Fixing Congress’ Broken Appropriations Process Is Worth This Mess
Midway through the third day of the ongoing battle to pick a new speaker of the House, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R–Mont.) made an innocuous but telling point about the state of Congress.
“We have had more discussion and debate over the last three days than I have participated in, on this floor, for the past two years,” Rosendale, one of the group of breakaway Republicans who have refused to back Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R–Calif.) bid to become speaker, pointed out.
The stakes of this week’s congressional drama, he argued, are not merely about which House member will hold the ceremonial gavel but about a deeper problem with how Congress functions.
“The process that we use has been dramatically broken,” Rosendale explained, lamenting “the consolidation of power into the hands of the speaker and the fortunate few who happen to serve on the Rules Committee, which control every aspect of legislation that travels through this body.”
This is not a new complaint, but it remains an underappreciated one. For the past few decades, Congress has shifted away from its traditional process for passing legislation—the one that’s more or less reflected in the famous Schoolhouse Rock! song: A bill gets proposed, marked up in committee, amended, and finally put to a debate and voted on by the full chamber. Instead, as Rosendale explained Thursday, major bills are drafted by a handful of high-ranking leaders on both sides, then presented to the full House (usually with scant time to read or process what’s in them) for a simple up-or-down vote with few or no amendments allowed.
The result, as American Enterprise Institute congressional scholar Kevin Kosar explained to Roll Call in November, is that leaders can more easily push legislation through the House with party-line votes. The downside, however, is that “legislators feel like they’re not legislators,” Kosar said.
One way to understand this week’s Republican revolt against McCarthy, then, is that it’s not really about McCarthy at all. It’s actually a rank-and-file revolt against the top-do
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