House Republicans Break Record for Closed Rules in Single Congress

Ranking Democrat on Rules Committee: ‘It’s like the majority is allergic to an open process’

The House Rules Committee under Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, has broken a record for the number of closed rules reported during a single Congress. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Rules Committee broke a record Monday night for the number of closed rules — a mechanism for setting up floor debate on a bill without amendments — reported in a single Congress. 

The panel tied and then surpassed the previous record set during the Republican-controlled 113th Congress of 83 closed rules when it reported out two closed rules.

The 83rd and 84th closed rules were on a bill called Right to Try that would expand access to experimental drug treatments and a banking bill that would roll back parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.

The House will take up both rules and bills Tuesday. 

Since Republicans are in the majority, they set the floor schedule and parameters for debate. The Rules Committee this Congress has not passed any open or modified open rules to allow a more freewheeling debate — just closed rules and structured rules that allow for limited amendments. 

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House Republicans broke the record last year for the most closed rules during a single session, with a total of 58 adopted. The previous record of 48 was set in the first session of the 114th Congress. 

During the Rules Committee hearing Monday night where the record-breaking closed rule was reported, ranking member Jim McGovern referenced the “sad milestone.” 

“The record you are breaking is your own — the record Republicans set back in 2014,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “It’s like the majority is allergic to an open process.”

Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, Caroline Booth, spokeswoman for Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, said. Of the closed rules, 16 were measures brought under the Congressional Review Act, a process to roll back regulations that often results in narrowly crafted legislation that isn't conducive to amendments, and 12 were because no amendments were introduced.

As of May 9, House Republicans through the Rules panel made more than 1,000 amendments in order, more than the number that Democrats allowed during the entire 111th Congress when they were in the majority, Booth said. 

With the House having considered a few bills recently with dozens of amendments made in order through structured rules, members have clamored for more “regular order.”

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who was elected to his post amid promises to restore regular order in the House and allow more open floor debates with amendments, has swatted off talk that he hasn’t lived up to that pledge. 

“By and large, we’ve done a phenomenal job,” the Wisconsin Republican said in March when asked if he’s held to his promises after the House passed a massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill under a closed rule that allowed only one hour of debate. The text of the 2,200-some page measure was posted just 17 hours before the House vote. 

McGovern said Ryan’s promise for a more open process “was clearly just spin,” noting, “He’s the only speaker in history to never have a truly open rule.” 

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