The need to “pass the rule” is further stymying the GOP leadership

It is when things break down that one learns how things really work. In the case of the US House of Representatives, the highly dysfunctional GOP has resulted in me learning new things every day and the latest is the need to “pass a rule” in order to more easily pass legislation.

The House has two ways to pass legislation: By coming directly to the floor for an up-or-down vote, or making a quick pit-stop at the House Rules Committee.

What’s the difference?

Bills that come directly to the House floor for a vote and bypass the Rules Committee are passed “under suspension of the Rule” and require a two-thirds majority of the voting members to pass. Bills that make the pit-stop in the Rules Committee come to the floor with certain debate parameters that must be fulfilled, but this method enables those bills to pass the chamber with a simple majority. But those debate parameters, called “the rule,” must also first be debated and voted on before the House can debate and vote on the underlying bill.

So if it adds more time and more votes, why do it?

Simple answer – it’s easier to pass some legislation with 218 votes than 291, especially when your majority is small. The House Rules Committee – also referred to as the “speaker’s committee” – is highly allied with the House speaker and the committee membership skews heavily in the majority party’s favor. So legislation that comes through Rules is typically exactly what the majority leadership wants it to say.

How does it work?

After the Rules Committee debates and passes the rule, the bill then comes to the House floor, where the two sides debate the rule, then vote on its passage. When the rule passes, then debate on the actual bill begins. So rule failures are rare, because all that vote really does is allow the House to actually begin debating whatever bill is to follow. Voting down a rule essentially is a vote to not even discuss the bill. And since the minority party rarely, if ever, votes for a rule (see above that it’s heavily skewed to the majority) the votes to kill a rule must come from within the majority party itself.

In general, the speaker and majority leadership has no problem getting “the rule” passed. Since 1995, it has failed to do so only eight times, the last time being in 2007. It is a sign of a fractured majority party when it cannot get the rule passed and Kevin McCarthy failed to do so three times in his short tenure as speaker that lasted less than a year.

It now looks like new speaker Mike Johnson may set new records for failing to pass the rule, since the disgruntled members of his party now have another means of obstructing things and have already started using the method of blocking the rule, which essentially means voting against your own party leadership.

The existence of the rule gives people two opportunities to block legislation they dislike. The advantage to rebellious GOPers of voting against the rule is that it is a more subtle way of blocking the legislation. If the legislation goes to the floor, they will be on record as voting for or against it. When you vote. against the rule, it is hard to pinpoint where you stand on the issue. Expect to hear a lot more about votes on the rule in the days to come.

Kevin Drum helpfully tells us what these acronyms stand for:

  • THUD = Transportation + Housing and Urban Development
  • FSGG = General government
  • CJS = Commerce + Justice + Science
  • AG = Agriculture
  • Labor-HHS = Labor + Health and Human Services

Meanwhile GOP member Chip Roy made a speech on the house floor that the Biden-Harris campaign has gleefully seized on for a campaign ad to point out that even Republicans think that the party has not done anything even though they have the majority.



  1. birgerjohansson says

    The representatives should receive no pay during the time the House is gridlocked or otherwise fails to function as intended.

  2. jenorafeuer says

    A couple of problems with that idea:

    First, a lot of the bomb-throwers currently in the House seem to be doing this purely on an ideology that already has no connection to reality; I suspect many of them wouldn’t care about not getting paid as long as they can feel they’re doing their part in ‘owning the libs’.

    Second, if any of them are being paid campaign funds to encourage this particular economic game of chicken in the hopes that the sane people will cave and allow bills that let the paymasters off with what they want, then the bomb-throwers may not care if they’re not getting their official salary, and it would only hurt the people who care about following the rules.

  3. StonedRanger says

    I think its cute that some people think the government paycheck is a significant part of the money these grubbers make. They make so much money off the special interest groups that they should be happy to pay to be in their positions instead of getting a paycheck.

  4. jenorafeuer says

    There’s also, of course, the fact that the higher a political office it, the harder it is to get elected to it unless you either already have backers with deep pockets or are sufficiently well-off to be able to afford to spend money on your campaign while not necessarily making any.

    Back when Rob Ford was mayor of Toronto, as part of his own ‘cut the waste’ push, he tried to cut the salaries and office budgets of city councillors, claiming he’d never needed to use his office budget while a councillor. There was a lot of push-back, with people pointing out not only that all City Hall office budgets combined were basically a rounding error in the city budget, but that it would be nice for people to actually be able to treat being a councillor as a well-paying full-time job without having to have the personal resources of, say, the youngest son of the founder of Deco Labels which does about $100m in annual sales. (That being a description of Rob Ford himself.)

  5. Holms says

    Does the floor vote to pass The Rule need only a simple majority? Otherwise I don’t see how that makes the process any easier.

  6. John Morales says

    Well, politics of a country of hundreds of millions of people, with a patched-up system that’s been running for a quarter of a millenium.

    The adjective ‘byzantine’ seems apposite to me.

  7. xohjoh2n says


    And as anyone schooled in the art of fair coin tosses understands well, that means there’s a 25% chance of any bill passing.

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