Democrats’ draft proposals for overhauling the House rules would return at least some so-called regular order processes to the lower chamber by ensuring major bills go through committee before hitting the floor.
The requirement that all bills being brought to the floor under a rule must have gone through a committee hearing and markup is just one of several notable changes Democrats are floating to House rules now that they’ll be in the majority.
Incoming Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern presented the draft proposals, a list of which was obtained by Roll Call, to the Democratic Caucus Thursday afternoon.
Some of the notable proposals include:
One proposal not included on the list is a restoration of earmarks.
Since the 2010 earmark ban Republicans implemented was included only in their intraparty rules, Democrats technically do not need to use the rules package to restore them. They can just start using them again.
However, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who’s expected to be majority leader next Congress, has suggested that language be added to the rules package outlining the parameters under which earmarks could be used and providing guidelines for ensuring they are transparent.
Watch: Pelosi Talks Midterm ‘Wave,’ Says She Has Votes for Speakership
The special select panel charged with overhauling the congressional budget process on Thursday punted a final vote on recommendations until after Thanksgiving amid disagreement by its two leaders over when the panel should act.
The committee is scheduled to reconvene at 2 p.m. Nov. 27, three days ahead of the Nov. 30 deadline for the committee to report a bill.
House Budget Chairman Steve Womack and House Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey, the select committee’s leaders, agreed to recess the meeting until after Thanksgiving when it became clear there would be a problem getting a quorum as senators on the committee began to leave town.
Lowey also wanted to postpone the vote to give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York time to reach agreement on Senate floor consideration of the budget process bill, which among other things would make the annual budget resolution a biennial exercise. A Democratic aide said that without an agreement, there is worry the Senate could approve a “poison pill” amendment that would sink the measure.
Lowey said McConnell and Schumer have not reached such an agreement for consideration of whatever bill emerges from the committee, which will require 60 votes to advance in the Senate. “That concerns me greatly, since it imperils all the work we have done to date,” Lowey said after she and Womack returned to the hearing after a break.
Until an agreement is reached, Lowey said, “it is my strong belief that we should not report out our final product since doing so could doom it to failure.”
Womack said while he appreciated Lowey’s concerns, “nothing has changed.”
Womack noted that the law that established the joint committee lays out the procedures for Senate consideration. He said while the joint committee package does not completely satisfy every member of the panel, “that is no reason for us not to move forward and finish this, across the finish line, without regard to what the prospects would be for what leadership may intend to do one way or the other.”
Earlier, the 16-member group unanimously adopted an amendment to its biennial budgeting proposal to make sure there is an opportunity to use the budget reconciliation process every year, as long as Congress adopts a budget resolution every other year.
The panel voted 16-0 for the proposal from Republican Sen. Roy Blunt to maintain the ability to use reconciliation every year a budget resolution is in effect, as long as Congress adopts a budget in non-election years that contains instructions to the relevant committees.
Reconciliation directives are a powerful tool allowing authorizing committees to draft legislation changing mandatory spending programs or tax laws that are not subject to filibuster in the Senate.
House and Senate Republicans, for example, were able to use the fiscal 2017 budget instructions to write what became the ultimately unsuccessful health care law “repeal and replace” bill. They were then able to turn around within months and draft what became the largest tax code overhaul in three decades under the authorities in the fiscal 2018 budget resolution.
“This just gives the Budget Committee more flexibility,” Blunt said.
It had been unclear whether the biennial budget proposal, under which Congress would only adopt a budget every two years, would allow annual reconciliation. Blunt said he was told that the House parliamentarian believed that the language of the biennial budget proposal agreed to by the committee allowed annual reconciliation. But he said he also was told that the Senate parliamentarian was “not as sure.”
Lowey initially objected to the amendment, saying there was no need to have more than one reconciliation opportunity per budget resolution, and she urged a “no” vote. When it came time to vote she said she had been “persuaded” and voted “yes.”
The mechanics of how to provide for annual reconciliation in a biennial budget are still unclear.
Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue said he believes that the two-year budget resolution would have to contain a set of reconciliation instructions for the first year and the second year in order to do reconciliation in the second year.
But Sen. James Lankford said it also would be possible for the Budget Committees to write and adopt reconciliation instructions in the second year. “That would be my assumption,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “It’s not worked out.”
Under a unanimous consent agreement reached by the committee, an amendment needs the support of the majority of the eight Democrats and eight Republicans on the panel.
The committee adopted three amendments, rejecting eight others, while two were withdrawn by their sponsors.
An amendment offered by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on behalf of himself, Perdue and Blunt provides for the option of a “bipartisan” budget resolution in the Senate that would need the support of at least half the Democrats and half the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee to be reported to the floor. The panel adopted the amendment 14-0 with the support of seven Republicans and seven Democrats, with two absent for the vote.
The proposed bipartisan budget would include a target ratio for public debt as a share of gross domestic product, as well as annual targets for health care spending, tax breaks or “expenditures” as they are called in the amendment, discretionary spending and revenue, with the aim of developing a “glide slope” to reduce the debt.
“While this amendment creates no guarantee that the senate will rise to the occasion, it does create a pathway and opportunity for the Senate to do that,” Whitehouse said. He said Schumer supports it.
Any reconciliation bill emerging from the bipartisan budget resolution would still only need a simple majority to pass in the Senate, but it would also need support from 15 members of the minority party in the Senate if the amendment became law.
Watch: Pelosi Talks Midterm ‘Wave,’ Says She Has Votes for Speakership
House Republicans are already thinking about what to do if more members of their caucus face indictment. A new rules proposal for the conference would force its indicted members of Congress to relinquish leadership assignments and committee roles.
The rules change would require any GOP member facing indictment “for a felony for which a sentence of two or more years imprisonment may be imposed,” to “submit his or her resignation from any such committees to the House promptly.”
The proposed rules would also apply to any House Republican leadership, requiring them to “step aside” if indicted for a felony. Republican lawmakers will vote on the rules package this week.
Two House Republicans, New York’s Chris Collins and California’s Duncan Hunter, were both indicted in August. Hunter won his race, and Collins is ahead in his, although the Associated Press has not declared a winner. Without committee roles, their responsibilities would be pared back significantly.
Hunter and his wife, Margaret, were indicted by a federal grand jury in late August for allegedly using $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses and covering their tracks in campaign finance filings to the Federal Election Commission. The couple is facing 60 federal charges.
Collins faces insider trading charges stemming from his investment in an Australian biotech company where he served on the board of directors. He gained personal benefit and provided nonpublic information to his son Cameron Collins, who sold nearly $1.4 million of Innate Immunotherapeutics shares, according to a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The other proposed changes include a clarification that committee leaders get to participate in Republican Steering Committee deliberations when the panel is considering removing a member of their committee and language specifying the distribution of Steering Committee votes for when the party is in the minority. In the majority, the speaker has had four votes and the majority leader two, while all other Steering members get one. In the minority the minority leader will get four votes and the minority whip will get two.
Currently, there are no no federal statutes or rules of the House that directly affect the status of a member of Congress who has been indicted for a crime that constitutes a felony.
House Republicans on Thursday will consider changes to their internal conference rules, with several amendments targeting the process for selecting committee leaders.
The biggest proposed change comes from Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher, who wants committee members to be able to choose their own chairmen or ranking members.
His amendment would exclude the Rules, Budget and House Administration committees — the heads of which are appointed by the Republican leader — from the member-selection process.
Under the conference’s current rules, the Republican Steering Committee, a panel composed primarily of leadership and regional representatives, nominates committee leaders and the full conference ratifies those recommendations.
If Gallagher’s amendment were adopted, the Steering Committee would still be in charge of assigning members to committees.
Also Watch: Senate Republicans Talk Leadership Team and Special Counsel Protections
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who’s a proponent of allowing committee members to select their leaders, has an alternative amendment should Gallagher’s fail. Meadows’ proposal would at least reduce leadership’s influence in selecting committee leaders.
