Despite House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (D-WI) promise to make the process of lawmaking “bottom-up” and transparent, even Republican lawmakers have said he is not keeping his word.
Under Ryan’s leadership, the House Rules Committee has set a record for the number of closed rules — those bills without amendments or debate — to date.
The committee just passed on Monday the 49th closed rule, which means that some 1,300 amendments were not allowed to be proposed or debated on the floor, according to Politico. “Ryan has yet to allow a single piece of legislation to be governed by an open rule, which allows members to propose changes on the floor.” Stifling debate, Ryan’s critics say, is bad for democracy.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview on Tuesday that Ryan has not lived up to his promise.
“When we offer amendments, they have to be approved by leadership before we get a vote on them and that’s not how our system is supposed to work,” Amash said. “Our system was designed to reflect the will of the people … and the speaker’s job is to ensure the system is open and [lawmakers] are given a fair opportunity to present their amendments.”
“Right now that’s really broken and it seems to me that people in power here prefer a system where you have as few votes as possible and you attach everything to one or two votes and then everyone has the excuse that they had to vote for it because it has everything in it,” Amash also said about the process.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) also had harsh words for Ryan.
“The Republican Majority has now made history for all the wrong reasons,” Slaughter said in a statement. “Under Speaker Ryan’s leadership, this session of Congress has now become the most closed Congress in history.”
Asked about whether House business was being conducted behind closed doors during a news conference on Tuesday, Ryan denied that assessment.
“We absolutely have an open process,” Ryan said. “We’re going through the committee process.”
“All these bills are going through the committee,” he said.
A House Rules Committee Republican source told Politico that Democrats are not accurate about why the number of closed rules is high, citing that many passed are Congressional Review Act bills to repeal regulations, which do not allow amendments.
“According to statistics compiled by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office, Republican panels have marked up 449 bills under President Donald Trump so far compared to 410 under Obama, 249 under George W. Bush, 260 under Clinton and 313 under George H.W. Bush,” Politico reported.
A committee source told Politico that members “allowed 864 amendments on the floor this Congress, which is more than the 778 amendments Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) allowed when she held the gavel in the 111th Congress.”
One amendment Democrats said should have been accepted was focused on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force — put in place by Congress after the 9/11 terror attacks — that has allowed Presidents Bush, Obama, and now Trump to take military action abroad.
Ironically, in December of 2009, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had the Speaker’s gavel, then-Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) criticized the closed-rule process.
“We have never in the history of the Republic ever had every appropriation bill come to the floor under a closed rule where members from both sides of the aisle were denied the ability to offer amendments,” Flake said.
“Well, here we are with an omnibus,” Flake said. “This is a bill that spends north of a trillion dollars, one bill brought to the floor under one rule … in it is more than 5,000 earmarks.”