With the shift in majority control of the House due to the outcome of the midterms, the newly sworn-in 116th Congress will represent a challenging era of divided government. Especially in divided government, there is no room for one-sided debate. In order to get things done for the American people, bipartisan and good faith negotiation is critical. Unfortunately, with their new majority in hand, House Democrats have already demonstrated—through both rhetoric and actions—their unwillingness to work with Republicans. Instead, they seem intent on squashing conservative priorities held by constituents in many districts across the country.
In the new Congress, I am committed to keeping House Democrats accountable to the American people. A key part of that effort will come while serving in my new leadership role at the House Rules Committee, which is the last stop for major legislation before it can go to the House floor. I am honored that Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy appointed me to serve as Ranking Member of this important committee. In this capacity, I will work closely with my colleagues to ensure Republicans remain heard and influential for the districts we represent, including the Fourth District.
One of the oldest standing committees in the House, the Rules Committee’s history of guiding legislative procedure is nearly as old as our entire nation. It has certainly evolved over time and continues to look slightly and sometimes even dramatically different with each new Congress.
In the House, legislation generally follows a similar path to the floor. It starts with an idea to improve or change current policy. This might move one or more members to introduce a standalone bill or offer an amendment in a committee markup of a larger piece of legislation. Once and if the committee of jurisdiction approves and reports the legislation, it awaits further action by majority leadership. Specifically, the legislation must be selected for possible floor consideration during a given week of session. However, major legislation must clear one final hurdle in the Rules Committee.
Members of the Rules Committee discuss and set the terms for consideration of legislation on the House floor. Importantly, whatever is agreed to in the committee dictates how much debate time is allowed and whether any additional amendments can be brought up or accepted. As a result, the rules approved by the committee significantly influence how open and inclusive the process will be when legislation goes to the floor.
While House Democrats are pushing the message of a more open and transparent process, that claim is not yet supported by their actions thus far. Already in the first two weeks of session, legislation brought up by Democrats has kept lawmakers from even proposing changes on the floor. In fact, Democrats have brought six bills to the floor under a rule so far, and every single one has come under a closed rule with no opportunity to amend. This kind of closed process prevents all lawmakers—Republicans and Democrats—from contributing so that legislation better reflects the views of the whole House.
At the start of every Congress, the House also adopts new rules for governing the chamber itself. Unfortunately, the amended House Rules approved by Democrats fall short of supporting a true spirit of bipartisanship and encouraging transparency. Instead, the House Rules primarily reflect Democratic priorities and interests.
For example, I strongly opposed a misguided amendment authorizing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to intervene in a pending Texas lawsuit regarding the legality of Obamacare. This is clearly a stunt to reaffirm the Democratic position on Obamacare and an attempt to save the broken law from failure in the courts. Rather than defending the indefensible and wasting taxpayer dollars in the process, it would be better for Democrats to pass a constitutionally sound law that actually delivers on the promise of accessible, affordable and quality healthcare. Through House passage of the American Health Care Act last Congress, Republicans proved it is indeed possible.
Divided government is no excuse for getting less done for the American people, but it does require bipartisan, good faith negotiation. Even with majority control in the House, Democrats must work with Republicans in both chambers and the president to actually govern. Like it or not, they owe it to the American people to do just that.
Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, is currently serving in his eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was identified as “one of the sharpest minds in the House,” by Time Magazine and “the hardest working Member of Congress,” by Newsmax. In 2017, Cole was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.