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Congressman Thomas Massie

Representing the 4th District of Kentucky

A New Speaker is a Step in the Right Direction

Jan 4, 2015

A New Speaker is a Step in the Right Direction

by Congressman Thomas Massie

This OpEd originally appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Washington is broken, and the public knows it. Many have attributed our government’s dysfunction to factors such as campaign financing, gerrymandering, lack of transparency, career politicians, disregard for the Constitution and hyper-partisanship.

I concede all of these contribute to the problem. But after coming to Washington, I discovered a bigger, less obvious source of congressional dysfunction. The House of Representatives has devolved into a theatrical stage for congressmen to perform for their constituents, while most legislative power is vested within the office of speaker.

To understand the power that today’s speaker wields requires understanding how the House works. All legislation ostensibly passes through committees. The chair of each committee should in theory have the authority to make decisions regarding which bills will pass through his committee and receive a vote on the House floor.

However, pursuant to current House rules and procedures, the speaker is the sole and final authority regarding who becomes the chair of each committee, and which bills are allowed to be voted on by the full House. If a chairman refuses to conform to the speaker’s wishes, the speaker has the power to bypass that committee completely.

Our country deserves an orderly legislative process. However, the 113th Congress frequently followed anything but an orderly process. Witness the recent CR/Omnibus: This 1603-page bill was written behind closed doors, introduced two days before the vote with little time for debate, and contained numerous legislative riders irrelevant to the funding of the government. It was the speaker’s decision to create a fiscal crisis on the last legislative day before Christmas vacation.

This irresponsible brinksmanship was designed to give congressmen a choice between spending their Christmas vacation in D.C. or rubber-stamping the legislation without reading it. Those members who voted for the bill have aptly defended their vote, but I know of none who will strain their credibility by defending the process the speaker employed to pass it.

Numerous but less publicized examples of legislative malpractice exist. For instance, on March 27, 2014, our leadership suspected it did not have support to pass an unfunded $10 billion Medicare spending bill. After delaying the scheduled vote twice that morning, they told members the House was in recess. Then, after members dispersed to their offices, in the course of less than 53 seconds, our leadership gaveled the House back in session and passed the bill on a voice vote with less than a dozen members present. Nearly every member of Congress resents this abuse of the speaker’s power and none will defend it.

So why would 434 members perpetuate this centralized autocratic rule when they have the constitutional power to choose a new speaker Tuesday? Because for many members, this choice is an illusion. Voting against the speaker means jeopardizing your committee assignments, your fundraising opportunities, and literally your political career. Critics may call my vote unwise for these reasons, but I challenge them instead to defend the undemocratic manner in which the speaker has moved legislation through the House of Representatives.

Rather than defend their own vote for the current speaker, some will choose to spread misinformation about my vote. It is untrue that a vote for anyone other than the current speaker will cause Rep. Nancy Pelosi to be elected. To become speaker of the House, one must receive a majority rather than a plurality of the votes cast for candidates.

I will vote for a speaker who can articulate a constitutional vision for America and facilitate an inclusive and orderly legislative process that allows Congress to truly reflect the will of the people.

This OpEd originally appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer.