After revelations that may have hurt the Republican brand, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is pushing through a rule change that could strengthen the largest member organizations, such as the Republican Study Committee, in the 114th Congress.
The Louisiana Republican, who formerly served as chairman of the RSC, proposed an amendment to the GOP rule package aimed at creating a stable payroll system for staff of congressional member organizations and making hiring more transparent. His "Congressional Member Organization Transparency Reform" amendment was adopted during a closed-door caucus meeting on Monday night. Under the provision, members can enter into agreements with eligible organizations, such as the RSC, that allow an employee of the member's office to work on assignment for the organization. The member transfers the portion of their Members' Representational Allowances, or MRA, that would normally cover salary and benefits to a dedicated House account that would be administered by the organization. For accounting purposes, the employee will be considered an employee of both the member's office and the organization.
The House Administration Committee would be responsible for setting up rules for those accounts and maintaining the list of eligible organizations. To be eligible for an account, the group must have a designated leader or chairman, and had to have at least 30 dues-paying members and three staffers during the 113th Congress.
Scalise's amendment includes prohibitions on how the funds can be spent and language to ensure members don't abuse the rule to employ more staff than their office is authorized to have. The caucus cannot use the money for franked mail, office travel or leases of space or vehicles. The House Administration Committee would also ensure eligible member organizations have access to House services.
In 1995, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., eliminated bank accounts for caucuses and booted them from their Capitol Hill offices, following nearly a decade of criticism from GOP leaders. Critics alleged the caucuses had become taxpayer-subsidized arms of special interests, guilty of nepotism, cronyism and millions of dollars in unaccounted spending.
Caucuses survived and thrived following the changes, but House Rules prohibited the organizations from functioning as employing authorities, so staffers have to be hired and fired from month to month, rotating from different members’ payrolls for accounting purposes. Leadership of the RSC, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other member organizations said the high volume of paperwork is a burden.
Scalise debuted his proposal to a House Rules panel in September, saying he wanted to build on the changes implemented under Gingrich, with the goal of making caucuses “more professional and transparent.”
Scalise mentioned serious paperwork errors that led to health care coverage being dropped, student loans going unpaid or lapses in retirement benefits, plus mundane difficulties such as email outages and trouble securing parking spots. The amendment includes language to ensure caucus staff can participate in the student loan repayment program for employees of the House.
The incoming chairman of the RSC told CQ Roll Call it's a great, and much needed change.
"It's highly unfair to our staff," said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, when asked about Scalise's proposal. "We tried to change this rule two years ago and it should have been changed then. I think that we finally have an opportunity to do the right thing for these large membership organizations, like the Congressional Black Caucus and like the RSC."
Flores said he thinks it's the right thing to do for both employees and the organizations, and does not foresee any opposition. Previously, the leaders of major Democratic caucuses told CQ Roll Call they were wary of Scalise's suggestions that there was not enough sunlight on operations. The organizations were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday morning. The package was posted to the House Rules website on Monday evening and is expected to be voted on Tuesday, shortly after the House convenes.
Related: House Caucus Rules Could Change for 114th Congress The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.