Five Facts on Regular Order in Congress
In late March, the House Problem Solvers Caucus sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asking them to give rank-and-file members a greater voice in the legislative process by returning to “regular order.”
Here are five facts on regular order:
- According to the Congressional Research Service, regular order is “a systematic, step-by-step lawmaking process that emphasizes the role of committees.”
This process typically involves a bill being evaluated and shaped via multiple committee and subcommittee hearings with members given ample opportunity to amend and shape legislation before it moves the floor for a full vote.
- The House speaker has the power to send a single bill to multiple committees simultaneously, lessening the role of the committee chairs in determining legislation.
The speaker gained this power in 1975 after a new House rule changed the long-standing practice of single-committee bill referrals. This rule gave the Speaker more power over the work of committees as well as the ability to define each committee’s jurisdiction.
- The number of committee hearings dealing with legislation has declined over 75% since 1990, from 1,437 in the 1989-1990 session to 323 in the 2015-16 session.
House and Senate committees in the 114th Congress in 2015-2016 had fewer hearings on legislation than any time in the last 30 years. The Senate held only 69 hearings dealing with legislation, while the House committees held 254 legislative hearings. This is down significantly from the 500 Senate and 937 House legislative hearings in the 101st Congress in 1989-90.
- 30 years ago, 44% of House bills were considered under “open rules.” In the last Congress, zero were.
Open rules allow any member to offer an amendment on any topic during the debate, while closed rules do not allow members to change a bill in any way. Some bills allow for a structured amendment process where floor amendments must be pre-approved by the rules committee. Around half of all bills were considered this way in the 2019-2020 Congress.
- Thus far in 2021, the Democratic House has passed 9 bills on a party line vote out of 23 total bills passed.
House Democrats have been able to rapidly pass several bills on a party-line basis in 2021, including HR1 (regarding elections and voting), HR6 (regarding immigration) and the PRO Act (regarding unions) thanks to the “McGovern Rule.” This rule, named after the Democratic chair of the House Rules committee Jim McGovern, allowed bills to skip committee markups if they already passed during the last Congress and were passed before April 1, 2021.
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