Sunday, 11 October 2015

The House Speaker Game

What some historians generally say....at some point in the mid-1960s...a trend started up in Congress.  It likely started after the 1964 House election where the Democrats came to control almost two-thirds of the seats and were able to establish a clear path to any change desired.

At the time....John McCormick of Massachusetts was the Speaker and would serve in the position from 1962 to 1971.  What can generally be said.....at least from one Democratic Congressman...was that the view of working with the House during this period....is that the leadership of the House was the "worst of the past forty years" (a direct quote from Representative Cannon, Dem from Missouri).

In the view of most historians....the Democratic Party was in some type of historic change with more liberal new members showing up and wanting "status".  The belief at the time was that the House itself, and even the Democratic leadership in the House....all centered on a couple of characters and they didn't hand out committee memberships or authority unless they felt you earned your post.

All of this started a trend where the Speaker of the House was a power-broker and "CEO" of the House itself.  Prior to that....the Speaker....at least through the 1950s....was mostly there to enforce the rules and ensure that schedules were known by the membership. The steering committees would ensure who got what committee and who got the leadership role of each group.

As each generation came after the mid-1960s.....more rules were modified and the Speaker of the House came to have more authority.

By 1994, it went to a new threshold....Newt Gringrich arrived and centralized power strictly within the Speaker's duties, and decreased authority of the committee chairmen.  To get anywhere, you had to have party status and the blessing of the Speaker.  If you irked the party leadership or speaker.....you got screwed.  You might as well give up and go back to your state because they weren't going to let you be on the inside.

After the Gringrich era, we eventually came to the Pelosi era who repeated the same formula and added more features.  The PAC's actually had the ability to influence elections by this point and ensure that everyone played by the Speaker's rules and the PAC's rules.....on top of the Party itself.

After Pelosi came John Boehner, who simply continued the same trend.

What has occurred since 2010 is this odd feature of the Republican Party which can't win or survive now without Tea Party status.

The Republicans now have a fairly significant number (maybe half of the House Republicans) who want the rules changed.  This came out late in the week that a questionnaire is now being sent around to various people who say they want to run for the Speaker's job (Paul Ryan got the questionnaire and has not said much about it or how he'd answer the questions).

What the Tea Party crowd is suggesting....is going back to the rules prior to 1964.  They want to downsize the power and authority of the Speaker's job.  This would relate directly to the Republican steering committee, which in turn....would affect how people get appointed to chairman or committee membership status.  There's another odd feature to the whole change as well....they want the Chairman to be barely involved in any decision over what bill or amendments come to the House floor.  They aren't saying clearly how it'd occur, but you get the opinion that if either Party wants to introduce a bill....they'd have the right to do so, and face a vote (up or down), and either pass or fail a bill.
 
The problem?

Well....if you wrote a listing of the top five House members that Boehner would favor....none of them would agree to such a change.  Some people suggest that Paul Ryan, who might be a popular guy and generally supported.....won't agree to the changes.

Newt?  If the Republicans were crazy enough to bring up his name and suggest he be in the mix.....even he won't agree to the changes.

Some people generally think that Paul Ryan will decide to take a run at the speaker job, and probably avoid answering this questionnaire....thus intimidating the Tea Party crowd.  While there's likely to be no scandals in Ryan's closet....the question is....can he get enough votes to take the Speaker job.  You can't be that sure.

The Tea Party folks probably have one thing correct....the Speaker's job has become something that bothers the vast number of members.....Republican or Democrat.  It might be wiser to hire some guy to just run the office like it was run in the 1950s.....but neither Party headquarters or the PAC-support landscape....will allow such to happen.

My bet?  Boehner is still sitting there in January, and probably still sitting there by the end of 2016....until we can have another election and bring in more Tea Party players who will sooner or later consume what exists today.

No comments: