How much sympathy would you garner from your friends if a thief stole everything you owned after you knowingly invited him into your home?
That’s what House conservatives do when they support “the rule” on bad pieces of legislation.
Let me explain how it works.
Consideration of all legislation in the U.S. House is dictated by the Rules Committee (chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions). Before a bill is debated on the floor, the committee creates a rule for that bill. That rule establishes what amendments will be considered, how much time will be debated, etc. After the committee agrees on the rule, it is voted on by the entire House. If the rule passes, then the House debates the underlying bill. If the rule fails, then the bill goes nowhere.
When Republican freshmen come to Washington for the first time every two years, House leadership immediately drills into their heads — “Always, always vote with the party on rules.” The substance of the underlying bill is irrelevant.
This mantra is typically unquestioned. In 2012, the House held recorded votes on 42 separate rules. They all passed with near unanimous support among Republicans (the average vote was 231-1). This included rules for the bloated Highway bill (232-2) and the big “fiscal cliff” tax increase (232-2).
In fact, had House conservatives voted against these rules like they voted against the final passage of these bills, they would have blocked both plans from ever becoming law! This is why voting for a rule on a bill you oppose is like letting a thief into your home and then letting him steal all your stuff, despite your opposition.
If you go back further in time, House conservatives could have blocked No Child Left Behind, the 2002 Farm Bill, the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, and the 2011 debt deal – just to name a few — if only they had voted against the rules in the same way that they opposed those bills.
It’s amazing, really. The conventional wisdom is that, unlike in the Senate, individual House members have very little power because they are merely 1 out of 435. But a small group of committed House conservatives can not only oppose bad legislation, they can BLOCK it from ever passing. For the 2013 legislative session, the power to block all bad legislation requires only 16 brave House Republicans.
It’s true that leadership can always find ways around House conservatives if they really wanted to. The vote on a rule is always partisan, so leadership could theoretically call on Democrats to help them pass rules for bad bills. But that will only hurt their standing among the conservative base, and it would make them more vulnerable at the ballot box.
So why do House conservatives vote for rules when they know it only enables the passage of bad bills? Because voting on rules has been thoroughly ingrained in all members for years and years. And leadership will punish them severely if they ever “take down a rule”. At least, that’s always been the overlying threat. But if House conservatives stand united, and more importantly, stand up for the principles of limited government despite what the party thinks, then what leadership does to them will be irrelevant. The conservative base will turn them into overnight heroes.
Starting today, we need to change the rules of the game. We need to change the mantra to “Always, always vote against rules on bad bills.” Call your congressman and let him know.
Andrew Roth is VP of Government Affairs for the Club for Growth.