians learn some lessons and don’t merely elect a new slate of leaders who will do the same thing and engender the same resentment from the conservative movement and Freedom Caucus members.
Brian Darling is a former senior staffer for Sen. Rand Paul and The Heritage Foundation. He can be followed on Twitter at @BrianHDarling.