The New Congress Could Bring Endless Showdowns

Rep. Thomas Massie (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Republicans are gearing up for a messy speakership election when the new Congress kicks off on January 3. Regardless of who wins, the GOP’s slim majority means individual members will be able to wield tremendous power on party-line votes—and cause chaos on the House floor—for the foreseeable future.

Using just one point of leverage, members of the House Freedom Caucus could achieve the procedural changes they want, such as opening bills to amendments before votes, even if some of their proposals aren’t initially incorporated in the House rules or the GOP conference’s rules.

The tool in question: critical procedural votes the chamber holds before debating and voting on a given bill. Members usually reflexively support their party on these procedural votes. But in the new Congress, any small group of Republicans wanting to convince GOP leaders to make concessions on a variety of priorities could throw off the legislative calendar, stymie leadership’s plans, and put the speaker in jeopardy.

These procedural votes set parameters for debating legislation, such as how long a bill’s consideration will take and whether any amendments will be allowed. Known as “rules,” they almost always pass on a party-line vote, supported by the majority party in the chamber and opposed by the minority party. That pattern holds regardless of any cross-party support for the underlying bill itself.

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