Immediate changes should be sought in the House Rules to end the dictatorship exercised by House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, in favor of a democratic dispensation.
The House Republican Caucus should appoint 13 members to the House Rules Committee from 13 geographic districts with a comparable number of Republican representatives. They should be joined by six Democratic members to be selected by the House Democratic Caucus.
The House speaker should be prohibited from serving on the Rules Committee.
It should make committee assignments, and each committee would select its own chair and subcommittee chairs.
The Rules Committee should also set the timing, terms and conditions for floor votes on bills or resolutions.
These Rules changes might by styled an “Emancipation Proclamation” for House members against their current enslavement by the House speaker.
The objective is no novelty. A comparable change in House Rules was voted in 1910 in revolt against the dictatorship of then-House Speaker Joe Cannon, Illinois Republican. The skies did not fall. And the House functioned as a far more representative institution as intended by the U.S. Constitution’s architects.
But by hook or by crook over the years, the House speaker regained dictatorial powers by altering or abusing House Rules.
As speaker, Mr. Boehner brandished his authority over committee assignments, committee chairmanships, the timing, terms, and conditions of floor votes, and control over Republican congressional campaign funds to coerce House Republican members to vote against the Constitution and solemn promises made to their constituents.
The result has been a debacle for both the House and the nation.
Mr. Boehner unconstitutionally thwarted House votes on President Obama’s wars against Libya, Iraq, Syria and ISIL. No brave American soldier should be dispatched abroad to risk that last full measure of devotion without express authorization from Congress under Article I, section 8, clause 11.
Mr. Boehner embraced an unconstitutionally convoluted procedure for voting on President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which guaranteed failure and ratified an imperial presidency.
He surrendered control over the debt ceiling to the president to evade accountability for the soaring national debt (now approaching a staggering $20 trillion).
He blocked a vote on House Republican legislation to replace Obamacare.
He defanged the power of the purse by acceding to continuing resolutions or omnibus budget legislation in lieu of separate appropriations measures to fund the government. The result leaves House Members with a Hobson’s choice between shutting down the government and bloated spending.
He unconstitutionally yielded House authority over its own Rules to the Senate and the White House in championing the Trade Promotion Act.
He neglected to defend and enforce congressional oversight of the Pentagon’s trillions of dollars in unaudited spending and fanciful military strategies in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen which are squandering American lives and resources to conceal horrendous political mistakes.
No person no matter how saintly can be trusted with the dictatorial powers the current House Rules bestow on the House speaker. Thomas Jefferson correctly sermonized: “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
To put a new face in the office of House speaker will change nothing toward the urgency of democratizing the House.
Democratizing the House Rules will not cure all the ills of The People’s Chamber. As the aftermath of the 1910 revolution teaches, House members must remain eternally on guard to prevent a restoration of speaker dictatorship. But the good should not be sacrificed on the altar of the perfect.