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Morgan Griffith: Breaking the rules

morgan griffithRules are important. This is a foundational principle in a republic based on democratic principles.

The first vote I cast in the Virginia House of Delegates was against a rules package. I voted no because it did not contain proportional representation for political parties in committee membership, something I believed necessary for good representation. A later assembly adopted my amendments to correct this problem. They remain part of the rules that govern the House of Delegates.

As this Congress began, I opposed another rules package for similar reasons. The rules written for the House of Representatives by the new Democrat majority impair our ability to represent the people who elected us.

The Democrats dropped the requirement that votes to raise taxes must be recorded. In theory, this could allow a tax increase to pass in the dark of night without representatives voting yes or no individually. Perhaps this outcome is unlikely, but the new majority appears to want the option. Republicans must be vigilant to prevent a sneaky tax hike hidden in a bill. (Remember Nancy Pelosi said on the Obamacare bill, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”)

Another new rule pertains to the debt ceiling. In recent years, Congress had to vote on raising it. They could be tough votes, but when the Federal Government has accumulated over $21 trillion in debt, Members of Congress ought to be forced to consider the debt ceiling and all its implications.

Under the Democrat rules, the House will be considered to have suspended the debt ceiling for the fiscal year whenever it passes a budget resolution, evading a separate debate about the government’s massive debt. The House is deemed to have passed debt limit legislation even before the Senate acts on the budget resolution.

I suspect this rule was added to enable the new majority’s free-spending ambitions while minimizing accountability.

These changes encourage taxing and spending. A rule I fought hard to include in the last Congress to cut spending, in contrast, has been removed. The Holman Rule allowed rank-and-file members to propose amendments to appropriations bills on the floor reducing spending or the number and compensation of federal employees. Apparently, the new majority has limited tolerance for proposals imposing fiscal responsibility.

Some of the rules are not only flawed, but push the limits of the House’s constitutional authority.

I have consistently pushed Congress to reclaim powers from the other two branches that belong to it, but that does not excuse Congress from encroaching on those branches’ rightful prerogatives.

That is what the Democrats are doing with their oversight rules. Previously, the Committee on Oversight and Reform was charged with oversight over government functions “with a view to determining their economy and efficiency,” a legitimate task considering the congressional power of the purse. That language is now gone.

Added is authority over the Executive Office of the President, which constitutes a President’s closest advisors giving him confidential advice. Charging the Committee on Oversight and Reform with investigating presidential advisors without any regard to economy and efficiency seems more like a fishing license than constitutional oversight.

Two more changes empower Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker now returned to power.

The House Speaker possesses considerable authority. It is appropriate that members have a tool to keep her, or anyone in that position, accountable. Such a tool exists in the “motion to vacate the chair” to remove the Speaker. Befitting such a drastic step, such a motion has rarely been filed. The last time was in 2015, and before that, 1910.

Although rarely used, the new majority weakened the motion to vacate by requiring that a majority of a party’s membership support the motion.

Further, as I write this, the House has not yet voted on the part of the rules allowing Nancy Pelosi to sue on behalf of all the American people to defend Obamacare. When people in the Ninth District think about who they want making decisions on their behalf regarding health care, I doubt Pelosi comes to mind.

The rules of the House are supposed to help the legislative process. When changes are made, they should lead toward better processes and thus better outcomes. The rules package of the new majority moves the House in the opposite direction. It is unfortunate that their first actions would be toward increased spending, higher taxes, and diminished accountability.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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