BOHICA: 115th Congress Rule Changes

When I read reports that the Federal Government had been granted the right to dispose of public lands by a clause in the Rules of Operation of the new House of Representatives, I wanted to see how this is done.

Unfortunately, I had to read 35 pages into a 43 page document to find the clause. I highlighted things that didn’t sound right to me along the way, and I was so ticked by page 35 that I finished the entire document.

I’m not a lawyer, Constitutional or otherwise, but this document represents only the changes made to the rules moving from the 114th to 115th Congress. Changes are made for a reason, usually by the party in power to enable their agenda.  (I did not analyze any change offered as an oblique cross-reference to the full set of house rules.  I am certain worse chicanery lives there.)

I am suspect when the opposition moves the goal posts.

I learned this in Wisconsin when the Scott Walker regime rammed through rules changes enabling his Act 10 (gutting collective bargaining), gerrymandering state Legislative Districts, pushing voter ID, and generally laying waste to Wisconsin politics these last 8 years.

Oh, yeah, full disclosure: I tend to read with the assumption that the current Republican majority in the House and Senate would alter their rules to enable the laundry list of Republican/Koch/ALEC authored wet-dream legislation, whether Trump was President or not.

With those caveats in mind, here are the things that caught my eye in the rule changes enacted as this New Congress’s first order of business:

Page 10, line 17: I call this the “Public My Ass” clause:

(b) Records created, generated, or received by
18 the congressional office of a Member, Delegate, or
19 the Resident Commissioner in the performance of of-
20 ficial duties are exclusively the personal property of
21 the individual Member, Delegate, or the Resident
22 Commissioner and such Member, Delegate, or Resi-
23 dent Commissioner has control over such records.’’.

Declaring public records of official business are personal property?  By fiat?  WTF?

Page 11, 12 and into 13: I summarize 2 pages as, “We will decide if subpoenas issued against us are legitimate.”  Really?  Reserving the right to decide which subpoenas you will abide?

Remember…that these are CHANGES to house rules. Newly inserted by this congress. I would need a lawyer to assess if I’m over-reading this.

Page 13, Line 11 and on: Placing restrictions on those committees that have subcommittees on oversight, with specific numerical limits on how many subcommittees they can have. Intentionally targeting OVERSIGHT.

Page 18, line 5: The “Arbitrary firing without Cause” clause. Or “The Big Chilling”

It’s an expansion of “The Holman Rule” aka.. if we don’t like what you’re doing, we can save money by lowering your salary to $1.  We won’t call this a petty threat of vengeance… we’ll call it “retrenching” federal funds.

Page 21, Line 14: every bill must mandatorily contain a “spending reduction account” clause as a last paragraph. If a bill arrives without it, it will be amended automatically.

Coupled with preceding rules, this clause allows very easy amendment to move funds from the proposed legislation into the “spending reduction account.” It appears to be near unlimited authority for the majority to gut financing bills without having to publicly vote on whether or not to finance.

essentially: line item veto over government funding. Again, a lawyer might offer a different assessment.

Page 25 and 26: The “The CBO cost analysis rules don’t apply to legislation we want to kill.”

Explicitly prohibits the CBO from analyzing the cost of repealing the ACA.  Includes parameters that, because they appear here in the changes, I have to care about:  why is the CBO only tasked with analyzing legislation predicted to have, for 4 consecutive years (of the next 10), a net financial impact of  $5 Billion?  Is this an increase? A decrease?  Why did the specific limit change?

Page 31, Line 7 and beyond:  I’ll call it the ” Repay my Acolytes’ and Student Loans” clause: WHAT? There’s a federal program to repay the loans of congressional staffers??????? How abusable is THAT?

Page 34: strap in. The “We can gut Social Security, but You Can’t propose the opposite” clause. This section seems to bear the stamp of Paul Ryan and his constant goal to reduce or kill Social Security.  This puts handcuffs on what proposals can be put on the table, to mix metaphors.

Page 35: Finally!! The reason I read this. “The Cliven Bundy and his Offspring Won” clause.  Explicit justification to hand off federal lands “to the States” or other entities, without ACCOUNTING FOR IT!

Page 37, Line 4: The “George Orwell Memorial Doublespeak” clause, changing the “Office of Congressional Ethics” name to “The Office of Congressional Complaint Review.” Who likes a complainer??

Page 39, Line 20: The “STFU Snitch!” clause. The Office of Congressional Complaint Review will not be allowed to consider any complaint based on an anonymous source.

Page 40, line 21: section Q prohibits investigation of any allegations made in the 112th congress. This seems rather specific to call out, in the 115th congress rules.

Generally… should these decorum and housekeeping rules of the House prohibit or enable specific legislation? Seems that ought to have to be a law.  I’m naive about omnibuses, apparently.

Page 41, line 14: Let’s call this one the “Good Enough For Popes to Hide Sexual Abuse for Decades, Good Enough For Us” rule. A bit tied up in previous sections, but this rule explicitly prohibits a sub committee on ethics (investigating a potential violation of criminal law) from going directly to the authorities to report the criminal activity.

It must report to the Newly Defined “Committee on Ethics” first and they will decide whether or not to report any supposed breach of law to the criminal authorities.

Self-policing by vested interests always works so well.

And, finally page 42 bottom, and 43: The Scott Walker Midnight Train Rule: An explicit revocation of law prohibiting “midnight rules” and “en bloc” amendments.

In other words, you can expect (as I have predicted) to see a lot of shady shit get pushed through at odd hours, with no debate. You better start excercising your gullet. The forced feeding starts now.

b) Upon adoption of this resolution it shall be in 25 order to consider in the House the bill (H.R. 21) to amend chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, to provide for
2 en bloc consideration in resolutions of disapproval for
3 ‘‘midnight rules’’, and for other purposes. All points of
4 order against consideration of the bill are waived. The bill
5 shall be considered as read. All points of order against
6 provisions in the bill are waived. The previous question
7 shall be considered as ordered on the bill and on any
8 amendment thereto to final passage without intervening
9 motion except: (1) one hour of debate equally divided and
10 controlled by the Majority Leader and the Minority Lead-
11 er or their respective designees; and (2) one motion to re- 12 commit.

(Here’s a similar review by someone with a platform and editing skills, covering these rules before they went final. I’m not far off.)

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