In a consequential shift to how House Speaker Paul Ryan hoped to proceed with House business, Republican leadership announced Wednesday it will limit the consideration of amendments, which Democrats had been using to inflict political chaos.
While the move to a so-called “structured rule” reeks of insidery wonky parliamentary maneuvering, it is a significant departure from how Ryan had promised to run the House. It is also implicitly a concession that Democratic efforts to make life miserable for House Republicans by introducing politically awkward amendments had been effective. The most prominent of those amendments — one that preserved protections for LGBT Americans — derailed a major energy appropriations bill last month.
With the change, members will not be able to freely introduce amendments without going through the House Rules Committee, a move that could limit the amendments considered on legislation. Any amendments will be approved through the House Rules committee prior to a vote hitting the floor, an attempt to stop controversial amendments from sinking the must-pass spending bills.
Any member can still submit amendments, but the Rules Committee will have the final say.
The shift signifies Ryan’s reckoning with reality. When he took the Speaker’s gavel, the former Budget Committee chairman pledged he was committed to opening up the legislative process even when that meant forcing members to take tough votes. But free-wheeling and politically charged amendments have made it a tough promise for Ryan to keep. A source in a Republican conference meeting told TPM that it became clear “Democrats will continue to offer contentious amendments, but then not support bills on final passage.”
In May, the House of Representatives fought bitterly over an amendment that banned government contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees. At first, the amendment was introduced on the floor and failed to pass after some Republicans flipped their votes. A week later the LGBT amendment passed, but it sunk the underlying energy and water appropriations bill.
Ryan accused Democrats of sabotaging the process and promised he would meet with his conference when members returned from recess to decide how he would move forward.
“The Democrats were not looking to advance an issue,” he said at the time. “They were looking to sabotage the appropriations process. … They are trying to stop the appropriations process in its tracks.”
Wednesday it was announced that there would be structured rules for the rest of the year’s appropriations process, which stoked anxieties within conservative ranks and upset Democrats. Ryan’s call for a more open process had been one of the key reasons conservatives supported his rise to be speaker in the first place. It had been a convincing argument for the House Freedom Caucus, who criticized Boehner as not being receptive enough to them.
But, the clock is ticking. Congress must approve the spending bills by Sept. 30 to avert a government shutdown.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told the Hill newspaper that Ryan’s hand was forced.
“I think it was something he probably preferred not to do, but he felt like he had to do,” Cole said. “That’s his responsibility as Speaker. You have to make some tough decisions.
Not everyone was convinced.
“Our leadership is using this as an excuse to close down the process,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) told the Hill.
Democrats took their own shot at Ryan for the decision.
“It has long been clear that regular order is not as important to Republicans as protecting their special interest agenda. Republicans are clearly afraid of the will of the House when it comes to protecting LGBT Americans or standing up for hard-working families,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.