Tags: Paul Ryan | commons | congressional | representatives

Reform US House With Truly Non-Partisan Speaker

Reform US House With Truly Non-Partisan Speaker

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., during a stop in Rheems, Pennsylvania. (Georgesheldon/Dreamstime)

Tuesday, 22 May 2018 01:45 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is one of our top national leaders and thanks to the Presidential Succession Act of 1948 stands next in line to the presidency after the vice president.

But I recently had to lie in order to e-mail an idea to U.S. House Speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

My first attempt to communicate with Speaker Ryan, using the form provided by his web page, was rebuffed because I live in Oregon. Ryan's website accepted communications only from people living in his own congressional district in Wisconsin.

Even residence elsewhere in Wisconsin was not good enough.

I tried again, falsely giving as my address a location in Ryan's congressional district, complete with zip code and an appropriate area code for my (completely made up) phone number. This message went through without any problems.

I deeply resented having to lie in order to send Ryan's office my suggestion.

When a speaker retires there may be an opportunity for major reforms.

The opportunity now offered by Ryan's impending retirement comes when House reforms are badly needed, given the widening gap between the two parties and the resulting difficulties in passing budgets, taxes, and other legislation. And right now would be an excellent time for a bipartisan reform, since no one knows which party will control the House after this fall's elections.

The speaker has traditionally been a member of the party commanding a majority of the House. The reform that is needed is to discontinue making this office a partisan position. The speaker of the House of Commons in England offers a possible model. After being elected by the House of Commons, the English speaker severs all connection with his or her former party, presides over the House impartially, and never rejoins the former party even after leaving the speakership.

A speaker who is not affiliated with any party could welcome communications from all Americans, not just people in one tiny congressional district. Even better, a non-partisan Speaker would eliminate the Hastert rule, an informal governing principle named after the now disgraced former speaker.

Under the Hastert Rule, the speaker allows legislation to be considered only if it is supported by a majority of his or her own party, "a majority of a majority."

The speaker may even bottleneck legislation supported by a majority of his own party unless the majority is big enough to allow passage without the support of any members of the minority party.

Except when this Hastert "rule" is waived, which it rarely is, the speaker pigeonholes bills that could have been enacted by a coalition of members of both parties. This makes it difficult for House members to negotiate the compromises that are a necessary part of responsible governing and of due process of legislation.

As things stand now, as Paul Donnelly has noted, "fewer than 20 Republicans can effectively prevent the nation from solving its problems."

The Constitution mentions no age or citizenship requirements to be speaker, and does not even require that officer to be a member of the House of Representatives. All speakers to date have been House members, but if the office becomes non-partisan along the English model, it would be reasonable for a new speaker to resign as a House member as well as from his or her political party. This would allow former constituents to be represented by electing a new, fully partisan, member.

The English speaker, being a member of no party, can be re-elected indefinitely no matter which party currently controls the House of Commons. A competent non-partisan speaker of our House conceivably could opt to retain that position for life, allowing buildup of experience and effectiveness.

As matters stand today, the majority party is led by the Speaker, while the minority party is led by the minority leader. A speaker who is independent of the parties would allow better symmetry between the party leaders.

The House would become more like the Senate, where the vice president is nominally the presiding officer and each party has a co-equal leader, one being Senate majority leader and the other Senate minority leader.

In the popular musical based on Victor Hugo's novel "Les Miserables," there is a wonderful satirical song, " Master of the House," sung by a scoundrel who runs an inn.

One line in this song particularly reminds me of the speaker of our House of Representatives, "Master of the house, keeper of the zoo." Good leadership is essential to any properly functioning organization.

A non-partisan speaker could help our congressional zoo get its act together and help it resume acting as a responsible guardian of our people.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published 1981 and his most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.


© 2020 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

1Like our page
Good leadership is essential to any properly functioning organization. A non-partisan Speaker could help our congressional zoo get its act together and help it resume acting as a responsible guardian of our people.
commons, congressional, representatives
Tuesday, 22 May 2018 01:45 PM
Newsmax Media, Inc.

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved