Speaker of the House, Not a Dictator

by Greg Ganske

January 25, 2023

As a past Republican Member of Congress I watched the battle for the Speakership of the House of Representatives with both dismay and admiration: dismay over the optics of chaos and failure to get the issues of the conservative holdouts ironed out prior to Jan. 6,  admiration of the tenacity of both Speaker McCarthy and the dissidents with whom I shared many concerns.

I am sympathetic to the desire for change in the autocracy of the Speakership.

The Speakerships under Nancy Pelosi and to some extent GOP Speaker Hastert whom I served under were almost as autocratic as Speaker Joe Cannon’s back in 1910. A revolt against Speaker Cannon’s tight control of the Rules Committee and committee chairmanships culminated in one of the great House power struggles. . . and his ouster. Today I applaud Speaker McCarthy for adjusting to concerns and agreeing to conservatives’ Rules changes to help make the House function in a more democratic way.

Speaker Hastert imposed the “Hastert Rule” which meant requiring a majority support of the Republican Conference before allowing committee legislation to proceed to the Rules Committee and the floor of the House. I and others had to directly challenge our own leadership and bring discharge petitions to overrule the Speaker in order to bring Patients’ Bill of Rights and Campaign Finance Reform to the floor for a vote. House and Senate bills still had to pass identically with no amendments or get buried in conference committees.

So what are some of these changes McCarthy agreed to?

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

Most difficult for him was to agree with a single member being able to call for a vote to oust the Speaker. However, this is nothing new. It is a return to the traditional rule before Speaker Pelosi did away with it. Votes on term limits and border security have been taken before. Requiring 72 hours to read bills before they go to floor is not revolutionary nor is a ban on earmarks and proxy voting. The entire GOP conference supports a select committee on whether the DOJ has been weaponized.

McCarthy’s most significant concessions deal with the composition of the Rules Committee and fiscal policy. The Rules Committee has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Speaker. The new agreement is that the conference chooses some members not committed to only voting as the Speaker directs. Process issues may seem mundane but are really important for how the House functions. The Rules Committee sets the terms of debate. With more representation both moderates and conservatives will be able to get more controversial amendments approved for debate.

There will be a harder line on increasing the national debt and spending. The concessions McCarthy agreed to will enable a return to “Regular Order” which refers to the strict application of committee and subcommittee processes, including public hearing opportunities and the holding of multiple votes. This is particularly important for the three major committees of Appropriations, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce.  Committee Chairs working with minority ranking members should hold oversight hearings and be guided by, but not dictated to, by the Speaker as has become the norm.

Congress hasn’t followed its own budget process in twenty years.The authorization and appropriations process has become so difficult that the Speakers of both parties take no action until the last minute. They then combine all 12 appropriations bills into a single “Omnibus” bill of thousands of indecipherable pages. Failing that they fall back on “Continuing Resolutions” (CR’s) which simply raise spending for inflation and abrogate Congressional oversight. In the meantime, individual members’ chances of contributing is lost. Members then fill their time dialing for political donations. No wonder many members are fed up with their roles.

The new rules make it harder for the House to tax and spend by imposing a “cut-go” rule that requires any mandatory spending increase be offset with equal or greater mandatory spending cuts. A three-fifths super majority will be required for tax increases. These are similar to rules in 1995 through 2002 when the GOP Congress actually paid down national debt.

The GOP House rebels have done both Republicans and Democrats, and the country,  a service if the new Rules result in a return to “Regular Order.”  , The members must act responsibly. They can’t hold Speaker McCarthy hostage to every individual’s whim.. It is in everyone’s interest for the House of Representatives to work through regular processes that ensure more imput from rank and file members of both parties.

We might even see more bipartisanship.

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Greg GanskeGreg Ganske, Md, is a retired surgeon and was a Member of Congress representing Iowa from 1995-2002

Comments 11

  1. I agree that the changes made are for the betterment of the American people. The omnibus bills need to stop. No one gets a chance to actually read 4,000 page bills in 48 hours.

  2. Would really like to see this Congress work and it does indeed have a framework that by it’s very rules, will allow greater input to members!
    Thanks for your insight !

  3. Thank you, Dr Ganske. I, too was cringing at the optics of a dysfunctional House, while simultaneously searching to understand why the hold outs were trying to force changes. Turns out, they were fighting to put representation back into the House of Representatives. How about that!

  4. Great column Doc! These reforms are much needed and even further reforms to our entire political system are also necessary. Isn’t it ironic that the “evil” freedom caucus were the ones to actually force the vote for reforms and principles they believe in, the “communist” squad has been rendered mute and neutered by campaign cash and the lavish DC swamp lifestyle.

    The media would have us think that the Democrats are the “good guys” who valiantly fight for working people, the downtrodden, the needy, but while they may pay lip service to those issues and throw the occasional crumbs to the people, they are elite, entitled narcissists who only really care about themselves and their own jobs.

    Barack Hussein Obama is a case in point. A decent guy overall, but essentially a smooth talking silky smooth elitist who bailed out Wall Street and put thousands of families on the street during the financial crisis of 2009. He virtually ignored the children of Flint, MI , who were poisoned by political and financial elites in a boondoggle that the Obama justice department and the EPA ignored.

    If the first black president won’t help black people, who will? If black mayors won’t work to make the black residents safe, ignoring the murder of black people, giving only platitudes, and false promises while blaming white racists, even though black men are killing other black men. Why does it seem that black pols care less about public safety in the black community than the “racist” white pols?

    This hypocrisy, this double standard, this disregard for working folks is pervasive across the spectrum. If there is one party that is even remotely trying to win their support currently, it is the freedom caucus. Look at how Biden totally turned his back on the railroad workers? Look at how they wrecked the finances and businesses of scores of workers and business owners who were happy to work and don’t want food stamps or a check in the mail.

    Term limits
    Public financing of campaigns
    End to dark money
    Limit lobbyists
    Strict ethics with independent audits and draconian penalties for violations
    Advisory reverenda on every ballot

    The freedom caucus has made a nice start. Let’s keep it going.

  5. Very interesting and informative column Dr Ganske, thank you! It is difficult to get this information out to the typical voter. I hope more voters (especially in Cook Co) pay a little more attention to the political process.
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  6. A great way to explain what happened and why. Judging from all the social media comments most don’t have a clear understanding of the process. That’s why the dim Dems were able to cash in yack continuously about “dysfunctional and fractured” the GOP is. I wish they would have taken the time to spell it out as you did. I also wish the GOP would find a spokesperson who would have a daily or as-needed slot at a podium to explain news distortions. The one I keep seeing on the net is about the GOP’s wanting to trash/diminish Social Security. Everyone knows that’s a hot-button issue and is meant to rile up the populace against the GOP. Dems also know that most don’t bother to read the actual truth about trying to secure SS for future recipients. The GOP really needs to get out front about such things and dispel the untruths/lies from the media. Hopefully by sharing your article many more will have a clearer understanding of what actually transpired in getting McCarthy to the speakership!

  7. You purposefully left out the fact that a minority of extremists in the party essentially blackmailed him, providing them with the legitimacy they craved. Now we have election deniers, jewish space laser conspiracy theorists, accused pedophiles, Christian Nationalists and advocates for violence against fellow congressmen all serving on committees. This is what the GOP has become, regardless of if you have the courage (or integrity..) to acknowledge it.

  8. Thanks, Dr. Ganske, for your service in the House, and for explaining the intracacies of the workings of the House. Hopefully the House will actually start “working” again. Can’t wait for real politics to replace the shenanigans there now.

  9. Nice column. I paid little attention to the House Speaker vote, but the general vibe I got from our corrupt legacy media was “dangerous far right extremists are destroying our democracy”. I doubt there was any mention of this being a return to the rules before boss Pelosi.

  10. I can’t entirely agree with everything (i.e. requiring 60% supermajority support for increasing tax rates), but, reducing the Speaker’s power and giving individual members more leverage is a “Good Thing” for both parties.

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