Five Facts: The Public's View on House Reform

On June 21, No Labels launched The Speaker Project, a campaign to change the rules that govern the House of Representatives in an effort to make Congress more responsive to the will of the people. Why did we do this? Because Congress is broken. Convoluted and arcane rules prevent action on commonsense ideas that the majority of Americans support, including many supported by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. Earlier this month No Labels conducted a national survey of over 2,000 Americans and found many reasons to support the idea that The Speaker Project has the power to bring about real change in Congress. 

Many Americans don’t know how speakers get elected. 50 percent of Americans erroneously believe speaker nominees must receive votes from both parties to win election as speaker. Under the current rules, in order to be elected speaker of the House a candidate needs only a simple majority — 218 votes. This means speakers usually win elections without support from a single member of the minority party.

80 percent of Americans agree that the extremes of both parties have too much influence in shaping legislation. Former House Speaker John Boehner’s sudden retirement in 2015 is an example of the influence exerted by ideological fringes in the House. In July 2015, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), a member of the hardline Freedom Caucus, filed a motion to vacate against Speaker Boehner. This legislative maneuver, which was motivated in part by Boehner’s willingness to work with President Obama on tax and entitlement reform, allows any House member to demand a no-confidence vote of the speaker by the full House. While the House never took a formal vote, the message was clear — those in the Freedom Caucus would not tolerate any form of compromise. Two months later, Speaker Boehner, a 30-year veteran of the House, was out of politics altogether.

77 percent of Americans agree that the rules in the House of Representatives should be changed so that legislation reflects what the majority of the public wants rather than just the majority party. Despite the dysfunction and rampant partisanship in Congress, Americans agree on a lot. No Labels 2016 “Policy Playbook for America’s Next President” notably featured 60 specific policy ideas with majority or super majority support from the American people. But few ideas like this get a fair hearing in the House. Why? Because the speaker of the House can essentially decide which bills receive a vote and which bills do not. Even when a bill has overwhelming bipartisan support, if it doesn’t fit the speaker’s agenda, it will not be considered.

69 percent of Americans believe changing the rules governing how Congress votes on legislation is somewhat or very effective at reducing gridlock in Congress. The general public not only likes the idea of changing House rules. They also like this idea better than many reform ideas popular among political elites like campaign finance reform and gerrymandering.

68 percent of Americans are likely to ask their representative to vote for changing the obscure rules in Congress that prevent bipartisan legislation from getting voted on. Many Americans don’t know exactly how Congress works. But they do know it is not working. And the fact that 68 percent of Americans indicated they would be willing to ask their representative to fix the broken rules in Congress shows that with a little education, The Speaker Project can be an important and viable vehicle of change.

No Labels is an organization of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to bring American leaders together to solve problems.

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