Prior to the beginning of each Congress, the incoming majority leadership releases a set of revisions to the House rules, which are then formally adopted when the new Congress convenes. On Friday, the Democratic leadership released rules proposals for the 117th Congress, and, unfortunately, it cracks down on an important procedural tool for the minority known as the motion to recommit.
A motion to recommit is offered directly on the House Floor as one of the last actions before a final vote on a bill. It may be offered with or without instructions. If agreed to, a motion to recommit with instructions amends a bill just before the House votes on it for final passage. The Democrats’ proposed rule changes for the 117th Congress would prohibit instructions with the motion to recommit—this effectively neuters the tool.
The U.S. House is a legislative chamber where a determined majority can work its will, and the minority party has much less leverage than the minority does in the Senate. The majority party often uses the rules to limit the minority’s ability to amend legislation, and the motion to recommit with instructions was one last way for the minority to influence the process.
Various quarters of the House Democratic Caucus have pushed for changes to the motion to recommit since the amendments often force Members to go on record on politically sensitive issues. Yet no party is in the majority forever, so they may come to regret this change, sooner rather than later. Instead of gutting the motion to recommit, Members should work to preserve it the way it is.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ON THE MOTION TO RECOMMIT
The motion to recommit has its modern origins in 1909 when Speaker Joe Cannon, in an attempt to stave off a revolt against his speakership, offered a rules package that reserved to the opponents of a bill the final opportunity to amend the bill through a motion to recommit. A 1932 ruling by Speaker Nance Garner specifically reserved for the minority the right to make the motion to recommit. Democratic majorities during the late 1970s through the early 1990s began restricting this traditional right by passing special rules that denied motions to recommit with instructions. This essentially reduced the motion to recommit to a redundant inverse of the vote on final passage.
Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, detailed 83 special rules between 1977 and 1995 where the Democratic majority denied or limited the minority’s ability to offer a motion to recommit with instructions.
Republicans vigorously protested, and when they became the majority in 1995, affirmed the minority’s right (now the Democrats) to offer a motion to recommit with instructions into the House Rules, thus fully restoring this traditional right of the minority.
A LOOK AT HOW THE MOTION TO RECOMMIT WAS SUCCESSFULLY USED IN THE 110TH CONGRESS
The Republican minority in the 110th Congress wielded the Motion to Recommit as a successful legislative tool to force changes to legislative that embarrassed the Majority party. The Congressional Institute has published a paper titled “A Determined Minority” that analyzes Republicans’ success utilizing four legislative and procedural tools:
- National Security: Motion to Recommit
- Immigration Reform: Discharge Petitions
- The Iraq War: The Veto Strategy
- Energy Policy: Procedural Disruption
Click here to read the paper.