Swearing-in of the 115th Congress

Vote Explanation for H.Res. 5 — Adopting Rules for the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress

One of the most significant pieces of business on Opening Day of the 115th Congress was the adoption of the House’s Rules governing the House of Representatives for the next two years. At a time when the American people want a more open, transparent, and efficient government, the House Rules package proposed by Republican Leadership does the exact opposite. Below are some highlights:

Punishment of Members: H. Res. 5 authorizes the Sergeant-at-Arms to impose fines on Members for use of photographic, audio or visual recording devices on the floor. This proposal is in direct response to the Democratic sit-in on the House Floor last year following the shooting at Pulse Nightclub, when Republicans cut the television feed in an effort to silence debate. Democrats responded by taking the debate to social media, and now Republicans are trying to shut off that as well. Fines are set at $500 for a first offense and $2,500 for each subsequent offense. The Chief Administrative Officer is instructed to deduct such fines from the Member’s salary. This rule may also violate the Constitution as there questions concerning whether fines can be deducted from Members’ pay, and whether the House can delegate the responsibility of punishing Members to House officers.

Universal Staff Deposition Authority: The rules package gives every committee (except Rules and House Administration) the ability to force private citizens to travel to Washington, DC, and be subjected to unlimited hours of interrogation by Republican staff. In this rules package, for the first time ever, Republicans are removing entirely any requirement that Members be present during such depositions (unless the House is in session).

Changes to Committee Oversight Plans: The rules package requires each standing committee (except for Appropriations, Ethics, and Rules) to include in their oversight plans recommendations for moving programs from mandatory to discretionary funding, which would begin the process of dismantling the guaranteed funding mechanisms for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and exposing these programs to the uncertainties of the annual appropriations process.

Targeting of Federal Employees in Appropriations Bills: H. Res. 5 reinstates the “Holman Rule,” allowing Members to propose salary cuts and firing of specific federal employees. Since 1983, such provisions and amendments have been prohibited, as they constitute the direct targeting of individual employees through funding legislation.

Hiding the Cost of Repealing the ACA: Aware that repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will increase the national deficit, Republicans preemptively waive their own requirement of only allowing for legislation that does not increase the deficit. This completely hypocritical proposal allows the Republican-controlled Congress to begin the process of repealing the ACA.

As if this weren’t bad enough, House Republicans also voted during a closed-door meeting to place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of Congress. The office was set up in 2008, after several Members were convicted of crimes and sent to jail. The Office of Congressional Ethics can conduct investigations of House members and employees who have been accused of violating laws, rules or congressional norms. I spoke on CNN shortly after this vote and asked a simple question: Does anyone think that Congress is too ethical?

While my Republican colleagues ultimately reversed this decision, the other provisions in H.Res. 5 remained. Now more than ever, we need Congress to be more accountable to the American people. This resolution does the opposite and for this reason, I voted against it.

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