United States House Committee on Rules

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The Committee on Rules, or (more commonly) Rules Committee, is a committee of the United States House of Representatives. Rather than being responsible for a specific area of policy, as most other committees are, it is in charge of determining under what rule other bills will come to the floor. As such, it is one of the most powerful committees and is often described as "an arm of the leadership" and as the "traffic cop of Congress." A rule is a simple resolution of the House of Representatives, usually reported by the Committee on Rules, to permit the immediate consideration of a legislative measure, notwithstanding the usual order of business, and to prescribe conditions for its debate and amendment. [3]

Jurisdiction

When a bill is reported out of one of the other committees, it does not go straight to the House floor, because the House, unlike the United States Senate, does not have unlimited debate and discussion on a bill. Instead, what may be said and done to a bill is strictly limited. This limitation is performed by the Rules Committee.

When a bill is reported out of another committee with legislative jurisdiction, it is placed on the appropriate House Calendar for debate. Common practice, though, is for bills reported from committees to be considered in the Rules Committee, which will decide for how long and under what rules the full body will debate the proposition.

Consideration by the full body can be in one of two forums: the Committee of the Whole, or on the floor of the full House of Representatives itself. Different traditions govern whether the Committee of the Whole or the House itself will debate a given resolution, and the Rules Committee generally sets the forum under which a proposition will be debated and the amendment/time limitations for every measure, too. For instance, there might be a limit on the number or types of amendments (proposed changes to the bill). Amendments might only be allowed to specific sections of the bill, or no amendments might be allowed at all. Besides control over amendments, the rule issued by the Rules Committee also determines the amount of speaking time assigned on each bill or resolution. If the leadership wants a bill pushed forward quietly, for instance, there might be no debate time scheduled; if they want attention, they might allow time for lengthy speeches in support of the bill.

Between control over amendments, debate, and when measures will be considered, the Rules Committee exerts vast power in the House. As such, the majority party will usually be very keen on controlling it tightly. While most House committees maintain membership in a rough proportion to the full chamber (If the majority party controls 55% of the House, it will tend to have 55% of committee seats), membership on the Rules Committee is disproportionately in favor of the majority party.

History

The Rules Committee was formed on April 2, 1789, during the first Congress. However, it had nowhere near the powerful role it has today. Instead, it merely proposed general rules for the House to follow when debating bills (rather than passing a special rule for each bill), and was dissolved after proposing these general rules. These general rules still have a great impact on the tone of the House floor today.

The Rules Committee, for a long time, lay dormant. For the first fifty years of its existence, it accomplished little beyond simply reaffirming these rules, and its role was very noncontroversial. On June 16, 1841, it made a major policy change, reducing from 2/3 to 1/2 the fraction of votes needed in the House to close debate and vote on a bill.

In 1880, the modern Rules Committee began to emerge from the reorganization of the House Committees. When the Republican party took over the House in the election of 1880, they quickly realized the power that the Rules Committee possessed. One member, Thomas Brackett Reed (R - Maine), used a seat on the Rules Committee to vault himself to the Speakership, and gained so much power that he was referred to as " Czar Reed".

In the 1890s and 1900s, Reed and his successor, Joseph Gurney Cannon (R- Illinois) used the Rules Committee to centralize the power of the Speakership. Although their power to place members in committees and perform other functions was limited by a forced rule change in 1910, the Rules Committee retained its power. However, it ceased to function as the personal project of the Speaker, as it had originally; instead, as the seniority system took root, it was captured by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans. This state of affairs would continue until the 1960s.

In 1961, Speaker Sam Rayburn (D- Texas), acting on the wishes of the new President John F. Kennedy and the Democratic Study Group, introduced a bill to enlarge the committee from 12 members to 15, to decrease the power of the arch-conservative chairman, Howard W. Smith (D- Virginia). The bill passed, 217 votes to 212. However, it was only partially successful; the Rules Committee continued to block legislation including civil rights and education bills.