The North Carolina Republican wants to get rid of an existing rule that would allow the Republican leader’s vote to count as four votes and his deputy’s to count as two votes, so that their combined votes are equal to all other Steering members’ votes.
Meadows also has two other amendments. One would strike an existing rule that allows members who are appointed to the Rules Committee to reserve their seniority on one standing committee they had to leave to join Rules. The other would ensure that if the GOP leader convenes a panel to consider conference rules changes, the members he appoints would be “broadly representative of the diverse perspectives within the Republican Conference.”
Texas Rep. Pete Olson is offering an amendment to prevent committee leaders who reach their three-term limit (an existing conference rule that no one is proposing to change) from leading any of that panel’s subcommittees during the following three Congresses.
Many Republican committee leaders often retire from Congress after reaching their term limits, as five of them did for that reason this cycle. (Three chairmen who were not term-limited retired too). But Olson’s amendment would likely force even more into that decision and thus seems unlikely to be adopted.
Olson does provide a grandfather clause in his amendment that would allow any former committee leader who held subcommittee chairmanships this Congress to continue on in those roles for up to two more terms.
In amendment that is blatantly self-serving, Alaska Rep. Don Young is offering an amendment to allow the dean of the House to serve on the Republican Steering Committee when the dean is a GOP member. Young is the dean, the title ascribed to the longest-serving House member.
The final amendment comes from New York Rep. Elise Stefanik and would require members of elected leadership who decide to run for higher office like governor or senator to vacate their leadership positions after announcing.
It's unclear whether Stefanik’s amendment is meant to target a member of the leadership team the conference elected Wednesday. But it could seen as an insurance policy against Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney — who was elected conference chairwoman for the next Congress — using the leadership post as a platform to run against Sen. Michael B. Enzi for his Senate seat again.
Enzi is up for re-election in 2020. Cheney challenged him when he last ran in 2014 — she was not in Congress at the time — but ultimately dropped out of the race, citing family health issues.
Noticeably absent from the amendment offerings were controversial ones that arose two years ago over restoring earmarks.
At the time House Republicans, who banned earmarks after they won the House majority in 2010, appeared poised to provide a limited restoration of what proponents like to call congressional directed spending. But Speaker Paul D. Ryan urged the members to drop the proposal for further debate, promising a vote in the following months that never happened.
The reason GOP earmark proponents aren’t offering new amendments this year is likely because they’re not in the majority so wouldn’t have much power on their own to use them anyway. Plus, Democrats seem likely to lift the earmark ban as part of the House rules package for the 116th Congress.
Florida’s Senate race is proceeding from a machine recount to a hand recount, the Secretary of State announced Thursday.
It’s the latest development in the drawn-out race between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, whose margin remains under the 0.25 of a percentage point that automatically triggers a hand recount.
Canvassing boards in each county will have three days to examine “overvotes” and “undervotes” to try to determine how voters intended to vote. Overvotes are when the machine detects too many votes for the same office, and undervotes are when the machines don’t pick up any vote for a particular office. A Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times estimate found there could be anywhere between 35,000 and 118,000 of these ballots.
Democrats are seeking a hand recount of all ballots in Palm Beach County because of problems with the county's vote-counting machines.
Scott’s campaign claims that his lead grew by 865 votes during the machine recount. That would make his margin about 13,400 votes, according to his campaign. Nelson’s campaign believes the margin remains around 12,600.
Scott’s campaign, which has made multiple unfounded allegations of voter fraud in the week since Election Day, is calling on Florida to “move forward.”
But Nelson’s campaign remains optimistic about its chances to win the race and believes more votes need to be counted.
“It has never been our position that there was going to be one silver bullet that would change the margin in this race,” Nelson recount attorney Marc Elias said on a call with reporters Thursday evening.
Besides the hand recount, Elias believes Nelson can pick up votes from voters “curing” what’s known as signature mismatches. That refers to mail-in or provisional ballots that were rejected because the signatures on them did not match the signatures state officials had on record. A district court on Thursday extended the deadline for voters who were belatedly notified of a signature irregularity to correct their signatures on those ballots.
Elias also sees opportunity for Nelson to pick up votes from a pending lawsuit that would allow the counting of mail-in ballots that were cast by Election Day but not delivered in time.
Watch: Bill Nelson Makes a Statement on Florida’s Senate Race Recount
Officials have yet to determine the winners in one Senate contest and eight House races — a week and a day after the midterm elections.
If the 2000 presidential race is an indication, the outcome of the Florida Senate race could be weeks away as state election personnel recount votes for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Nelson trailed in the initial tally by less than 15,000 votes to his challenger, GOP Gov. Rick Scott.
House Democrats have already passed the threshold for a majority that they haven’t held since 2010. They currently have 227 seats called in their favor with the potential for those 10 not yet called races. But they’ll likely land more around 231 seats — still good for a 27-seat majority.
In the Senate, the GOP flipped seats in Indiana, North Dakota and Missouri — states that President Donald Trump won by double digits in 2016. But Democrats picked up seats in Nevada and Arizona.
Here are the races yet to be called as of 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon that will determine the size of the Republicans’ majority in the Senate and the Democrats’ in the House:
The race for the Senate seat in Florida has turned into a nasty battle of accusations as officials begun a machine recount over the weekend.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott declared victory over three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson late last Tuesday, but more than a week later the race remains uncalled by The Associated Press. Scott’s margin narrowed since election night as votes from Democratic-leaning Broward County continued to trickle in and absentee and provisional ballots remained uncounted.
A judge tossed out a lawsuit from Scott and the National Republican Senatorial Committee against Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes for failing to turn over information about ballots that have been counted. There has been no evidence of voter fraud in Broward, the judge ruled. Scott has also called for a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Investigation into Broward’s handling of ballots.
President Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio, without citing any evidence, has also accused Broward County officials of voter fraud.
Democratic groups have sued Scott to try to prevent him from being involved as governor in the recount process, which will go to a manual recount if the machine recount yields a margin between the candidates of less than 0.25 percent.
The Mississippi special election for the final two years of former GOP Sen. Thad Cochran’s term is heading to a Nov. 27 runoff after no candidate cleared 50 percent Tuesday night.
Just 1 point separated appointed GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and former Democratic Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, with Hyde-Smith ahead 41 percent to 40 percent. Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel took 16 percent of the vote.
Last weekend, Democratic challengers from the Golden State picked up two other seats, in the 25th and 48th Districts.
Local officials in California are still counting ballots in two other GOP seats, whose results are trending Democratic after Republicans held cushions on Election Day.
In the 45th District, Democrat Katie Porter has overtaken Rep. Mimi Walters by just hundreds of votes, according to results released last night. Walters had a 6,000-vote cushion on Election Night.
In Georgia’s 7th District, Rep. Rob Woodall leads by less than 500 votes over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in the Atlanta suburbs.
Utah Rep. Mia Love, who spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention and is the only African-American Republican woman in the House, pulled within half a percent of Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams with 85 percent of precincts reporting in the 4th District.
With just absentee and provisional ballots left to count, Democratic challenger Anthony Brindisi leads Rep. Claudia Tenney by about half a percentage point in New York’s 22nd District. Tenney ran one of the most pro-Trump campaigns of any vulnerable Republican this cycle.
Republican incumbents in Maine’s 2nd District (Bruce Poliquin), New York’s 27th (Chris Collins) and Texas’ 23rd (Will Hurd) hold narrow edges in their respective races, but those contests remained uncalled Wednesday. With none of the candidates taking more than 50 percent in Maine, the race will be decided by the state’s new ranked-choice voting system for the first time.
One open seat held by the GOP remains uncalled. Republican Young Kim holds a narrow lead over Democrat Gil Cisneros for the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Ed Royce in California’s 39th District. Her lead has shrunk from 4,000 votes on Election Night to roughly 700 by Wednesday with more mail-in ballots left to count. Experts have predicted Cisneros will overtake Kim.
Watch: Bill Nelson Makes a Statement on Florida’s Senate Race Recount