House rules package will allow members to be fined; stemmed from last year's sit-in on the floor
The vote came after a controversial plan to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics was dropped
The Republican-led House of Representatives adopted new rules governing floor debate in the new Congress on Tuesday, passing a package of changes in a largely party line vote.
The resolution passed, 234-193, after House Republicans were forced to drop a provision that would have gutted the independent ethics panel tasked with investigating potential rules violations. The language, included in a closed-door session Monday night, was dropped after criticism from President-elect Donald Trump and intense blowback from their own constituents.
The new rules package includes a Republican provision to impose fines on any House member who violates the decorum rules of the House. That change was added in response to a Democratic-led sit-in that tied up the House floor in June for over 24 hours, when dozens of members took over the chamber and demanded action on gun control measures.
The proposal doesn’t slap any financial penalty on specific members for that episode, but going forward a member could face a $500 penalty for breaking the rules governing debate, and an additional $2,500 fine for each additional offense.
Georgia Democratic Rep John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement who led the sit-in angrily denounced the proposal on Tuesday and vowed to continue to press for votes on gun-related bills.
“No Congress, nobody, no committee has the power to tell us that we cannot stand up, speak up and speak truth to power. We have a right to dissent,” Lewis loudly argued on the House floor, adding, “we cannot and will not be silent.”
Republicans say that it’s important to preserve the rules and that if they fail to punish those who break them then it’s unfair to the entire chamber, which is charged with moving legislation.
“Decorum comes with avoiding chaos.” Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said on Tuesday, defending the fines.
Obamacare repeal efforts
In addition, Democrats are pointing to two new provisions added in the rules package that they say are designed to help the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare.
One change would allow exceptions to the rule instituted by House Republicans in their recent budget plan that limits votes on any legislation that increases the federal deficit by $5 billion over a specific period. Republicans typically require any proposal that adds to the deficit has to be fully offset with cuts to other programs.
“This rule is a set-up to overturn the Affordable Care Act,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi maintained on Tuesday.
Democrats also say that another change dealing with committee oversight could open up federal entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security to potential funding cuts. The new GOP rule directs certain committees to draft recommendations for shifting these programs from the mandatory side of the federal ledger to the discretionary side. While Democrats admit this is “inside baseball” they say that if it’s implemented it could mean Congress would decide funding details for all of these programs as annual spending bills, potentially removing the automatic funding stream they now receive.