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Return to 'Regular Order' Legislative Process to Rebalance Congress

Return to 'Regular Order' Legislative Process to Rebalance Congress

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., back on Feb. 27, 2017, following their meeting with President Donald Trump inside the White House. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

By Friday, 03 March 2017 02:10 PM Current | Bio | Archive

One of the must haves of the Republican take-over of Congress in 1995 after decades in the minority was that regular order would prevail; that leadership would give up strict control over all legislation.

This meant that committees of jurisdiction made up of subject matter experts would design and create legislation and provide oversight — not a couple of members in leadership writing a bill out of public view.

It really worked and new and creative legislation came forth like the revolutionary HUD bill, welfare reform, various tax proposals, and the historic telecom bill.

Instead using regular order, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have decided to write bills, show them to no one, preserve them from hearings and markups — then launch them.

This is a bad idea, and it's one we rejected years ago.

The committee process offers so many advantages.

First, bills that come to a vote through the ordinary process (regular order) will have hearings — lots of them!

At hearings, much information is shared, people have a chance to vent, and experts have a chance to advance their knowledge and experience.

Hearings are invaluable, and leadership prepared bills skip this entirely.

Second, a sub-committee within the committee of jurisdiction actually writes the bill or marksup (amends) a bill written by another member. Then the bill goes to the full committee where there are more hearings and another markup.

This whole process allows members who have spent decades acquiring knowledge to express that expertise for the benefit of the legislation. The committee will always write a better bill than leadership can because the experts are rarely in leadership.

Third, the process takes more than a little time, thus allowing the public to weigh-in and to take a side — to have the national debate necessary so that the legislation will "take."

The debate will be loud, messy, and full of partisan rancor but it does end, and in the end a better bill is produced.

Fourth, the bill will go to the floor for debate by the entire House of Congress.

In the House of Representatives the body forms itself into something called "the committee of the whole," a parliamentary device to allow a committee-like debate and amendment where every single member can participate.

This is useful and helpful for all members to help write the bill.

Last, regular order is fully in the public view.

Everybody gets to weigh-in all along through the process and better legislation is almost always the result. Sunshine really is the best disinfectant.

The original Obamacare bill was written by leadership (the then Democratic leadership) in a secretive way with nobody knowing what was in it until moments prior to the vote.

It was a terrible process and a worse product. The Republicans are on their way to duplicating the process and likely the same bad product.

Regular order also promotes the basic role of Congress — to chart the direction of the country and then pay for it. The authorizing committees each have jurisdiction over one or more departments of the administration.

These committees chart the function each of these departments and follow their progress through hearings and oversight. In this, Congress acts as a board of directors for the country. The president is akin to a chief executive officer who effectuates the will of the board (Congress and the people) as manifest in regular department re-authorizations.

Many departments have not been re-authorized in over a decade.

Congress has not charted the course of these departments in ages but still funds them.

It's fair to say that Congress really has little idea of what happens in any federal department anymore.

The last couple of presidents have been allowed to not only run the departments — and staff them — but also have been allowed to chart their duties and responsibilities, a strict function of Congress.

Thus, the Oval Office has grown more powerful at the expense of Congress’ prerogatives and powers.

As an example of this erosion, the House chairman  of the homeland security committee indicated approval for the president having creating an office in the attorney general’s office for the victims of immigration crime engagement.

He observed that he likes it so much that he might get it authorized.


There seems to be some confusion about the roles of government here.It is Congress that authorizes the "good idea," then funds it.

If the president wants something like office for the victims of immigration crime engagement, he asks Congress to provide for authorization and funding for the idea. If Congress agrees and creates the office, then the president effectuates the congressional authorization by opening the office, staffing it, and running it in comportment with the goals stated in the legislation.

Clearly, the president like his immediate predecessors, does not feel the need to always ask Congress to take such action. This is troubling. If regular order could be reinstated in Congress, that will go a long way for Congress to reassert its powers and authorities.

By this, the government will be re-balanced and work much better.

Michael Patrick Flanagan represented the 5th District of Illinois in the historic 104th Congress. Prior to his Congressional Service, Michael was commissioned in the United States Army Field Artillery. Michael and his firm, Flanagan Consulting LLC, have represented both large and small corporations, organizations, and associations. In 2009, Michael entered public service again with the United States Department of State in Iraq as the Senior Rule of Law Advisor on the Maysan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Maysan, Iraq. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Regular order meant that committees would design and create legislation, providing oversight. Not a couple of members in leadership writing a bill out of public view. Ryan and McConnell write bills, show them to no one, preserve them from hearings and markups, then launch them. This is troubling.
bill, legislation, order, regular
Friday, 03 March 2017 02:10 PM
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