In the 1970s, however, the Rules Committee was firmly under the command of the Speaker once again. As before, its primary role is to come up with special rules, to help or obstruct the chances of legislation reported to it.

Members, 115th Congress

Majority Party Minority Party
Republican Democratic

Sources: (R), (D).

Subcommittees

The Rules Committee operates with two subcommittees, one focusing on legislative and budget matters and the other focusing on the internal operations and procedures of the House.

Subcommittee Chair Ranking Member
Legislative and Budget Process Rob Woodall (R-GA) Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Rules and the Organization of the House Rich Nugent (R-FL) Jim McGovern (D-MA)

Source:

Chairs, 1849–1853 and 1880–present

The Committee on Rules was first a standing committee of the House, during the 31st and 32nd Congresses (1849–1853). From 1853 until 1880, the panel reverted to being a select committee (as it had been before 1849).

Between 1880 and the revolt against Speaker Cannon, in March 1910, the Speaker of the House also served as Chairman of the Rules Committee.

Chair Party State Years Note
David S. Kaufman Democratic Texas 1849–1851 Died in office January 31, 1851 [4]
George W. Jones Democratic Tennessee 1851–1853 [2]
Samuel J. Randall Democratic Pennsylvania 1880–1881 [12]
J. Warren Keifer Republican Ohio 1881–1883 [3]
John G. Carlisle Democratic Kentucky 1883–1889 [8]
Thomas B. Reed Republican Maine 1889–1891 1st term [12]
Charles F. Crisp Democratic Georgia 1891–1895 [3]
Thomas B. Reed Republican Maine 1895–1899 2nd term
David B. Henderson Republican Iowa 1899–1903 [3]
Joseph G. Cannon Republican Illinois 1903–1910 [3]
John Dalzell Republican Pennsylvania 1910–1911 [3]
Robert L. Henry Democratic Texas 1911–1917 [3]
Edward W. Pou Democratic North Carolina 1917–1919 1st term [3]
Philip P. Campbell Republican Kansas 1919–1923 [3]
Bertrand H. Snell Republican New York 1923–1931 [3]
Edward W. Pou Democratic North Carolina 1931–1934 2nd term. Died in

office April 1, 1934.

William B. Bankhead Democratic Alabama 1934–1935 [3]
John J. O'Connor Democratic New York 1935–1939 [3]
Adolph J. Sabath Democratic Illinois 1935–1947 1st term [7]
Leo E. Allen Republican Illinois 1947–1949 1st term [21]
Adolph J. Sabath Democratic Illinois 1949–1952 2nd term. Died in office November 6, 1952.
Leo E. Allen Republican Illinois 1953–1955 2nd term
Howard W. Smith Democratic Virginia 1955–1967 [69]
William M. Colmer Democratic Mississippi 1967–1973 [23]
Ray J. Madden Democratic Indiana 1973–1977 [18]
James J. Delaney Democratic New York 1977–1979 [25]
Richard W. Bolling Democratic Missouri 1979–1983 [6]
Claude D. Pepper Democratic Florida 1983–1989 Died in office May 30, 1989 [23]
Joe Moakley Democratic Massachusetts 1989–1995 [13]
Gerald B. H. Solomon Republican New York 1995–1999 [78]
David T. Dreier Republican California 1999–2007 1st term [4]
Louise M. Slaughter Democratic New York 2007–2011 [4]
David T. Dreier Republican California 2011–2013 2nd term
Pete Sessions Republican Texas 2013–present [4]

Historical members and subcommittees

Members, 114th Congress

Majority Party Minority Party
Republican Democratic

Sources: (Chairs), (D), (R) and (D).

Subcommittees

The Rules Committee operates with two subcommittees, one focusing on legislative and budget matters and the other focusing on the internal operations and procedures of the House.

Subcommittee Chair Ranking Member
Legislative and Budget Process Rob Woodall (R-GA) Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Rules and the Organization of the House Rich Nugent (R-FL) Jim McGovern (D-MA)

See also

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